If you've ever felt as lost as Dorothy trying to navigate Oz as you've made your way around the Internet and social media, the metaphor of not being in Kansas anymore probably resonates with you.
But if you're going to be online at all, you need to think about it and the proverbial yellow brick road. As you stroll down those bricks of gold, you need to be thinking about your digital footprint. In other words, do the tracks you leave behind honestly represent you in the best way possible? Professionally? Personally?
If you can't answer, "Yes," for sure to these questions, you'll want to be thinking about it. After all, nowadays, anything that goes on the web probably will stay on the web.
I had the occasion to think about my digital footprint this week as I worked to complete the digital footprint assignment, given to us in EdTech 543.
In some respects, this assignment for EdTech 543 is an assignment I've been working on for a number of years. You read that right. A number of years.
Let me back up just a bit. This week's assignment in Social Network Learning required us to draw up a list of 10 things we were going to do to develop a positive digital footprint. (Yeah. That's why I used the cheesy Oz metaphor at the beginning of this post…)
But in order for you to understand why I chose my "Top Ten," you need to have a bit of background first.
I'm a writer and a designer by trade. Occasionally, I also teach German, so you could call me a teacher, I suppose. However, mostly I'm a writer. And being a writer, who mostly works online has forced me to think about this issue for a long time. I first had to think about it as writer of articles and then as a writer of books. Not only do I need to worry about people finding me - after all, if nobody reads my stuff, why write it - but also about piracy.
Piracy has been something I've dealt with for a number of years now, actually. In the log years that I've written online, I've found more than one article that I've written copied verbatim on someone else's website. I tried the cease and desist thing for time, but honestly it's a lot to keep up with.
What most people don't realize (or don't care about) is that articles published online are copyrighted unless the writer gives up that right. Online artists lose money all the time as people steal their stuff for their own profit.
As such, I had to develop a couple of alternative plans as I moved forward with my book publishing, which incidentally also forced me to develop a writer's platform. I bring this up, because my writer's platform has become a large part of my digital footprint.
Developing My Digital Footprint Strategies
To that end, I've developed a list of ten things I keep in mind anytime I'm online. They're like my personal "Ten Commandments" for managing my reputation online.
However, most people don't make the distinction between their digital identity and their "real-world" identity. They should.
According to a 2016 article on Career Builder,60% of employers screen would-be candidates on social media. Fifty-nine percent use search engines like Bing and Google to research candidates.
But how do you manage such a thing?
Digital identity researcher Simone Smith gives Internet users a simple tip for managing their Internet ID in a Huffington Post article.
It's simple, but so impactful, I made it my first commandment.
Here it is…
1. Don't say anything on social media that you wouldn't have on the front page of the New York Times.
While I have a fantasy of making the New York Times Best-Seller's List some day, I certainly don't want my private life or my stupid mistakes broadcast on the front page of the Times. People don't usually unsee things they see on the front page of the newspaper. They also don't unsee them on social media.
Nor do they forget. If it's embarrassing or in bad taste or could damage my career, I don't post it. Granted, being a dystopian SciFi writer, I have some leeway. That said, it's not as much as a person might think. Therefore, when in doubt I save the rant for a more private audience.
However, that does leave the door open for others to say things about you. So what do you do about that?
Glad you asked. Here's my second digital footprint commandment.
2. Monitor your digital ID regularly by subscribing to Google Alerts.
According to Lifehacker.com, many companies use Google Alerts to see who's talking about them? Why couldn't all professionals do the same? The good news is they can! Whether you're a writer or a teacher or even the neighborhood barista, it's in your best interest to know what people are saying about you.
That's where Google Alerts come in.
If you go to the Google Alerts page, you can add your name to get alerts anytime someone mentions you on the web. If you add your full name, be sure to put it in parenthesis so that it narrows the type of alerts you get. According to About.com, once you set your alerts, you'll get an email telling you when your topic of choice has been mentioned on the web.
For example, my given name is Buffy. Really. Right on my birth certificate. I get Google Alerts about myself regularly, but if I hadn't put my name in parenthesis, I'd get lots of alerts about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not a bad thing, but it's not so helpful when you're trying to keep track of what people write about you.
This helps me also keep track of how many people might be trying to pirate my book. (This is an unfortunate side effect of living in the Internet age…)
But it also makes me aware of the fact that I have an online existence on multiple fronts, including on Amazon.
That has informed my decision to make my third digital footprints commandment about Amazon.
3. Check your Amazon page/s daily to ensure that no duplicate books turn up there.
Sometimes I find duplicate entries for my books, because third party sellers make a new sales page. Only one - the one I created - is really necessary.
It also tells me what books in my market people are buying, because of Amazon's "Also Bought…" feature.
There is a corollary to this as well. I also need to keep track of my reviews. Although I make it a policy not to comment on my reviews good or bad, it's still good to know what people are saying about my books.
There's also another way that I keep track of what people are saying…social media.
4. Post regularly on social media, sticking primarily to the topics of your writer's platform.
What you like on social media says a lot about you, according to Michal Kosinski, an assistant professor in organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
It shows things like:
Smoking, drinking, and food habits
How old you are (approximately)
How often you log on…
What you post says a lot, too, of course. And a personal tip…If you're not 100% sure what you're really about, ask yourself what people post on your wall if they're thinking about you.
