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Establishing Your Digital Footprint

“Students should be posting more content online.”

This statement really caught my attention during a recent #IOLchat session. And the group reacted, too, as it received many “retweets” during and after the end of the chat. We all agreed that students should be more active online, not only updating their social networking profiles, but also participating in conversations and creating original content in the form of blog posts and comments to question and answer sites like Quora.

In the context of career development and the job search process, creating a meaningful online presence means leaving a digital footprint of information and activities that reflect your professional reputation – described by Laura Spencer at as “what kind of person you are, whether you are good at what you do, and what you are like to work with.” These details are what others find, particularly employers and recruiters, when they search for you online. Spencer advises “having a good online reputation can mean the difference between getting the gig or not getting it”.

On the face of it, the recommendation to “post more content online” seems easy enough to accomplish, especially for those who already have some experience with Facebook and other social accounts. But what about the student who isn’t social media savvy, doesn’t have a lot of time to commit to content creation, or is concerned about the public aspect of posting details of their lives online? Where should they start?

  • Study industry trends. In your industry, that is. Where are your colleagues and peers creating an online presence (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) and how are they doing it (e.g., conversations, presentations, writing, pictures)? Take some time to explore recommendations from your professional organizations and search for leaders in your field for examples. Your instructors may also provide a good model as they work to build social presence in your online courses.
  • Set your goals. From the creation of a virtual resume to network building and full-fledged job searching, decide what your goals will be for the use of social media and creation of online content. Keep in mind that these goals may change over time as your career needs change. What do you want people (the general public and/or potential employers) to know about you? You can decide the level of detail and interaction that is appropriate for you based on your current goals and the message you want to send.
  • Establish your approach. Bloggers often talk about finding their “blogging voice” and this translates well to the use of social media in general. Ask yourself how you want to be perceived or described by others who only know about you via your digital footprint. suggests a simple but effective exercise: “brainstorm a list of 10-20 personality attributes” (e.g., clever, attentive, helpful, authoritative, sincere, professional) then select 3-5 that will guide your approach to creating online content and participating in online communities. The London School of Economics and Political Science provides similar guidance for academics interested in using Twitter [PDF], outlining various “tweeting styles,” such as “substantive, conversational, and middle ground” that might be adopted.
  • Start slowly and build. There’s no shortage of advice about what, how, and where you should build your online reputation. Identify a primary platform or system to start your work, one that is popular in your industry (LinkedIn was highly recommended during the recent #IOLchat session) and one that you will be able to manage and maintain on a regular basis. Focus your efforts on building a strong foundation there and learning more about other good options through your growing network.
  • Schedule regular monitoring and maintenance. There’s no hard and fast rule on how often you should change you status, tweet, or blog, but any new accounts you open and profiles you set up should be updated on a consistent basis. Add this task to your weekly schedule. And while it may seem vain, it’s important to Google yourself periodically to see what results emerge. The Innovative Educator asks, “Does your digital footprint convey the message you want?” If not, you can make changes to your approach, check your account privacy settings, and engage in activities more in line with your needs.

The goal of all of this is not to scare you away from sharing online; and in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Developing an online presence and understanding the impact of the digital footprint you leave behind – through online profiles, chat and discussion participation, blog writing, and comment posting – have become part of “contemporary career development” (thanks to @YouTernMark for coining the term).

Know that you can, and should, take charge of your online reputation, determining from the start how you will participate and the type of content you’ll create. What do you want to include in your digital footprint? Share your questions and concerns about the process with us here.

Image credit: stock.xchng

December 6th, 2012 written by Staff Writers

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