Online Etiquette: Is it time to Clean Up Your Digital Footprint?

Almost everyone today is engaged in online activities in some capacity – it’s unavoidable in our digital age. Some of you may be highly active while others are less involved, yet have some online presence is unavoidable by most. The World Wide Web is the go-to place for information on almost everything and this is where your digital footprint and how it looks, is something you should consider.  Your footprint can serve up a lot of personal information to your current or future employers, in fact, according to a survey, employers who completed social media research on candidates, 57% found content that made them reject a potential employee.

Imagine you are looking for a job, and you apply to a company that is very interested in hiring you. What happens if they google search you, what information is there about you online? Will they find any embarrassing photos? Will they find you follow particular professional organisations? Will they find anything controversial? Will they find incredible insight into who you are as a human being? What is available that confirms that you are perfect for their business?

Your digital footprint can have a significant effect on your future or career path. Here is a short guide that will help you understand your digital footprint. It also offers tips to assist you in navigating online spaces in a responsible manner.   

Your Digital Footprint:

So, what exactly is a digital footprint? Have you tried searching your name on Google? If you have, you will notice some or a lot of information about yourself cropping up on the page, depending on how involved you are online. When you maintain a presence online and engage in online activities, you leave behind a trail of information that can be traced back to you. Your communications online along with your interactions create a body of digital data – a footprint. The digital footprint can be either active or passive. If you maintain a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. you have actively put out your information on ‘The Line’. However, you also share information when you use any search engines, visit websites, or shop online. This contributes to the passive data trails in your digital footprint.    

Once your information is online, you have very little control on who has access to it and how it is being used. Of course, you could tweak your privacy settings to control how much information is shared, but your information will be semi-public at best. You will still have a digital footprint.

How to clean up your digital footprint?

Being active on social media networks can be a good thing for your career, especially if you are looking for opportunities in online media, technology, online services, etc. In fact, even if your profession does not demand it, it is a good idea to maintain a respectful online presence. Your future (and even current) employer may be active online so ensure you are not leaving behind a digital trail that could potentially sabotage your career prospects or get you booted from your present job. So here are a few pitfalls to avoid when you are interacting online:

  1. Embarrassing Email Addresses or Online Profile Names:

So you had created an embarrassing email address in your teenage years. You are probably still using it because why bother changing, right? Well, think again. If you are looking for jobs and emailing applications online, it is best to get a professional email address. Smart and witty Twitter handles, social media bios, etc. are refreshing and welcome. However, if you decided to go with an embarrassing option that cannot be repeated aloud, you should probably consider changing it. Also, maintain consistency while choosing the name. You can use the same handle across different platforms. This will help you create a unique brand online and differentiate you from others having the same name. 

  1. A Professionally Crafted LinkedIn Profile (super important and we will cover off best practice when creating your profile in another post):

LinkedIn has emerged as a reliable tool for professionals to highlight their current job role, work experience, achievements, etc. It is also one of the places headhunters, recruitment agencies, and potential employers check out to learn more about a candidate. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is professional and thorough. Pay close attention to spelling and grammar. Also, make sure the picture you pick to display focuses on you. Don’t include a group photo or a photo of some social-life-highlight.  Keep it slick, personable and professional. If possible, ask for recommendations and endorsements highlighting your skills from your past or present colleagues.

  1. Social Media Profiles:
    It is best to keep your personal life separate from your professional life. However, social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. offer the outside world a peek into your personal life, which means your employees will also have access to the information. So, before you post wild photos from your last party, make sure your privacy settings allow access to your closest friends and family only. You can pick and choose what you want to share with the world at large and what you wish to keep private. Exercise discretion while posting any new information, photos, comments, etc. that may impact your job prospects or career.
  2. Your Information:
    Make sure all the information you provide on your CV is correct. Your educational qualifications, job history, etc. may be available online and your potential boss can just run a check to verify the details. You may end up losing the opportunity altogether. So, it’s best to be honest and clear about your qualifications and achievements.
  3. Participating in Online Discourse:
    People love engaging in online discussions and sharing their opinions on current affairs, movies, politics, etc. You may be interacting in a forum, a news post, an update, etc.; however, your comments may be in public domain. If you find yourself in a heated debate, step back and return to the discussion once you have calmed down. You may end up saying things and interacting in a negative way, at the participants who have differing viewpoints. Avoid using profanity; state your views in a respectful manner instead of engaging in name-calling. Speaking badly about previous managers, colleagues, company, etc. may also hurt your prospects. You don’t want a potential employer to see these remarks online and reconsider hiring you.

These are a few things you should avoid online. Just exercise common sense and good judgment when it comes to your online interactions.

Now that we have covered what not to do online, here are a few things you should do to clean up your digital footprint:

  1. Digital Purge:
    So you probably had Orkut, MySpace, Flickr, Google+ accounts back in the day when they were popular. Of course, many of these are now defunct, but you may still have profiles floating around that you no longer use and have long forgotten. You can Google your name or go through your email account to find subscriptions to social media account. The, you either delete them or make set them to private. Some web services may also help you with this.
  1. Set to Private:
    Like we said before, set your social media accounts to private or allow minimum access to the information you share. It is a good idea to limit the number of people who tag you in their posts. Once tagged, your comment or interaction with the post may be in the public domain. Also, you don’t want embarrassing photos of your drunken night out to be accessible to all. So, control tagging rights.
  1. Your Facebook History:
    You may want to glance through your Facebook timeline to identify any posts that could be potentially damaging. Maybe a silly comment you made a while back, but you know better now. Review comments that portray you in poor light, and make you seem difficult or nasty. Find these and delete them before your employer stumbles upon them.

It is almost impossible not to have some kind of a digital footprint online, this is the world in which we live.  But, as you navigate the online world, make sure the imprint you leave is authentic and respectful. Also, update your information regularly, so it reflects your latest achievements and skills – so it reflects YOU. Remember, if you use your social accounts wisely, you can even leverage them to land your dream job and incredible professional experiences.

Digital Footprint, News