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Digital Footprint – A blueprint for success

The way you build your professional reputation is changing. Where once a resume told your whole professional story, there are now many ways to grow your professional profile online.

This article explores why a digital footprint is important for anyone looking to build a rewarding work life and career. You will learn how to build your digital footprint and use your social media accounts and other digital forums to connect more authentically with other people online.

Digital footprint – What is it and how does it help my work life?

Digital technology has revolutionised the way you communicate, interact and connect with others in your work life. Whether you like it or not, prospective clients, employers, recruitment agencies and anyone else in the world for that matter, can do a quick search on the internet and find out all kinds of information about you. The good and the bad.

And whilst you cannot control your professional reputation entirely, you can curate content so that when people look you up online, you make a very positive impression.

This article explores the concept of a digital footprint in the context of your work life and career. Whether you work full time, part time, casually, own your own company, freelance or contribute to the workforce as part of the gig economy, people are going to Google you at some stage or another.

Make 2020 the year that you start creating a digital footprint you are proud of. Curate content that shows you contribute to your sector, that you actively engage with your community and that you are a rock solid prospect for any company or client to engage.

Let’s start by taking a look at the definition of a digital footprint.

The definition of a digital footprint

Put simply, a digital footprint is the record or trail left by the things you do online. That includes social media activity, your web browsing history and your online subscriptions.

It also includes photos and videos you’ve uploaded and any other contributions you make online including liking social media posts, commenting in online chat forums – the list goes on. Your digital footprint also includes personal websites, article writing, published keynote speaking and so much more.

Your digital footprint is made up two components. Your passive footprint and your active digital footprint.

Both are explored below.

Passive Digital Footprint

Your passive digital footprint is made up of data that is collected about you that you may not even know about. It also includes the actions that others take on your behalf online.

For example, someone might tag you at a party in a photo they add to the feed of their Instagram account. Or someone might reference something they have heard you say at an industry event or conference on a digital networking site like LinkedIn.

Active Digital Footprint

Your active digital footprint is online activity that you create and participate freely in. These are the deliberate actions you take to share information about yourself on websites, social media platforms, online forums and the like.

This online activity leaves an information trail that can be easy for others to find, simply by using a search engine.

You have the opportunity to build a positive digital footprint by contributing positively and constructively online. Don’t miss this opportunity to start curating an online professional profile you are proud of.

Examples of activities that contribute to your digital footprint

Here are just some of the things that contribute to your overall digital footprint:

• Photos and videos you add to your social media accounts
• Comments you make anywhere online including in online forums, via Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Insta and more (assuming that your accounts contain your name or part thereof)
• The digital assets you leave as your professional trail online including presentations and reports that are made available online
• Your LinkedIn account including how often you post, comment on others’ content, post your own unique content and so on
• Anything you post on any digital platform in any country at any time

The building blocks of a positive digital footprint

There are so many ways you can start to curate a more positive and professional digital footprint. You don’t need to think like a social media influencer to build a professional digital profile that lands you the work, clients or career of your dreams.

In fact, curating a positive digital footprint takes a lot more work than taking a few insta worthy photos.

Here are just some of the ways you can create a positive digital footprint.

Building your digital footprint by connecting with others | Digital Networking

Networking. I know, I know. The word itself makes some people’s skin crawl. But digital networking, when done well, most certainly builds your digital footprint in all the right ways. The key? To add value to other people in your professional network.

How to network in a digital world

There are lots of different ways you can connect in a digital world. How you reach out to others will depend on your personality and the sector you work in.

Here are some ways you can start to connect with others online in a professional context:

• LinkedIn – join Groups relevant to your sector and start contributing to them by joining online discussions
• LinkedIn – ask to connect with like minded people to grow your network and make regular comments and contributions when they post
• Social media platforms – like and comment on posts by others in your professional network when it makes sense to do so (remember not to overstep boundaries with this one)
• Contribution to online professional forums and chat groups – there are so many digital forums out there where people come together, virtually, to discuss industry trends, issues and key problems. These online forums also serve as a place for professionals in specific sectors to socialise ideas and theories.

The same etiquette applies to digital networking as it does to physical networking. Just as you wouldn’t walk up to someone in at a physical networking event and talk non stop about what you do, the same etiquette applies online. Before reaching out to connect with someone online, make sure you are confident you can add value to their professional lives in some way.

Practical tip: If you would like to connect with someone online in a professional context, perhaps watch what they post over a few weeks or so. If the content is interesting and you think you may have something in common with this contact, reach out to connect.

