It was only until a few years ago when you could still say to people "I can't be found online" and wear it as a badge of honour. Today however it's much different. Whether we like it or not, some piece of information about our personal self will be available online. What kind of information will greatly influence how people see us.
The Business Conference TestPicture this: You're at a massive conference. Hundreds of people, probably several thousands, and they're all at attendance at this conference. You're there, browsing the wares, services, and meeting with many new people.
How do you introduce yourself?
You say your first and last name. That's the expected and professional way.
You don't tell the other person that your name is "Smithies1975". There are several wrong things about this, one of which is putting your year of birth in your username, which is another topic for another time. But the main takeaway is that you do not want to be remembered as Smithies1975, but with the name that your parents gave you.
The Google Search TestLaunch a browser and fire up a search query. Type in your first and last name, and browse through the first page results.
Do you like what you see?
There are several usual scenarios that come up here:
"I searched for my name and nothing came up" - This is quite rare nowadays and may not necessarily be a good thing, which I will explain in a bit.
"I searched for my name, but it's mostly or all the results are that of different people, not of me." - This is quite common and may or may not be a good thing. In my experience, people aren't happy with who the people that they share a name with.
"I searched for my name, and there's nothing about me, wait, WHY IS MY ADDRESS SHOWING UP?!" - This is another common result. Especially here in the UK, many people don't realise that they've opted in to be registered in the open register.
"I searched for my name, and I don't like what I see. I need help!" - This happens regularly and there are many reasons why people aren't happy with what they see. Usually it's because they share the same name with other people who have done unpleasant things.
"I searched for my name, and I'm okay with what I saw." - Probably the most common type of response I've seen people have when they do a search for their name on the web.
Whatever the result is, in the 21st century, it is important that you take care of your digital footprint.
The Reppler ReportWhat gave me conviction was a report done by the Reppler company (looks like they got bought out by TrustedID). Check out the infographic below, courtesy of Mashable:
This is quite an old graphic, but I'd like to say that it still drives the point home.
First Impressions Last, and First Impressions Are Usually OnlineSo you really have only one option, and that is to start building a positive online presence.
Having no online presence leaves people with their imagination. It is quite common for people to question the fact that you do not have an online footprint. I've worked with managers who easily throw comments like "may he/she has something to hide". This is completely wrong, but that's what happens behind closed doors.
Having a poor online presence is much worse. People will simply judge you for what they see online. The content may not even necessarily be about you and you simply share the name with a mischievous person.
A friend and colleague of mine was in exactly the same position. He worked hard to get positive content online and replaced a link to a blog of a person with the same name who was talking about shooting his coworkers.
Nowadays, people's first impression of other people is usually through digital means. Usually through some form of social media.
It is important to be aware that what we put online becomes part of a massive puzzle with many parts which is our digital footprint. Rather than letting people use their imagination to come up with a mental picture that you do not agree with, why not leave breadcrumbs of information about yourself that you are happy with?