Randy Guthrie – Microsoft Academic Developer Evangelist
blogs.msdn.com/MIS_Laboratory

Yesterday I gave an Interview to AZFamily.com, an affiliate of KTVK-TV (Phoenix, AZ) about creating and protecting your “digital brand” and thought it would be good to share the content of the interview.

What is a Digital Brand?

A digital brand is the collective impression of all that is online about a person or a business.  More and more people are broadly and openly sharing their experiences, pictures and opinions using social media, and the sum of this information is what creates a person’s digital brand.  Facebook, MySpace, Windows Live Spaces and Twitter are some of the more popular social networking sites in the US, and frequently are where digital brands are first created.  Your digital brand is like a credit report, but instead of reporting on the likelihood of a person paying off a debt, a digital brand communicates your character, professionalism and reputation (or lack thereof) and how likely you are to make unwise decisions. While many people consider the information they post using social media as private, few take steps to hide it, and even if someone tries, it is extremely difficult to do completely.

Why Should I Care about my Digital Brand?

In today’s competitive job market, deliberately creating a positive digital brand can be a big differentiator, particularly for early-career job seekers.  Top grades and internships have always been viewed as important differentiators, but being seen as an authority or thought leader with an online audience is the new career fast track.  Also, 80 percent of recruiters and hiring managers are using Internet searches to see what reputational information exists about job candidates, and most (70 percent) will reject a candidate if they find information showing the candidate engaged in questionable activities, showing poor judgment, lying, or expressing ideas that conflict with the job or hiring organization’s values, goals or culture. Information you post, or that others post can live forever on the Internet. I read earlier this week that the Library of Congress is considering creating a permanent archive of every Twitter post.

How Do I Create a [Positive] Digital Brand for Myself?

The first step is knowing that everything you post online contributes to your brand. You can’t effectively separate your professional and personal content online.  This means that you ask yourself before you post anything, “what would a potential client or employer think of this content?”  If you wouldn’t want them to see it, then don’t post it.  Many of my colleagues use Twitter and Facebook specifically for building our profession audiences, and we cross-post between our professional blogs and other social media.  I am writing this post using Windows Live Writer, and I have a Twitter and Digg plugin that will automatically Tweet a link to this post to all my Twitter followers. Likewise, I have a Facebook app that reads my Tweets and posts any Tweet to my Facebook wall that ends with #FB.  The person that I try to be online is a physically active, technical evangelist who is passionate about technology and enjoys engaging with like-minded students, faculty and colleagues. I accept Friend invitations from students, faculty, and colleagues, but I hide posts from most family members (like my Mom), and I hide/unfriend anyone who doesn’t have anything better to do on Facebook than play Mafia Wars or other games that send me updates about their progress.

Another source of creating a digital brand is to get involved in an online professional community.  Being active in an online forum is great, but being a moderator or leader, or a star contributor is even better.  Every one of those great posts with insightful commentary or advice adds to your brand because they are all searchable and link you to positive content, people, organizations and communities. Can’t find an online professional community that you can relate to? Consider creating a professional blog and building your own audience.  Even if you are not planning to go into a marketing-type role (most of us didn’t), many of the better companies to work for recognize the value of their being positively associated with a thought leader in the industry. Come up with a catchy, classy name for your blog, and start posting insightful and thoughtful content.  Link your blog to other social media, and start building your community.  Insert telemetry into your blog so you know how many people are visiting and keep track of your audience.  Invite comments and build your own community.

How Do I Protect My Digital Brand?

First you have to know what your brand is.  Do a BING search using your name and all the possible variations of your name along with locations, employers, schools, etc. and see what comes up.  Don’t forget to click on the Images and Videos links as well.  If nothing negative shows up, then great!  If you find anything you wouldn’t want your potential employer to see, then well talk about how to fix blemishes next.  One potential source of negative information are your friends.  Even if you exercise restraint on what you post, do your friends?  If they post negative information about you (like an embarrassing photo) and tag you, it’s the same as if you posted it yourself.  On Facebook, you can go into your privacy settings and uncheck the boxes that allow others to tag pictures of you and other personal information. That way you can control what gets posted there. You can also restrict what information the casual visitor or friends of friends can see.  Even if a person’s profile is blocked, most of the time I can still see a list of their friends with thumbnail pictures, and you can tell a lot about a person by who their friends are and how those friends choose to appear online.

How Do I Remove Blemishes from my Digital Brand?

Scour your FaceBook or MySpace posts going all the way back and delete any posts that you wouldn’t want a client or potential employer to see. In really bad cases, delete your account, although this won’t guaranty removal of any content that was cross posted to your friends’ accounts. If your Bing search reveals negative content that others have posted, you can contact the contributor and ask them to remove it.  If it is false information, then you can escalate your request to a web master to have it removed.  Review your list of friends and either un-friend or hide those that aren’t really your friends and who might damage your reputation via association. Its okay to build a large audience of “friends”, just don’t let them determine what is visible on your wall. Perform periodic Internet searches and monitor what information about you is out there and actively try to remove negative or false information.  As a last resort, you can bury some older negative information with lots of new positive content.  The bottom line is that you can’t always change the online past, and no attempt to completely remove information from websites, blogs, Twitter, Facebook & search engine crawlers can be guaranteed to work.

The Bottom Line…

  • Nothing you post online is truly private
  • You and others are building your digital brand whether you like it or not
  • Never post text or image content that you wouldn’t want a client, colleague or hiring manager to see
  • Control what others can post about you
  • If you are proactive you can deliberately build a positive brand that will extend your ability to achieve

Good luck in building your own digital brand!

Cheers,

Randy