*** Please note that my ED 431 course requires us to post our assignments in draft form for classmates to provide feedback. The following entry is a draft. I encourage all criticisms of content or style. Thank you!***
Personally, I define one’s web presence as the combination of all the activities one engages in online that come up in search results on Google and other engines — whether that person intended for that information to be publicly associated with them or not. It is you as you exist publicly on the web. After reflecting on and articulating my definition, I attempted to find other definitions online. I was surprised to find that a search for “web presence” in Wikipedia led me to the “digital footprint” article. The article provided a great definition of a digital footprint but I do not feel that the two concepts are synonymous. I agree with the article’s definition of a digital footprint: It is every single thing that you do online, including everything you click, every character you typed into a search box or form, your location, and more (Wikipedia 1). All of the activity that makes up one’s web presence would be a part of one’s digital footprint but the latter concept goes much further to include the countless data bits that cannot be found on the likes of Google. Many articles that talk about web presence skip over a definition of the concept but the content suggests that the authors are working off a similar definition to mine. Another term that is thrown into the mix and should be noted here is “online (or digital or e-) reputation.” I define this as how you come across to others based on your web presence plus what others have publicly posted about or of you.
I believe it is essential for the college students I work with to have a solid understanding of these concepts and how they can have a long-lasting (permanent?) impact on their future opportunities, for better or worse. Students should take control of their web presence by first searching their own names in various engines and thinking carefully about the results. Are any of the results about you? What kind of person is portrayed by the top results, including ones about other individuals with your name? Employers and others Googling you may not know which results are yours. If the top result is something terrible related to another person with your name, wouldn’t you want the next link to be to your website with your photo and resume so the hiring committee can breathe a sigh of relief that you are the librarian and not the convict?
Employers and colleges are using search results to make hiring, admission, and retention decisions (Waldman 2011, p. 10). Make sure they are seeing what you want them to see by cleaning up search results that are related to you. This may be deactivating or increasing privacy settings on social networking sites and deleting negative or unprofessional content found on various websites (KBSD, Pan, Posner). The next step is to ensure that professional content about them appears at the top of the results. This can be achieved by creating a website, blog, becoming engaged with conversations on Twitter, or even just simple public profiles on sites like LinkedIn or About.me. Being proactive and creating your own web presence allows you to have some control over what people see about or by you (Schawbel 2011).
Sources seem to universally agree that everything you post online in any format should be professional. Some even say that everything you post should be consistent and promote your personal brand (Schwabel 2009, Waldman p. 14). Dan Schwabel (2009) defines personal branding as “the process by which individuals … stand out from the crowd by identifying and articulating their unique value … and then leverage it across platforms with a consistent message and image to achieve a specific goal” (p. 4). In pursuit of establishing your personal brand, Pan (2012) recommends reserving your name on all popular sites and in web domains, determining the message you wish to convey, maintaining professionalism in all public realms, and actively engaging with people in your field by contributing to the conversation. Getting students to become actively involved is an effective means of inculcating undergraduates into a profession or field – that is, teaching them to be professional and engage in the conversation of the field. That’s what writing papers and reading literature in college is supposed to do. Doing it online is even more interactive and effective.
Any talk of web presence would be incomplete without some mention of concerns of privacy. Some people do not want to have a web presence at all. In today’s American society it is very difficult to ensure that nothing about you appears in online searches. Remember that even if you succeed in that, results for others with your name can impact your reputation as discussed above. Certainly one should never posting a home address, telephone numbers, account numbers, or other personal information online. I recall Jeff Jarvis (2011) discussing in his book, Public Parts, a desire to protect one’s privacy should not prevent one from reaping the benefits of publicness, such as having a web presence (unable to cite pages as I was unable to obtain a copy in time to draft this entry). The two should be balanced. Students may wish to consider everything they do or share online to be public for all to see, even if they think they are protected by a site’s privacy settings. With such a strategy, concerns about privacy violations can be reduced.
This leads me to the last thing I’d like to address here, whether it is possible or necessary to maintain a separate private and public web presence. Overall, I believe it is both possible and necessary to do so, with the caveat that your private presence has the potential to inadvertently become a part of your public presence (so behave accordingly). For example, I maintain a private “web presence,” one that only select people have access to, via Facebook. I maintain strict privacy settings to reduce the likelihood of a leak and use it for my personal connections and posts. Taking my own advice, I do not post anything that I would be devastated to have made public. Sure, there are things that would make me blush if exposed, but there is nothing that could get me fired or disciplined at work, removed from my graduate program, or get me into legal trouble (perhaps because there isn’t any of that kind of information I could post, but that’s another topic). All other sites — this website and blog, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. — are part of my professional public presence. I do like having an avenue where I can post about my dogs, what I did this weekend, vacation photos, and the like, but I don’t want these types of postings to distract others from my professional interactions and contributions.
Citations (to be put into APA format soon)
Wikipedia 1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_footprint
Dan Schawbel (2009) Me 2.0: Build a powerful brand to achieve career success. Kaplan. New York.
Waldman, Joshua (2011). Job searching with social media. John Wiley & Sons: Hoboken, NJ.
Jarvis, Jeff (2011) Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live.