Your digital footprint refers to the record of your online interactions. It's everything you do, share, or post online - some of which can tarnish your reputation.
But, according to Statista, only about a third of people who use the internet actually have a good idea of what a digital footprint is.
But, since most of the things we do online will likely be there permanently, it's important to understand more about your digital footprint so you know whether it's helping or hurting you.
In this article, we’re going to look at everything you need to know to protect your online image, including why your digital footprint is important and how to make sure the things you do online don't hurt your career prospects.
Why is Your Digital Footprint Important?
Everything you share online - from the pages you like to the images you post, and everything in between - essentially announces to the world exactly who you are.
This means that anyone, even complete strangers, can tell a lot about you just by looking at the trail you leave behind whenever you share updates, check into places through social media, comment on posts, etc.
They can tell:
What you look like
Where you work
Who you know
Where you've been
What you like to do
Your opinions on different topics
… and so on.
A digital footprint can be seen and used by anyone, including advertisers, companies, and marketers in the industry, and even Tinder dates who want a closer look at your personal life.
Most importantly, your trail of digital crumbs is used by employers (current and prospective) to find out more and is more impactful than many other factors, including your birth order in your family.
The digital economy now drives much of the global workforce, and, in addition to looking at resumes and cover letters, many employers perform online searches in order to learn more about employees.
They go to social media, blogs, portfolio sites, and other platforms in an effort to discover the interests and industry involvement of prospective hires, as well as their ability to brand and market themselves effectively online.
Neal Taparia, a serial entrepreneur who runs a gaming platform, Solitaired.com, explains: “We will always research a candidate online. In one case, we hired someone who we were on the fence with because they clearly showed their love for classic games like solitaire on social media. In another instance, we moved on from a candidate due to vulgar language we found on their profile pages.”
This means that, unless you have a positive digital footprint, an online check by a prospective or current employer could jeopardize your job if they come across anything inappropriate.
Creating and maintaining a strong digital footprint also comes with other benefits, some of which I’ve listed below:
Benefits of Maintaining a Positive Digital Footprint
When done right, your digital footprint can be a way for you to provide a great first impression to potential employers.
A strong online presence can be a career asset, particularly in the current competitive job market. Conversely, a lack of activity online can be a turnoff for hiring managers.
A positive digital footprint helps you control the narrative through the use of personal branding to boost your credibility, authority, and expertise.
Luckily, there are a lot of ways for you to proactively manage your digital footprint, which is what we’re going to look at now.
How to Make Sure Your Digital Footprint is Helping, and Not Hurting You
As you've seen so far, your digital footprint can greatly affect your reputation and relationships, as well as your employment opportunities.
Whether this lasting impact is positive or negative depends on how well you manage your digital footprint.
Here are the steps to take toward developing and maintaining a strong, positive presence online.
Image credit: James W. Lee III
1. Clean up Things That Could Be Hurting You
Your first step in developing a positive digital footprint is to audit your online image and check your digital footprint in order to see what others, especially potential employers, might find out about you.
Even if you don't spend a lot of time online, you still have a trail of crumbs that you leave in the form of cookies, comments, posts, clicks, pictures, and even apps on your smartphone.
These are what make up the results when someone searches for you online. And, if there is anything that can shape your reputation and career in ways that are not pleasing to you, now is the time to take care of it.
To start auditing your online image, conduct a search for your name on Google and other search engines.
Take a look at the first few pages and take inventory of what is out there.
Look at it from the perspective of an outsider and if there's something that could be potentially damaging that you don't want potential employers to see, get rid of it at once. In the same manner that organizations need to manage risks, individuals should also be mindful of their personal brand and actions that could put them in a negative light.
If it wasn't posted by you, contact the person who did and ask them to take it down.
Some of the things to look out for include:
Excessive use of profanity
Arguing on social media
Embarrassing party photos
Sharing too much personal information
Calling out someone in a personal issue
“Liking” inappropriate content on social media
Leaving comments on a blog with negative language or tone
Badmouthing previous employers
Glaring grammar mistakes and misspelled words
Don't be fooled into thinking that your boss/potential boss only has access to your resume, education, and experience and not what you do in your free time.
Even if you're not friends on Facebook or any other platform, your employer can still access what you post and this can have a detrimental effect on your chances of getting (or keeping) your job.
That's why you should always assume that everything you share online might eventually be discovered by others, including your colleagues, clients, and employers - and THINK before you post.
Once you've done your personal digital analysis, it's time to move on to the next step.
2. Showcase Yourself as a Creative
Your next step is to maximize your digital footprint for the best results. Since the internet makes it so easy for anyone to access and share information about you, it's up to you to take the necessary steps to make sure you only have positive interactions for them to find.
And, since your main goal in creating your digital footprint is to improve your reputation and future career opportunities, you need to find effective ways to showcase yourself as a creative.
This goes for everything from the posts you make to the comments you leave on sites, chatting online, posting images and videos, online learning resources you share, etc.
