THE BLOG
05/17/2016 12:43 pm ET Updated May 17, 2017

Your Online Identity: Your Strongest Brand or Worst Nightmare?

This week, I spoke with Tom Lynch, president of PeekYou, one of the leading free people search engines, on what having an online identity means in the present day and how we can manage our web presence better.

Tom, tell us a bit more about the influence of online identities in the present day.

Your online identity is your single most unique asset: it's your online personal brand. One of the remarkable things about the web is that it gives a "voice" to anyone that chooses to make a statement. Conversely, there is a shocking amount of information on the web about everyone so it's very critical how you manage your presence.

What would you say the top myths are about the web and your online identity?

1. Online identities are used or sought primarily for nefarious purposes like cyber theft.

While these are legitimate concerns, more often than not people use the web to find and learn more about the individuals most relevant to them in both a business and personal context.

2. There is no way to manage your online identity so why even try.

When we think about our digital lives it can be daunting to organize it. With the right tools (that we will discuss later), however it can be a fun and rewarding experience.

3. Online identity doesn't matter.

If you don't control the conversation about you, then others will.
Whether you like it or not there is information about you on the web, from public records to your social media pages. Knowing what is there and curating it into something that speaks well about you is critical. You are already your own brand, whether you realize that or not.

How does someone begin to establish a digital footprint and create their online identity?

A person's digital footprint can begin as soon as any piece of content is shared or published about them on the web. It can begin the first time you sign up for an email, a social network account, or the first time you use a browser to explore the web.

Start by using Google or one of the people search engines such as peekyou.com to find out what is there about you on the web. There are also a lot of paid services that go deeper and can show you many public records available for almost any individual.

From here you can prioritize what you do and do not want shared publicly. You can increase your social media profiles, change your privacy settings so that more of what you want to show is visible to anyone including search engines, and just as importantly the content you prefer be kept private. Optimizing your "digital assets" allows people to contact or engage with you on the web in the way you want rather than simply leaving it to others to post about you.

How can we leverage our online identity in our daily lives?

Your online identity reveals how you want others to view you and what matters to you the most. You can leverage your online identity to further your personal and professional goals:

Use it as a "calling card" to introduce yourself.

Complement your professional resume to present for a broader picture of who you are as a person.

Provide a timeline of your life.

Is there a downside to having a digital presence? 

Downsides are usually brought about by accident or indifference. Having a digital presence is a good thing. Having a digital presence that you do nothing to maintain or shape, is a bad thing.

Not managing your digital presence makes it appear disjointed. It lets others decide for themselves who you are or what you're about irrespective of the veracity of that picture.

What will be the top trends in personal brand management in 2016?

The past ten years has seen an exciting explosion in online content, social networking, and volume of users.

With so much going on, how does one rise above the noise and fervor?

The key now more and more is how you place on search engines, whether it is on dedicated people search products like PeeKYou or Google. These online tools in many ways now act as a filter and opportunities are almost wholly dependent on how you rank. This trend is only set to rise with time as more of the world joins the social media revolution.

What is the best way to protect our online identity? 

The best way to protect your identity is to take an active role in it.

Search it. Manage it. Curate it. Share it.

You protect your online identity by pointing out to the world what's most important to you, what speaks to who you are, and why you matter. Everyone is a celebrity to some extent.

You are your own brand. Brands grow with time and care. Those who learn to leverage their brand, their online identity, will benefit the most as technology takes us further.