Adding value to your network

When building your online connections to grow your digital footprint, make sure you add value to others in your network. Regularly. This demonstrates that you are keen to not only learn from others but also to contribute.

Just as in real life, if there is no give and take in the professional connections that you make online, the professional relationship, albeit virtual, is unlikely to have any long term benefit to either of you.

Here is an example of adding value:

Comment on the post of an expert in your field. Ensure your comment adds value or contributes to the professional conversation. Not only will that expert see your comment (and potentially respond) but by doing this, you will also increase your visibility with others online. This builds your online credibility and contributes to building a positive digital footprint.

If you would like to explore this concept further, head to my article, Professional Networking – Who knows what you know.

The role of social media in building your digital footprint

Everyone knows that social media can make or break your work life. Ever regretted posting that picture on a Saturday night after 3 too many drinks?

The truth is, these actions have a longer term impact on your work life. Prospective employers, clients, recruitment companies and other decision makers all look to social media at some point or another when filling positions and hiring staff.

Make sensible choices when posting content on your social media accounts. That doesn’t mean you need to appear without a zest for life. It just means that if you wouldn’t like “that photo” on the front of a newspaper, then it probably isn’t worth posting on your social media account either.

Related article: Social networking – Build your professional brand

Believe it or not, you can positively impact your digital footprint by posting well curated content on your social media accounts that show your personality and lifestyle.

When people go looking for information about you online, they don’t expect to see nothing – they just don’t want to see negative extremes in behaviour.

And remember. You can use the privacy settings in your social media accounts to “lock down” content you think it best shared only with family and friends. You don’t have to open your accounts up to everyone on the planet.

Below are some handy tips to keep in mind when using the most common social media platforms around.

The role of Twitter

Twitter has over 48.35 million active monthly users across the globe. Celebrities, world leaders and the every day person use Twitter to keep their finger on the pulse for any range of topics. Some important. Some frivolous and funny.

You can contribute positively to your digital footprint in a number of ways by using Twitter. Here are some examples:

  • Engage in well balanced debate with others in your industry or sector
  • Tweet links to useful articles, news stories and events that you think your network might be interested in
  • Post links to articles and blog posts you have created yourself
  • Comment on significant world events
  • Contribute your thoughts, ideas and unique insights about your sector or industry, inviting further comment from others to truly engage

These are certainly not the only ways you can contribute on Twitter to build your online professional profile. For more ideas, head to my article Using Twitter for job search and profile building.

The role of Facebook

With over 1.69 billion users, Facebook is one of the most used social networking tools around. Can your contributions on Facebook really create a more positive professional digital footprint? Well it really depends on how you use it.

There is no doubt that historically Facebook has been used to create better connections between friends than a platform for building your career. However, don’t discount it as a platform that might help prospective employers, clients, recruitment companies and other decision makers to get to know you a little better.

Here are some examples of how you can use Facebook to create a positive digital footprint:

  • Post photos of time with your family and friends enjoying yourselves – those who might employ you one day like to see that you lead a balanced life
  • Comment on other accounts in a positive, supportive and constructive way – people will see that you actively engage with your community
  • Post content that means something to you professionally from time to time – people will see that you are passionate about the work that you do

Many people prefer to keep their Facebook accounts private and those who don’t know you (including those considering you for work) should respect that.

Related article – Facebook for professionals – Friend or Foe

The role of LinkedIn

There is absolutely no doubt that LinkedIn presents an incredible opportunity to build your professional profile. Sure, not everyone uses it. And that’s OK. But it is without doubt, one of the most turned to platforms for prospective employers, clients, HR departments and recruitment companies, when they are trying to learn more about you in a professional context.

You don’t need a super complicated profile to be well regarded online. It makes sense to fill in as many sections of your LinkedIn profile as you can, but there aren’t any hard and fast rules for what makes the perfect profile.

Just take the time to make sure your LinkedIn profile reflects you, all your unique traits, skills and experience and nail the Experience section – this is where people look to learn more about your work history.

LinkedIn offers you the opportunity to create significant online visibility and a more positive digital footprint when you put in some time and effort.

This is because you can post your own content, whether that be a reflection on how you feel today through to writing articles, creating infographics and sharing video content.

We live in unprecedented times when it comes to building a professional reputation online FOR FREE! Use LinkedIn, a free resource, to build your online professional reputation. Use it wisely and curate a professional profile that will help you build the career and work life of your dreams.

