What is your digital footprint?
Your digital footprint is everything on the internet that is about you. This could include
- a profile on Facebook,Twitter or LinkedIn
- photographs that you, your friends or family have posted online
- anything you have written or that has been written about you, for instance on discussion boards, blogs, or in articles.
We are all being encouraged to put aspects of ourselves and our lives online, and much of this content is freely available to view. Each time we add something about ourselves on the internet we enlarge our own digital footprint. Whenever we mention someone else, we enlarge theirs.
Personal information is routinely collected by companies eager to market their goods or services and this can be retained for several years. Equally, your digital presence can be monitored by individuals looking for information about you.
Uncover your digital footprint
You should first check what others can see about you. Search for your name using Google or other search engines and see what information already exists about you. Repeat the search regularly using services such as Google Alerts which give automatic updates. Although you may not have added anything new, your friends and family might have.
Capitalise on your digital footprint
A digital footprint offers many advantages.
- You can build a positive online presence that showcases your skills, experience and interests. Moreover, with some online sites, you can control the information about you that is publicly available.
- An online profile that includes your CV, for instance on a professional networking site such as LinkedIn, can expand your range of contacts.
- Professional networking sites can give you access to potential employers, whose digital footprint you can also check.
- You can update your profile in a cost- and time-effective way, so make sure to do so regularly.
Some employment sectors (e.g. advertising, public relations and the media) may expect and actively encourage you to have a digital footprint. They may look for examples of your online creativity, for instance on blogs, profiles or videos.
You can enhance your digital footprint by carefully judged contributions to blogs, news articles and discussions, or by adding reviews to sites such as Amazon. Keeping a positive online presence regularly updated can reduce the impact of any earlier content you may regret, because most internet searches rarely access more than the top few results.
Before enhancing your digital footprint, consider whether it is worth the time and effort, and whether the content really does add value to your online profile.
Be aware of your digital footprint
If you use social networking sites such as Facebook,Twitter and LinkedIn, or regularly post photos, videos, blogs and comments, make sure to manage your contributions carefully, since much of the information stored online becomes public by default. Unless you change your privacy settings, your social network pages will come up on a web search.
Anyone who finds out enough about you could potentially impersonate you, so be careful about the personal information you make publicly available. Potential employers have also been known to reject applicants on the basis of information discovered online.
If aspects of your online presence are causing you concern
- separate your personal and professional online profiles
- consider using a different name (e.g. a nickname) for your more private personal profile, and change the privacy settings on your social networking site so that only your friends can see your personal information
- remove anything from your public profile that is personal or private, or that might cause potential problems with colleagues, your current or prospective employer, and always avoid inappropriate language, ill-advised comments or jokes.