Web Presence

Assignment: Create a blog post that includes your definition of “web presence” and “digital footprint,” whether one can manage their own web presence, and how lessons regarding web presence should be addressed by university educators. (View original blog post here: http://darcyhutchings.com/ed-431-assignment-web-presence)

Personally, I define 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 the person intended for that information to be publicly associated with them or not. In other words, 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 its “digital footprint” article (“Digital footprint,” 2013). While the article provided a great definition of a digital footprint, 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 on, every character you type into a search box or form, your location, and more (“Digital footprint,” 2013, para. 1). All of the activity that makes up one’s web presence is a part of one’s digital footprint but, in my opinion, the latter concept goes much further to include the countless data bits that cannot be found on the likes of Google. Many articles I found that discuss web presence exclude an explicit definition of the concept but the content typically 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 everything about you — and others who share your name, when it’s not obvious that the information is about someone else — that can be located online.

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. I recommend asking them: 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 upstanding young professional and not the partying ex-convict?

According to Waldman (2011), employers and colleges are using search results to make hiring, admission, and retention decisions (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 mean deactivating accounts or tightening up privacy settings on social networking sites and deleting negative or unprofessional content found on various websites (Pan, 2012; Posner, 2011; KBSD, n.d.). The next step is to ensure that professional content about you 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 creating 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, para. 2).

Sources seem to universally agree that everything you post publicly online should be professional. Some even say that everything you post should be consistent and promote your personal brand (Schawbel, 2009; Schneider, 2012; Waldman, 2011, p. 14). Dan Schawbel (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 you should never posting a home address, telephone number, 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. The two should be balanced. You may wish to consider everything you do or share online to be public for all to see, even if you think you 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.


Digital footprint. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved June 17, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_footprint

Jarvis, J. (2011). Public parts: How sharing in the digital age improves the way we work and live. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

KBSD Digital Marketing. (n.d.). Managing your personal e-reputation [Infographic]. In C. White, (2011, Nov. 2), Protecting your online reputation: 4 things you need to know. Retreived from: http://mashable.com/2011/11/02/protecting-your-online-reputation/

Pan, J. (2012, Aug. 28). Students, here’s how to kick-start your personal brand online. Retrieved from: http://mashable.com/2012/08/28/personal-branding-for-students/

Posner, M. (2011, Feb. 14). Creating your web presence: A primer for academics. Retrieved from: http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/creating-your-web-presence-a-primer-for-academics/30458

Schawbel, D. (2009). Me 2.0: Build a powerful brand to achieve career success. New York, NY: Kaplan.

Schawbel, D. (2011, Feb. 21). 5 reasons why your online presence will replace your resume in 10 years. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2011/02/21/5-reasons-why-your-online-presence-will-replace-your-resume-in-10-years/

Schneider, K. G. (2012) Personal branding for librarians. American Libraries, 43(11/12), 34-37. Retrieved from http://www.americanlibrariesmagazine.org/article/personal-branding-librarians

Waldman, J. (2011). Job searching with social media. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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