Cleaning up Your Digital Footprint

For most people, the new year is an opportunity for a fresh start. While there certainly is no shortage of ways in which you can invite change into your life, there is a powerful, yet sometimes overlooked, way to put your best foot forward this year. Looking at your digital footprint can have a significant impact on your personal and professional relationships throughout the year.

Why It Matters

You have undoubtedly heard you never get a second chance to make a first impression. In today’s digital age, how you present yourself virtually can speak volumes before you even meet someone face-to-face.
So what is doing all that talking? Your digital footprint. A digital footprint is comprised of all the tracks you make online. From social media postings to online shopping, your online history combines into a snapshot that tells the world about you as an internet user.
Digital footprints are created both actively and passively. An active footprint is generated deliberately by each internet user through Facebook shares, online purchases and other intentional online interactions.
A passive footprint is what is left behind when data is gathered without the user’s knowledge. This information can include things posted about you by other people, but more likely, it is information collected by different sites that store information about your IP address when you click.

Size It Up

As you start the year, take some time to get to know your existing digital footprint. A simple Google search is one of the easiest ways to get a glimpse at your digital footprint.
Use several different search engines and perform a search for your first and last names on each. You may also want to search for other information related to you, including companies or brands you associate with. It’s also a good idea to search maiden names and common misspellings of your name. Then, review the results, including images and videos. You may find you have only made the smallest step online or you may actually see you have taken a giant leap into the internet.

Make Tracks Today

After you know the current state of your digital footprint, it is time to decide how you want to put yours to work for you. From first dates to first interviews, there is a good chance the people you meet in will get to know the online version of you as well.  
Start with your social media pages to improve your digital footprint. In addition to reviewing your tweets and Instagram posts, you also want to be mindful of what you share, retweet or like. All of the content you create and associate with should be positive and productive, showcasing the best of your interests, talents and passions. A good analogy is think about what you’d discuss at a work dinner. If it’s off limits there, keep the same topics off your social networks too.
While it should be a no-brainer to steer clear of posts that offend and harass, also be weary of misinformation and off-color jokes. And remember, spelling and grammar count on social media too. While your friends or romantic partners may not go running, you could end professional relationships before they even start.

Your Personal Brand Online

Growing your digital footprint is about more than social media posts and likes. Any time you are using the internet, you want to be mindful of privacy settings. As frustrating as it may be, you also want to keep all of your software, apps and extensions updated and ensure you are using memorable and strong passwords. You can also use tools like Google Alerts and Mention to keep tabs on your footprint.
If you are looking to grow your online reputation as a brand, producing valuable content, accumulating links and making contributions to other websites are all viable ways to boost your digital footprint. You can also find ways to establish, grow and share your expertise through professional networks like LinkedIn, online publishing platforms like Medium, or even your own blog or website.
The start of each new year made for goal setting. Your online presence deserves consideration as well. Producing and sharing meaningful content, understanding privacy policies and collaborating are three ways to take a step in the right direction online this year.
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