Here are a few tips to better market yourself as a creative:
Start with Branding:
You need to create a personal brand so you can target future employers more effectively and give them a good sense of your creative capabilities.
Creating a brand means putting together a branding kit or your own and presenting your skills (on your website, social media, and other places online), credentials, interests, passions, and values in a way that will help to elevate your application during the hiring process.
Properly complete all your social media profiles with up-to-date information and include a professional headshot.
If possible, create a YouTube channel or start a blog related to your business or personal interests and publish professional content that highlights your positive aspects. If you decide to start a blog, WordPress is your best bet. If you are not tech savvy, use one of the beginner-friendly WordPress builders like Divi or Elementor (check the full list here), they'll make things much easier for you.
Image credit: Adidas Germany
Put Together a Portfolio:
Create an up-to-date and visually appealing portfolio that will be your major selling point to potential future employers.
Strategically select the best samples to highlight your creativity and abilities. Make sure you choose a diverse and expansive variety of work so your portfolio can show exactly what you're capable of. If you’re looking to make it as professional as possible, graphic design software can help you make it visually more appealing.
Exhibit the Right Characteristics:
Even with the right identity branding and a stunning portfolio, you still may not get the job unless you can prove that you have the characteristics employers are looking for in creative job candidates.
So, make sure you demonstrate that you are:
Collaborative: Showcase your ability to fill a spot within a cohesive unit, function effectively as part of a team, and problem-solve in co-creative situations that require multiple people and tons of attention.
Assertive: In addition to being able to get along with others, you must also show that you can stand up and speak for yourself. Find ways to show that you take ownership of your projects. Show that you take pride in what you do, and in the brands that you present with your work.
Humble: Even if you’re a master in your particular field, you should know how to keep unflattering arrogance in check. Employers want to know that you can seamlessly join a team, find your place, and overcome adversity, which is a key characteristic of successful groups.
A messy digital footprint can seriously hurt your chances of getting hired, and possibly even cost you your current job. But, if you follow the tips outlined above, you make it more likely that what you say and do online will positively impact your career pursuits.
3. Tailor Your Digital Footprint For Each Platform
These days, your digital footprint is part of your resume and before hiring you, the majority of employers and recruiters will conduct an online background check.
Regardless of which platform they look at, what they find should paint a positive picture of you, your skills, attitudes, and abilities. That's why you need to tailor your digital footprint for each platform.
For instance, depending on whether you're posting on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, you will have to create different types of content to suit each platform. Ideas that may work on Instagram, may not work on other platforms as well. The same goes for the content you post on your personal blog, portfolio website, etc.
You can’t post the same thing on all different platforms as this shows a lack of creativity on your part.
Further, if you decide to throw live streaming into the mix on platforms like Twitch or YouTube, things can be even more complicated.
Different platforms each have their own set of rules regarding the type of content you can post, including its length, use of hashtags, image sizes, etc. So, make sure you take the time to fill in your profiles with relevant information and craft content that is in line with the platform's guidelines.
4. Maintain Consistency Across Different Platforms
This step is related to the previous one and involves maintaining consistency on all the different platforms you use to build your online presence.
Use the same professional headshot on different platforms. This helps with your personal branding and makes it easier for employers to recognize you online.
Use your real name when creating profiles and resumes on social media and portfolio websites.
Maintain consistent information on all sites, including a consistent username, email address, screen name, etc.
Use professional handles and avoid complicated or inappropriate names that cast you in a negative light.
Although this may seem trivial to some, if your online image does not align with your professional one, it can hurt your career.
Maintaining consistency across different platforms will play a huge part in building a strong digital footprint that can one day help you land your dream job.
5. Manage Your Digital Footprint
Now that you've taken the steps required to create a positive digital footprint, you need to find ways to maintain it.
Optin #1 - Search Your Name: One way is to continue to search your name on Google and other search engines on a regular basis in order to see what’s out there.
Option #2 - Set Up Google Alerts: You can also set up Google Alerts for your name so you know whenever something is posted with your name on it.
Option #3 - Use Tools: An easier way is to use tools like FootprintFridayTool or BrandYourself to keep track of your digital footprint.
These tools will help you monitor your online results every week so you can get a clear picture of what others (especially potential future employers) see when they search for you online.
For instance, BrandYourself scans your profiles on social networks and Google search results every week to create a "reputation" score.
This score takes into account how well your online persona is optimized and the amount of positive and pertinent information there is about you, as well as any negative impact from pictures and posts that could potentially raise red flags with employers.
The tool also makes suggestions for the steps you can take to improve your overall score, such as rewriting your Twitter profile biography, freshening your LinkedIn page, removing negative comments on websites, and so on.
You now know what a digital footprint is and how it can help or hurt you. You are also aware that employers follow your trail online, and you've learned the benefits of maintaining a positive presence on the internet, as well as the steps you can take to cultivate it.
Take advantage of the information in this article to help you portray only your best skills and qualities that will impress future employers and help you land your dream job.
So what do you think - is your digital footprint helping or hurting you, and why? Let us know in the comments below!