Earlier this week I caught up with an old friend over coffee. She looked uncomfortable and said she wanted to talk to me about something that was concerning to her. She cleared her throat and said, “I just want you to know that it’s really easy to find out information about you on the internet.” At first I was alarmed, was there a rumor about me? A nasty message by a former student? No, she said, “I just put ‘Jennifer,’ ‘Miami,’ and ‘Teacher’ in Google and I was able to find out a lot of information about you – where you work, your job title, articles you’ve written, conferences you go to, even your blog!” I asked her if there was anything concerning or bad and she said no, just that someone could easily find out information on me on with a quick Google search and that was dangerous. “Why do you think it’s dangerous?” I asked… “Well, some crazy could hunt you down!” “I suppose,” I replied, “but they could do that before the internet.”
Building a Digital Footprint
I have to admit, when she told me this I wasn’t alarmed, I was excited. You see I spend a lot of time and energy trying to educate people in education about the power of self-branding on the Internet, especially using social media. This is what we call a Digital Footprint (essentially what comes up about you when someone does a google search). There are two ways that you build a Digital Footprint:
- Through content written and published about you by other people (over which you have little or no control).
- Content that you create and publish (that you fully control).
Clearly, I am an advocate of the latter. Your profile via google has become more important in the last five years than your actual resume or even referrals from previous employers and friends. Think about it, when was the last time you googled a potential employee, a speaker, an author, a potential date? Have you ever made decisions about that person based on what you found? Like most people, your answer is probably yes.
Building a positive Digital Footprint can have a profound impact on your personal life and career. As such, you should be cultivating and crafting it the same way you would a published resume – perhaps even more so (it is more enduring). By intentionally publishing material and content (such as writing and publishing a blog, creating and publishing media content, and meaningfully contributing to public forums) you are crafting your public image and shaping what potential employers and clients see when they enter your name into a search engine.
As use of the Internet has increased, we have become hyper-aware of “stranger danger.” We have been inundated with horror stories of activities online gone awry. While I certainly do not advocate that people publish their private phone numbers, social security numbers, home addresses, or work schedules, it is important to recognize that stranger danger has become a red herring in digital footprints, especially in the realm of social media.
Can anyone with access to the Internet and my name find me online? Absolutely they can. Can they track me down and kidnap me? Possibly, with a great deal of concerted effort. However, this type of information is nothing new. Remember the olden
days of phone booths and phonebooks? If you’re like me, now that phonebook goes from my porch straight into the recycling bin! Back in the days before the information highway and smartphones, phone booths could be found all over the country (and in some pretty terrible neighborhoods). Inside each of those was a thick book filled with names and addresses. In fact, one of my favorite movies from the 80’s, Terminator highlighted this fact when Arnold Shwarzanegger was tracking down Sarah Connor. Unsure of which Sarah Connor was the correct one, he tracked them down one by one, executing each as he went. While a dramatized (and plausible) action, this didn’t actually happen in the 80’s in spite of the rampant placement of phonebooks throughout the country
So be cautious with your data? Absolutely! Be overly paranoid and protective of it? No! Keep in mind that you will have content about you posted online eventually – do you want it to feature your accomplishments in your career or that embarrassing photo that your frat brother thought would be funny to put on Facebook?