When you think about digital citizenship, it can sometimes be unclear as to what that really means. Does it mean just keeping your Facebook page or Instagram account private? Unfortunately in today’s digital age, teenagers need to start considering other factors and taking extra precautions. You may have heard that employers are Googling potential employees or making fake Facebook pages to add you and scan your profile. It seems rather extreme, right? But that’s the reality of the Internet age. In order to be prepared, it’s important to create a clean digital footprint. This means that you need to trace all of those steps back through different social media outlets (i.e., Facebook or Twitter) and think about what your identity looks like online. What have you posted, what are your friends posting about you or tagging you in, what groups are you following, what does your “About Me” info say? These are all footprints that build your digital identity and demonstrate your awareness of your digital citizenship.
Before I get into some simple ways to create a clean digital footprint and demonstrate professional digital citizenship, I have a little story to share with you. When I was getting my Teacher Education certification a couple years ago, we had long talks in our classes and seminars about real life cases and how the digital world has affected professionals. One of my professors shared a story about how one of his previous students interviewed to get onto the substitute teaching list. This student ended up being successfully hired. Everything in his life seemed to be on track until this employer decided to do a digital background check. This is where his downfall began. The employer discovered that his profile picture showed him with drug paraphernalia. Of course, this teacher, who was seen as a shining star in his class, was immediately fired from the substitute teaching list.
Of course, I am not saying that this is how everyone acts online. However, this is a great example of how easy it is to get a sense as to who someone is without having a public social media profile. There is so much information that you could potentially be sharing without even realizing it.
Setting the Stage
It’s spring cleaning time! You may surprise yourself one day if you go online and Google yourself. Go into Google images and browse through what comes up. You may be unaware that some of your profiles are public and therefore feeding into Google images. When I first started to monitor my digital footprint, I was surprised that there were some pictures from Twitter coming up that were maybe a little less professional looking (for example, out with friends as a teenager). So, as I mentioned, I went to the source of some of these photos and started to clean up my digital footprint. This was my “Setting the Stage” moment.
When setting the stage, begin to go through your social media outlets and think wisely about some of your pictures and comments. Go back as far as you can. The earlier you start to clean up your social media pages, the easier it will be later in life to connect with professionals. Before becoming an active professional in my field, I may have not cared about party photos or fun, silly pictures with friends being posted online. However, I am so thankful that I did. Now that I am in the beginning stages of my career, I feel comfortable when someone from my professional life adds me to Facebook, Twitter, or another social media channel. I feel like I balance showing my fun, quirky side of Facebook with a sense of professionalism.
You may be laughing at me right now and asking why would I ever accept an employer or someone from my work on Facebook? Of course, this is your decision. However, I have found that connecting with employers through social media to be extremely beneficial and helpful in building professional relationships. So why not start early? This way, when it is time to connect with more professionals and employers, you will feel comfortable accepting them into your personal social media networks.
Now that you have set the stage, you need to perform! If you do decided to keep your Facebook or Twitter as strictly personal accounts, start to think about wise decisions on how you will connect with other professionals. Just remember that you are taking a risk on the Internet if you are not keeping even your personal social media accounts clean. You will never know every connection on Facebook with regards to who knows who…so be careful. You may not realize that someone on your Facebook is allowing someone else to look at your profile.
No matter what, you should present some form of digital footprint that employers can visibly see when they search your name. I highly recommend starting a LinkedIn profile. This page always comes up as one of the first search results under your name after you create it. You can think of LinkedIn as a digital resume. You can upload a professional photo, add your current status as a student or where your work, insert information about previous jobs, and link your page to organizations that you are already working with. When employers or other professionals first see your profile, they will only see what you are allowing the general public to view. You can set privacy restrictions so that only people you have linked with can access certain information. They will then get a very clean and professional first impression!
Overall, LinkedIn is the place to start! You will also find that those people who use LinkedIn are there for the same professional reasons that you are. Do not expect to get over 1,000 friends on LinkedIn. People are a lot more caution and selective with who they request to link with, and you should be too. You want this network to be smaller and more meaningful.
So you have set your stage, performed your digital footprint, and now are ready to give people more! At this stage in your life, you may not be ready to take your professional networking to the next level. You are still young so just developing a professional digital footprint or identity set-up is a fantastic start. You will find that your professional social media pages will take off once you are working more in your field.
Overall, keep in mind that it is important to engage with your audience, networks, and friends. As you begin to build more professional networks, start to read what they are posting, provide feedback, share your successes, and post some interesting articles or resources that you have discovered. If you start to gain a lot of knowledge about a topic of interest, it doesn’t hurt to start a professional blog! Blogging is a fantastic way to publish knowledge. You are then perfectly set-up to push this knowledge out through Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
I hope you have gained some understanding of the importance and first steps towards a clean digital footprint. In the 21st century, YOUR generation needs to be thinking about this early on. You have grown up with technology since birth, and I am sure that you have a whole slew of digital content on the web. It is time to start cleaning that up and setting the stage for a successful digitally connected future!