Some of us have a tonne of personal information online, but nothing really professional. For others, it’s the opposite situation: a squeaky-clean professional digital footprint, without a trace of the personal touch.
Ideally, we need a mix—so that Googling produces a balanced representation of work experience and leisure pursuits. Why? Because we’re in an era of increasing expectation that influencers, thought leaders, creatives, and professionals of all kinds are digitally-savvy, connected, accessible, trusted and transparent.
For the Facebook/MySpace generation and the connected class of Gen Xers and Boomers, living social means everyday immersion in a stream of personal information, digitally distributed. Party and vacation photos, status updates and slacktivism, online relationships and friendships, group affiliations and event invites, music and video playlists and favorites, virtual gifts, badges and social gaming—these are the elements of a well-developed personal social media profile.
For most millennials and the digerati then, personal e-presence is established and regularly updated. And considering Facebook’s SEO, it is virtually guaranteed that profiles on that site will land in the top 10 of any Google search. Of course with so much controversy about FB privacy settings and 3rd party applications, most users have set restricted access on personal profiles. The gated community approach obviously limits the usefulness of those sites if the goal is to grow a social graph, expand connections, and craft an accessible and full-fledged public digital persona.
It’s the professional aspect of profile development that challenges students. For Gen Y, when internships, job interviews, or grad school applications are looming—they grapple with the quintessential question: what do I do about my Facebook profile? Quit it? Clean it up? Lock it down? Ignore friend requests from professional contacts? There’s no consensus, but generally speaking, a two-step approach is the ticket: professionalizing a FB profile and creating more Google- and employer- friendly profiles on other sites (LinkedIn being the most obvious).
For many GenX and Boomers, it’s not the lack of work-related info that’s the problem. In fact that’s often the only information that can be easily found online—a brief profile on the company webpage. More often than digital natives, older cohorts are both concerned and anxious about privacy and security on the web. “The only major problem with maintaining a purely professional social-media presence is that it’s no fun,” observes David D. Perlmutter at The Chronicle of Higher Ed. Perlmutter advises junior academics being considered for promotion to use sites like Flickr and YouTube as tools for career advancement.
Personalizing an online persona doesn’t necessarily mean giving up privacy or going virtually naked. There are strategic ways to give the world a glimpse of personality, tastes and habits, including things like via photosharing, what-I’m-reading booklists, and music/video playlists. Used wisely, profiles on these kinds of entertainment and creative sites boost personal SEO without compromising professional reputation.
The task ahead is to strategically and creatively increase your transparency online and enrich your e-presence by designing a multifaceted personal-professional rich digital self. But don’t leave it to Google to assemble the pieces. Buy your domain name and launch your own blog or site, using widgets, RSS feeds and links to pull your socnet profiles and pieces together.
In other words, curate thyself.