5. Keep track of who follows me on social media. 6. Comment on social media and respond to inquiries.
This is the flip side of the coin. Knowing who follows you is key to maintaining your reputation.
According to LifeHack.org, people often follow you on social media hoping that you'll follow them back. Think about that. Whatever is on their wall will be on your wall. And sometimes people do check your followers' and friends' list to get an idea about who you are. Make sure that you're sending the right message.
But the benefits are more than just social, and the these "rules" aren't just for writers. These days, people find and lose jobs based on their social media and web accounts. Being wise about what you put on them helps in the long run.
Additionally, your social media accounts also help you promote your blog and website. In fact, an article on Forbes even goes as far to suggest that your blog will replace your resume as a job-finding tool.
Which brings me to my next two digital-footprint commandments:
7. Blog regularly. 8. Practice good SEO skills.
It's a popular idea. Anyone who follows the twenty-first century incarnation of Sherlock Holmes knows that the world's only consulting detective finds work via John Watson's blog.
Photo credits: BBC, Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes, Martin Freeman as John Watson
While you may not be John Watson trying to get Sherlock Holmes lined up with some detective gigs, blogging is still one of the best ways to find more work in the Internet age.
However, people need to be able to find you, a feat that might be easier said than done when you consider the fact that thousands of new blogs and websites are posted everyday on the web.
That's where search engine optimization or SEO comes in. Not familiar with SEO? Here's a short definition byMoz.com.
SEO is a marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results. SEO encompasses both the technical and creative elements required to improve rankings, drive traffic, and increase awareness in search engines. There are many aspects to SEO, from the words on your page to the way other sites link to you on the web. Sometimes SEO is simply a matter of making sure your site is structured in a way that search engines understand.
The words on your page are specific keyword phrases that you add to your written content. I wrote more about those in thisblog post right here.
Additionally, SEO also relies on you sticking to a handful of topics if you'd like to become an expert in those.
For me as a writer mostly and then a digital designer, that means to stick to certain topics. These topics make up my writer's platform. Incidentally, that list that included Batman before…That is also a partial writer's platform list.
Here's my rule of thumb: If I post about a topic on social media, I'm also writing about it on my blog. While the Dark Knight counts as my favorite superhero, really I like most of them. So actually, "superheroes," and not just Batman are one of the topics I write about. Most keywords that I add to my blogs are a variation on those themes.
And actually, anyone who wants to build an online reputation as an expert or thought leader can and should start a website and blog, according to an article by Dr. Patrick Lowenthal and Dr. Joanna Dunlap on theEducause.eduwebsite.
I personally have found writing clients or rather they have found me, because of my online writing. It definitely works.
This brings me to a related point. If people find you online, that's great. But the question is, "Do you know how to treat them once you find them or they find you?"
My next digital footprint commandment deals with this question.
9. Practice good social netiquette.
TheWall Street Journalreminds us that...Most of us present an enhanced image of ourselves on Facebook. This positive image—and the encouragement we get, in the form of "likes"—boosts our self-esteem. And when we have an inflated sense of self, we tend to exhibit poor self-control.
It's the licensing effect. Anonymity equals poor self-control for some. The article likens it to the same effect that alcohol has on people.
Here's the rule. If I wouldn't do it in "real" life, I don't do it online. We expect people to have good manners at the dinner table. We should expect the same from people online. We may think only about the words we choose on social media or in our blog posts, but how we treat others can follow us online as well. Good manners go a long way toward making your digital footprint a positive one.
We all have our own list of items that should go on a netiquette list. Since we each need to make our own way on the web, I am refraining from making a new list (except for this one.) However, I am including some helpful links for those who'd like a nudge in the right direction.
Here are two sources that are more general netiquette rules:
This last one is actually a good segue into my final digital-footprint commandment, which deals with that very subject.
10. Use safe practices and caution on social media and the web in general.
Truthfully, this one could be a whole blog post by itself. So I condensed some recommendations from The Guardian.
I made a list-within-a-list if you will. Here are a few things that Internet experts recommend to keep you and your family safe online and your reputation intact.
This last one is actually a good segue into my final digital-footprint commandment, which deals with that very subject.
a. Beware of strangers bearing gifts. If you wouldn't take candy from the stranger on the corner, don't take it from someone you don't know online. Candy in this case can mean that you download a free program that puts malware or a virus on your computer. Or it could be that you accept an offer that's too good to be true like an online job offer that's a scam.
b. Constantly educate yourself about good online practices.
c. Keep your security systems updated so that your computer is safe and so that you don't open yourself up to phishing schemes and other scams that could put important information like your bank accounts or social security on the web.
d. It's okay to have boundaries. You don't have to follow everyone on social media that follows you. You also don't have to allow random comments on your blog; most of these softwares allow you to delete things.
This concludes my digital-footprint commandments list. What are some of yours?
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Stanford scholar finds social media reveals much about the human condition. (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2016, from http://www.globalbrandsmagazine.com/stanford-scholar-finds-social-media-reveals-much-about-the-human-condition/