Insights: Managing your digital tattoo

October 27, 2014
Jennifer Walinga

Juan Enriquez, one of the world’s leading authorities on the economic and political impacts of life sciences, said in his TED talk titled, Your online life, permanent as a tattoo: “Digital tattoos shout” and “they tell a lot of stories.”

Managing your web presence, and ultimately your reputation online, demands your attention but need not provoke paranoia. If you are too perfect, that raises suspicions in others who may wonder if you are hiding something. A few simple steps can be taken for you to play a larger role in the publication of your “self” in the online space.

Begin reviewing the publication of yourself by googling your name via a web, images and videos search. Notice what ranks highest, then take an active role in publishing content that will garner attention and reach a higher search rank: professional websites, publications and events. Ensuring that your bio is published on your organization's website is an effective way to leverage an associated search by the public.

The best defence is a good offence

In the virtual space, tagging, links, and sheer content volume will make the surfacing of an old university party photo inevitable; however, you have the power to ensure that more favourable representations of yourself rank at the higher search levels, crowding out the strange or embarrassing images or associations. Take an active role in publishing information about your endeavours, contributions, accomplishments and activities. Of course, the best way to ensure you are positively represented online is to live positively offline. Professional coverage of your activities will trump someone's Facebook tag of you in a compromising photo. 

Learn about social networks

As Howard Rheingold says, "What you know or don't know about networks can influence how much freedom, wealth and participation you and your children will have in the rest of this century." Albert-László Barabási is the guru of Social Network Theory and reminds us of the strength of “weak ties.” The strength of a system depends on its complexity. Just as we cannot rely on our limited system of family and friends to connect us to an international job opportunity, the real strength of our network, and career trajectory, depends on ties between distant cousins in another country and their friends’ family connections. 

Preferential attachmentis the theory that nodes (websites) will wish to link themselves to hubs (websites) with the most connections. The fitness model is a model of the evolution of a network: how the links between nodes change over time depends on the fitness of nodes.

Fitter nodes attract more links at the expense of less fit nodes; you can enhance the fitness of certain publications or links to your “self” online using a few steps:

  • Update your profile (and privacy settings) on your existing social networking site or consider creating a profile on a professional networking site such as LinkedIn. 
  • Customize the URL when you can and repeat your name where appropriate. For instance, on LinkedIn you can scroll down to where it says “public profile” on your profile page, and edit the URL to include your name. Also be sure to use your full name and not a nickname or slogan you think is catchy. Most websites give you the option of linking to other social media sites. Do this. It will make your online presence stronger.
  • Create a thoughtful, well-written blog about your career goals or interests. Comment on recent news in the field. Post comments on others’ blogs and use your full name.
  • Buy your own domain name if you can. 
  • Use your full name in the title, header and photo tags on any webpage you create to showcase your professional self.
  • Link to and from various pages within and outside your own website – this will increase your page rank.

Lori Randall Stradtman, author of Online Reputation Management for Dummies, tells the “geek joke”: Where do you hide a dead body? Answer: On the third page of Google results. You do not need to be obsessive or paranoid about managing your online reputation. A few strong offensive strategies can make publishing your “self” on the web an engaging and proactive practice that also highlights the power and energy of social networks.