As face-to-face interactions increasingly take a back seat, the impacts of the spoken word are replaced by digital traces of our online activities where they are not forgotten.
With remote work increasingly becoming the norm since the pandemic, managing your digital reputation is especially critical to your career, as your digital persona represents you in the online world, which allows employers to better understand you.
If you made a purchase in the past week, sent an email, messaged a friend, posted a comment on social media or browsed a website, be aware that these actions have left an imprint that can either support or place at risk your online reputation and privacy.
“Previously, you would make your first impression with a handshake but in this digital age, and with remote working the norm, first impressions are made by whatever it is that a search engine chooses to serve up,” explains Andrew Wessels, Founder and CEO of The Marque, a digital auditing company.
While some actions like posting an image are driven with intent, others – such as setting up an account with your personal details or searching on a website that collects data – happen in the background, so can easily be forgotten or dismissed as unconscious actions.
“These days it is a red flag if you have no online presence, so it is about controlling your digital footprint – not hiding it.”
Given that zero online presence – commonly referred to as an online ghost – is similarly frowned upon by employers, the only real solution is to proactively manage your footprint by consciously presenting an image you’d be happy for current or prospective employers, colleagues or clients to see.
“These days it is a red flag if you have no online presence, so it is about controlling your digital footprint – not hiding it,” Wessels asserts.
According to a survey by CareerBuilder, around 54 per cent of employers discovered social media content that prevented them from hiring candidates. The top reasons usually range from inappropriate material, posting content involving alcohol and drug consumption, to discriminatory comments, lying about qualifications and poor communication skills.
While employers may be looking for reasons not to hire candidates, they are also seeking to know whether the individual for consideration has a professional online presence and any evidence that supports their qualifications as well as what others are posting about them.
This hints at the importance of respecting friends and family when tagging, posting and exposing information about them in the public domain.
“People are often exposed without realising it – for example, websites giving out personal information or family members making unwise comments on social media, which can have a knock-on effect for your career,” Wessels says.
How to manage your digital footprint
Every person at every age and career level, including students, should be taking charge of their digital footprint by knowing what it is, thinking about their identity and taking steps to build a positive digital reputation through their online behaviours.
“Contribute to your positive, professional digital footprint by posting only those things that contribute to the image of you that you want potential investors, banks or future employers to see,” Wessels affirms.
Become familiar with your online presence
To get a sense of your online persona first, google yourself. However, for a deeper examination into any risky content that is unlikely to appear in a Google search, it’s best to undertake a full digital audit.
According to Wessels, “Discoveries may include false information, negative media coverage, poor imagery, fake social media accounts and inappropriate associations.”
Clean up your image
If you are able to, remove any content that you deem inappropriate or a risk to your reputation. This could include explicit language, unprofessional behaviour or references to illegal substances.
Delete outdated accounts and nurture existing ones
It is likely your identity has changed over time and that you have created accounts in the past that no longer reflect your personality or which haven’t been updated. Your list may include newsletter subscriptions, social media profiles and other accounts with online businesses. If you no longer require these, it is best to remove them to avoid experiencing a data breach.
Also consider whether your Twitter feed and LinkedIn profile are working in your favour to support your personal brand, and that your personal website(s) are search engine optimised.
Maintain digital privacy
By using unique passwords for each of your accounts, being aware of email scams and managing cookies on the websites you visit, you can better navigate the internet with these best practices.