Your online presence is made up of everything you purposely put online, such as Facebook posts and Twitter messages, plus everything anyone else puts online about you. The Internet contains some information about everyone, whether you realize it or not, so the only question is whether or not to take control of your web presence. Once you begin to shape your online activities to support your career goals, you are establishing a professional online presence.
The first step is putting the basics in place. If you already have a personal Facebook page and a Twitter account, you probably know generally what is involved in creating an online identity. The professional equivalent of Facebook is LinkedIn (http://linkedin.com )—a website used for professional networking. There are also other business-oriented networks that may be useful and other presence-building opportunities, such as participation in industry and professional organization forums. However, LinkedIn has become the essential starting point for most people.
The second key step is obtaining your personal domain name (the main part of an Internet address, such as “amazon.com”). That way, for example, you can have an e-mail address such as firstname.lastname@example.org. You will also be able to create a professional webpage that uses your name as the URL, so that when someone types “www.yourname.com ” into the address bar of a web browser, he or she will go directly to your site. It is inexpensive to obtain a domain name, and there are many services, such as GoDaddy (http://www.godaddy.com ), that make the process easy. For an additional fee, such companies will help you build your website. If someone else has the .com version of your name, .net is also acceptable, or you may be able to obtain a .com extension by adding your initial or middle name. Even if the .com version of your chosen name is available, consider purchasing other available extensions (.net, .biz, etc.) as well. You will usually receive a discount on additional purchases, and owning all extensions of your chosen name will allow you to avoid the confusion and damage to your reputation that could occur if someone else purchases them.
The third step is expanding your professional web presence. The details will differ depending on the type of career you are pursuing and the career stage you have reached. If you are in a creative profession, for example, you may need an online portfolio to showcase your work. If you are at the midpoint of your career,
you may want a detailed online résumé, highlighting your experience and accomplishments. As a rule, you will expand and elaborate your online presence as your career progresses.
Once the basic elements of your online presence are in place, the next stage is maintenance. You will need to update your LinkedIn profile regularly and monitor your online presence to be sure it has not been compromised. Also, as the online world continues to change and grow, you will need to take advantage of new opportunities for presenting yourself professionally.
Begin by assessing your current online presence. Make a list of what you are already doing in terms of social media, and consider how those activities might affect your career goals. Most people assume that their Facebook page and Twitter posts are purely personal, but a present or potential employer may very well be able to see everything you put online. If you have a blog or some other kind of online platform (for example, Tumblr or Pinterest), look it over carefully to ensure that the content presents you in a positive light. Also, consider your participation as a commenter on websites such as reddit or even on primarily commercial websites such as Amazon.com , where you may have taken a very informal tone.
Next—if you have not done so already—set up a LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn membership is free, and the site provides you with user-friendly tools to create a thorough and effective profile. It should include your skills, experience, and goals, described in as much detail as you choose. In addition to creating an effective profile, you will need to build your network by making contacts. LinkedIn will help you by offering to import your contacts list and by suggesting the names of other LinkedIn members you may know from the schools and workplaces you have listed. Choose people you would like include in your network, and LinkedIn will make it easy to send them invitations to join your network.
LinkedIn offers many resources to help you build your profile and optimize your presence on the site. Among the many options it provides are groups based on career focus, special interest, or common experience. For example, a registered nurse who specializes in pediatrics, attended Oklahoma State University, and likes winter sports will probably be informed about groups devoted to pediatric nursing; Oklahoma State alumni groups; and groups interested in skiing, skating, and snowshoeing. LinkedIn will let you know about many groups that match aspects of your experience, but it is best at the beginning to select only a few that really seem to be a good fit with your interests.
Ideally, participating in online groups will offer substantive opportunities for learning and growth. But even if you gain nothing else, joining and occasionally commenting will enhance your online presence. When prospective employers search on your name, you want them to find a variety of serious affiliations and activities, reflecting your commitment to a specific career or your interest in personal development.
Begin by entering your own name in Google or another search engine to see what results come up. After searching just your name, try limiting the search by putting in a city, an employer, or some other identifying characteristic. Analyze the results of your searches and decide whether you are satisfied with your existing online presence.
The results of the search may be dominated by another person with the same name as yours—possibly someone with whom you would not want to be confused. You may also find some activity of your own listed that does not create a positive impression. Or you may get no results at all, indicating that your online presence is effectively zero. Even if there are problems, you still have an opportunity to take control. If any of your own material is unsuitable from a professional perspective, remove it, if possible.
If you find unsuitable material that cannot be removed, you can push it down to the bottom of the list of results by adding a lot of new, positive activity. New activity can also help to ensure that you person-ally—and not another person with your same name—are represented first when someone searches on your name. This works because search engine results typically begin with the most recent or most frequent occurrences of a name. To maximize the impact of your new, positive efforts, link all your posts, tweets, and other online activities to one user ID—your own name, first and last. If someone with the same name as yours already has a prominent web presence, distinguish yourself by using a middle name or initial.
Linking everything to the same name will ensure that the entire volume of your online activities contributes to the search-engine ranking of your name. This is called search engine optimization (SEO). Improving your SEO may require some sacrifices, however, or at least some extra effort. If you are a regular Facebook user and your Facebook ID is your own name, you will have to consider whether your page and your posts are suitable when viewed from a professional perspective. If you decide that they are not, you might consider deleting your Facebook account and starting a new personal page with a different username. You can then add a new professional page using your own name, and keep the two separate going forward.
If your existing Facebook username is not your own name, just add a new professional page. Keep in mind, however, that you cannot be sure that your personal page will not be viewed by employers or recruiters, so always consider what you post. On your professional page, be careful not to post anything that is disparaging of past or present employers. Instead, post interesting items related to your job or career, talk about your work activities or your job search in a positive manner, and include links to your LinkedIn profile, professional website, and any professionally relevant online activities. Use the same logic in naming and using your Twitter and Pinterest accounts, along with any other social media websites on which you are active.
No matter how careful you are to maintain a positive online presence, people can still attack your reputation for their own reasons. For example, they may make negative comments about you on their own Facebook page or Twitter stream, or they might post unprofessional comments elsewhere that appear to come from you. This sort of thing can cause a lot of damage, so it is important to take action quickly. You may need to post a clarification on your own Facebook page, for example, or send out a tweet to let your followers know that your identity is being used by someone else. To be sure that you are aware of such attacks on your reputation, create a Google alert that will inform you whenever your name (or a very similar name) appears online. Online reputation management services such as Reputation.com can help protect your online reputation for a fee.
If you are (or would like to be) in a creative profession—writing, marketing or advertising, interior design, and so on—the answer is probably yes. A professional website can showcase your talent and highlight specific capabilities. You may also want to consider having your own website if your background includes diverse jobs and activities that may not fit very well into a conventional résumé. In that case, use your website to “connect the dots” and sell yourself as someone who offers a broad range of abilities and experiences. The same strategy could apply if you have an unusual skill set that needs explanation or if you have valuable experience but have not yet held a paid position.