Here are just some of the ways that you can contribute on LinkedIn to positively impact your digital footprint:
• Comment to the posts of others in your professional network articulately and thoughtfully
• Share your own content whether that be a blog post, an article or video content to add value to your professional network and others in your sector
• Share the content of other respected people in your sector and outline why you think your network will get value from it
• Congratulate and acknowledge the work and achievements of others

Related article: LinkedIn Skills section – Tailor your personal story

The role of Instagram

Whether Instagram works for you as a professional digital footprint building tool depends on your specific work context. For example, if you are a florist then posting images of your work is going to go a long way to building credibility and visibility with others in your sector.

On the other hand, if you are a doctor, posting images of you at work might not be as effective (and a breach of the privacy of those in your workplace) in building your professional profile.

Remember, just as with other social media platforms, you can do significant damage to your digital footprint when you use Instagram inappropriately. Your professional reputation can be negatively impacted when you post inappropriate photos of yourself or others you know on Instagram.

The key take out here is that you don’t have to be active on all social media platforms to build a positive digital footprint. If you use Instagram to keep in touch with family and friends but the content isn’t going to build your professional reputation in any way, it is probably best to flick your settings to Private.

Recruitment and Social Media Accounts

It is a fact that many hiring managers, recruitment companies and prospective clients will screen your social media accounts at the application stage of a recruitment process. Is this legal I hear you ask? No. Social media accounts cannot be used to screen potential candidates. However, it is prudent to make sure your social media accounts are in “professional order” should people seek them out online.

The following information sharing online is likely to negatively impact your digital footprint:
• Sharing inappropriate information, photographs and videos
• Posting photos referring to the use of drugs and alcohol
• Negative comments about previous employers, bosses or colleagues
• Demonstrating poor communication skills including profanity and poor grammar and spelling

Learn more about why employers look at your social media accounts by clicking here.

Related Reading: Why employers look at your social media accounts

The role of video content in building a positive digital footprint

Online video content rules. Yep. People cannot seem to get enough of it so if you are serious about building your digital footprint, get in front of a camera people.

Now before you throw your hands up and say, that’s too hard, here’s the lowdown. You don’t need to head into a studio and record television quality clips.

A whopping 92% of users watching video on mobile will share it with others. If that doesn’t give you some motivation for creating video content, what will?

Deciding what to talk about on screen can be a little daunting initially. And you certainly don’t need to post video content every day. But have a think about your unique perspective, ideas and traits and see if you can work out a way that you can communicate those aspects of your personality in front of the camera.

Here are some ways you might be able to get video content into your professional profile building activities:

  • Record a short, sharp video about yourself and post it to your LinkedIn account
  • Interview someone interesting in your professional network about a hot topic or key issue in your sector and share it on your relevant digital platforms
  • Record yourself heading to a conference, industry event or training sharing your insights from that event

Related article: Personal branding videos. Amplify your digital personal brand

Nail that digital footprint!

So, now you are ready to build your professional reputation and curate a positive digital footprint at the same time. Hopefully the hints, tips and ideas in this article are enough to get you moving in the right digital direction.

Remember, it can take a little time to find your own voice and tone when making contributions online. Take inspiration from what others in your sector (and other sectors) are doing. Be prepared to undertake a little trial and error until you find the right mix of content and digital platforms to contribute.

So, you can see that there are many ways to curate your online professional profile and build a positive and compelling digital footprint.

Hints and Tips for building a professional and positive digital footprint

If you are new to the concept of proactively building your digital footprint, here are some other hints and tips to guide you:
• Contribute your own unique ideas, comments and input to online conversations on platforms such as LinkedIn (in your feed or via Groups), Facebook (in your feed or via Group pages) and Twitter (either with your own tweets or responding to the tweets of others)
• Avoid online anti social behaviour (just as you would in a physical environment)
• Avoid posting images of yourself in compromising or unfavourable contexts
• Consider using pseudonyms and handles unrelated to your name for any of your highly personal social media accounts
• Google yourself from time to time to see what comes up when you search your name

The digital world does not distinguish between the content you post that is professional and the content you post that is personal. It is safest to assume that everything you post could be found at some stage by prospective or current employers, clients and others in your professional network.

Need a hand building your positive digital footprint? Keen to build your professional digital footprint to land the job, clients or career of your dreams?

Get in touch. I can help you to create a Digital Professional Profile Strategy to create a compelling and positive profile which will improve your online visibility and help you to access to the best work opportunities the market has to offer.

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