Should you occasionally update your wardrobe and have your hair trimmed, you may also want to periodically polish your digital footprint. Ensuring that your online identity reflects well upon your reputation is just as important as maintaining an upstanding outward appearance in the physical world.
Auditing your online presence every three to four months, then tweaking a handful of profiles and posts as needed, requires no more than some organized strategizing and simple Google searches. Making the minor effort will help you build a robust, valuable online reputation that can introduce you to new opportunities. Neglecting your digital footprint will, at best, expose you to minor embarrassments, and, at worst, cost you important jobs, clients, and friends.
The Importance of Developing a Strategy
To make digital identity audits worth your time, develop a strategy that can make the exercise a means of attaining important goals in addition to avoiding problems. Take time to contemplate and outline your goals for the next five years, then outline the sort of online presence that would help to propel you toward those objectives.
Do you dream of helping local schools develop cooking and gardening programs as an independent consultant? Your optimal digital identity might be that of a polished but friendly and open professional who would likely tweet sustainable living tips and share recipes along with gardening and cooking curriculum on a well-designed blog. Are you bent on developing a reputation as a snarky film critic? A propensity of witty tweets, Facebook posts, and articles for various entertainment-oriented blogs are in order.
How to Investigate Your Online Reputation
While there are many snooping tools others might use to get dirt on you, it is most important that you use the same tool 99% of the population will use to learn about you: Google Search. Take screenshots of the first three pages of results related to various iterations of your name. Then click through to each result and take screenshots summarizing your findings. Organize your screenshots into three groups: search results, pages directly related to you, and pages related to other people who share your name.
Your records of top search results will enable you to keep track of your progress over time. Screenshots of pages mentioning or created by you will help you analyze your present online presence. Images of pages about others sharing your name will help you evaluate the competition and determine what it might take to dominate search results related to your name.
How to Evaluate and Act on Your Digital Footprint
After reviewing top results that are directly related to you, summarize the overall impression they leave. Consider having honest, frank friends and colleagues do the same. With these notes in hand, identify any discrepancies between the digital persona you presently have and your ideal digital identity- the one you designed with your medium-term goals in mind.
Create a plan of action for resolving these discrepancies. This may involve creating new content (e.g. more articles or blog posts related to your work or expertise), updating old profiles (e.g. to reflect current jobs and your optimal online persona), deleting some content (e.g. embarrassing photos, professionally damaging assertions), making other content private (e.g. off-brand Facebook posts), and opening new accounts (e.g. a Pinterest account or a contributor's account with a popular blog within your field).
How to Beat Your Competition
Should top results for your name feature you amongst three or more other individuals, you may have a good shot at dominating results. The most likely means by which you can gain greater precedence in search results is through regular publication of fresh, high quality content that is directly tied to your name (in other words, high quality content generated under your favorite online username, awesomeguy1, will not change top results for your real name, Chad Stevens).
If the top results related to your name are dominated by one person (possibly a famous person or historical figure), consider cultivating your digital identity around a slightly tweaked name. Perhaps you can use your maiden name, incorporate your middle name into your persona, or use a nickname that is less common.
The Importance of Maintenance
Digital audits will do you little good if they do not happen on a semi-regular basis, just as haircuts won't make you look very polished if you only get a trim once a year. Schedule audits well ahead of time and make them a priority. You will only be able to keep your digital identity in tip top shape if you lovingly tweak and tune it.