Did you know that 75% of companies have formal policies that require their recruiters to do online research when screening candidates for a position?
What does this mean for your business? A hiring prospect can craft their resume beautifully, but more often than not, you’ll want to check out your applicants’ social media and google their name to ensure their walk is as good as their talk.
A person can say anything they want to on their resumes, but it’s their digital footprint that means everything.
What does this mean for you and your branding image? It means that if you’re online in any form, you’re building a brand whether you are intending to do so or not.
So what kind of a brand is your digital footprint building for you? Let’s dive in.
Investigate Your Digital Footprint
Your digital footprint includes all of the data you leave behind when you use the internet.
App use, emails, Skype calls, online shopping, written posts, photography uploads, comments on social media and yes, all those cookies that track which sites you visit and what you’ve done on those sites.
For this reason it’s important that you investigate your overall digital image. Here’s a few ways to help you:
Make a list of all the websites online you continually use.
Think about the content you post and how others might perceive it. Do they make your audience look upon your posts favorably or do they paint you in an unflattering light?
Use one or more search engines to search on your name. (Google goes without saying, of course.) Use variations of your name such as full name with middle initial, without middle initial, married names, maiden names, etc. Check out the results that get pulled up. If you’re really brave, search your name in association with your past businesses or brands. You may find some surprising information surface. What information could your audience/followers/customer access and how could this information affect them?
Weed through your social media. Look as far back as you dare and clean up/remove any posts that could make your image less-than-desirable to your current audience.
Social Media As Your No. 1 Tool
Your social media strategy should include the websites you’ll associate with, the information you’ll share, the groups or organizations you will associate with and when you’ll post comments and what you’ll say (or won’t say) when you do.
Make sure that all your online photos present you in the best possible light. In addition to removing any tacky or nonprofessional photos, also remove any photos that might taint your brand or cause your audience to question your professionalism or values.
Always use your real name.
Make certain information about you is consistent from site to site. For example, if your small business is a used-car lot, don’t have a profile that says you’re a graphic designer by trade and another profile advertising your used-car lot.
Create a consistent user name for all sites. This step will help employers recognize you across different social media sites and it will immediately help you build your personal brand.
Actively Immerse Yourself Online
Now that you’ve crafted an intentional strategy and template for your digital footprint, all that’s left to do is get active online!
There are countless ways to do this, and not just through social media. I can’t discuss all of them in this blog, but here’s the top items you can start implementing right away:
Make comments on articles and blogs that cover topics you are passionate about.
Make Tweets during news events, company events, sporting events or charitable events, tagging pertinentcelebrities, newscasters, journalists or brands.
Join LinkedIn groups that are directly or indirectly related to your area of business interest and participate.
Become a resource for others in your industry and create a strong network of professional peers.
Make comments on Youtube videos that teach you or inspire you.
Post comments on the Facebook pages of organizations and groups you follow and care about.
Write blogs (or have them ghostwritten) related to your business and personal interests as long as the content is professional and presents you in a positive light.
Proactivity is the Best Protection
On a sobering note, digital information is about unforgiving as it gets. Even if your social media or websites are protected by privacy settings, they are still being held on a server and they are still accessible.
Just think about 2015’s Ashley Madison hack. Under private accounts (many of them even under false names) not just some - but all of the data was released by the hacker group who called themselves, “The Impact Team.”
This exposure of digital data brought into jeopardy the relationships, audiences and careers of a vast number of public figures.
Simply put, nothing is 100% safe on the internet. Think very carefully before linking your name or your business’s name to questionable services, people or websites.
Your digital footprint has the power to make or break you.
According to this fabulous Forbes article, while there is no guarantee that the hackers wouldn’t have been able to continue with their scheme regardless, Ashley Madison didn’t take proper security measures.
To minimize your risk, double check your security systems. Make security a priority, and get involved with a security provider to understand how it works and how you can better secure your systems. Don’t rely on your internal security provider; hire an outside firm to test your security measures.
It all boils down to this: you can craft your brand persona in the most flattering light to your entire customer or audience base, and with one crass post, inappropriate photo or unexpected website hack, sink all of the credit you’ve earned in their eyes.
For more information on how our digital footprints are shaping the new world and how to use it to strengthen your brand, I suggest reading The Reputation Economy by Michael Fertik.