Most of us haven’t thought much about it before. I’d even go as far to guess that a select handful of us don’t even really know what it means. (Don’t worry – I was guilty of this too). It’s just one of those things that doesn’t trigger a lot of radars. It’s got a passé reputation, sprinkled with a, “that will never happen to me,” mentality, all the while possessing the power to completely debilitate one’s reputation in the matter of hours.
Say hello to digital footprints.
What Are They?
Digital footprints are essentially our online DNA. They are specific to each of us, with new paths being forged each time we browse Google, buy from sites like Amazon, leave a review, post on social media and even when you sign up for newsletters. Oh, and let’s not forget about the role others have in forming your footprint. That’s right. Tags, articles, videos, comments, emails and shares received from family, friends, coworkers… Those count too. So long as your name is associated with the content, the information is captured, molding your unique digital code and launched into internet abyss for all time, and for anyone to see, including potential employers who hold the keys to your dream job.
Sounds scary, doesn’t it? It definitely can be, especially when your career prospects are on the line. At the rate in which online activity takes place nowadays, it’s no wonder this information has become severely vulnerable. This means the need for digital security, its importance and understanding, has taken, (or at least should take), precedence. Not just for businesses, but for individuals and job seekers alike.
To support awareness, Style Nine to Five sought out Communications Strategist, Tieja MacLaughlin, founder of Tieja Inc., who’s built her boutique Toronto communications firm on the backs of digital fallouts by supporting and actively advocating the importance of digital spaces. We asked questions about some of the top digital deficiencies, how they play a role in employment, and how to mitigate digital negativity.
Style Nine to Five: It’s pretty safe to say that almost everyone is online these days. However, there’s a little bit of naiveté when it comes to digital footprints. How do you think we can better educate ourselves, and others, on the importance of digital footprints?
Tieja MacLaughlin: You don’t have to look much further than the news to understand the importance of online reputation, digital security and social media safety. I think the biggest hurdle, however, is lack of practical education around these topics. Schools and institutions just aren’t able to keep up with the rapid pace in which tech is evolving, so people need to take responsibility and seek out their own experts.
The good news is you can find a lot of tools for free online. You can follow blogs or social media accounts of people or companies that are involved in cyber security or public relations. And it’s always a great idea to start a conversation with your friends or family too, particularly younger people who are especially active online. It’s important they know the threats.
SNTF: In the event that someone, or business shows negatively online, whether by their own doing or otherwise, what are appropriate actions that should and should not be taken?
TM: The most important thing to do when receiving negative criticism online is to control your emotions, think rationally, and consider the long-term repercussions of your reaction. Of course, this is a lot easier said than done. Most times, people have a tendency to make an emotionally driven, knee-jerk response, which only escalates the situation and makes it worse. By responding to negative criticism, you boost its engagement, thereby driving up its visibility and making it more prominent on search engines and social media.
With that in mind, you have to consider whether responding is even worth it at all. It is normal to feel anger, sadness, shame or humiliation in these situations, but it is important to work through those emotions first before engaging. Take a step back to better understand the true impact of the criticism and assess its reputational and financial damages. If you received a handful of critical tweets, it’s probably not going to have a substantial impact on your livelihood, so let go of your ego and disengage. If a big media outlet wrote a negative story about you, that’s a situation in which you should probably work with a professional to help you prepare a response strategy.
SNTF: Employers and recruiters are more commonly performing online checks of candidates. What are some examples of how job seekers might create a ‘positive footprint’ for themselves?
TM: I have mixed thoughts about making hiring decisions based on online reputation, but it has definitely become the norm, so it is good to get out ahead of it and create a strong online presence. Prospective employees can start by setting up owned media channels to showcase their interests, experience and personality.
Think of it this way: there are nine ‘slots’ on the first page of Google; when someone Googles your name, ideally you want to own 9/9 of those slots, to ensure you have control over the content people see about you. I would highly recommend purchasing your name domain and setting it up as a landing page or simple website. Your name domain is [First Name][Last Name].com/.ca, and you can purchase it through a provider such as Namecheap. Because name domains are an exact match of your name, if optimized properly, they will rank high on Google. LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram are also authoritative sites that rank high. If you want your accounts to be found, make sure you use the exact spelling of your name, as opposed to a screen name. Be authentic and speak about your interests. For example, you can share news stories about something interesting happening in the field you’re applying for.
SNTF: Passive digital footprints such as passwords, banking information and utilizing targeted ads are equally part of one’s digital footprint. This means they are also sensitive to tracing, or worse, hacking. What are some methods and examples we can take to reduce the likeliness of this happening?
TM: Over 80% of account breaches are tied to passwords. Which is an entirely solvable problem. Passwords should include a combination of upper- and lower-case letters and special characters. Don’t include any personal information that can easily be found, such as your birthday or pet’s name. Your password should be different for each account, and the accounts should not be linked – this limits the amount of access a potential hacker could get if they were successful. Also, be sure to turn on two-factor authentication. Remember, everything you do online is traceable, even after it is deleted. And there is really no such thing as 100% privacy. So, if you wouldn’t want someone to see it, then don’t put it online.
All in all, it’s important to make sure you take the necessary steps to ensure your validity in the online space. That means it’s best to follow suit and get your digital self in order, because chances are, someone (aka potential employers when you apply for a job) has already Googled you, and no one wants to be caught with their proverbial pants down!
Be diligent and take ownership of your digital activity so that anyone searching you – especially hiring managers – are finding the information that you want them to see. Taking control of your digital presence to help you put your best self forward while protecting your integrity.
Looking for a professional opinion? Style Nine to Five founder, Christie Lohr, offers one on one virtual sessions where you can get in depth answers to your burning questions about career paths, resume preferences and social platforms.
Meghan Kelemen – Hailing from Toronto, Canada, Meghan garners 10+ years’ experience in the marketing and creative design industries.
Feature Image: Adobe Stock