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Creating a Digitally Distinctive Online Identity

Facebook recently started a new group called the “six degrees of separation.” An ambitious undertaking, the leader asked each participant to send a group notice to everyone in his or her contact list in order to determine if it was possible to contact every single person on Facebook (over 30 million viewers) with six or fewer connections.

I am not sure whether this undertaking will prove that everyone is connected to everyone else by six degrees of separation, but it certainly got me thinking about the vast reach of the digital network. Unlike any other networking opportunity, the internet has to potential to connect you to more people with more opportunities than any other medium. That fact makes it critical to have a positive and professional online reputation, especially for women. (Inherently, women have fewer natural contacts than men, because men often network at sports events, over a round of golf, or by having a few drinks after work. The internet is gender neutral.)

If you are looking for a new job, you can be sure that the hiring manager will do an internet search on you. If you are in a large firm and are looking to be promoted to a senior position, you can be sure the promotion committee will check your digital profile. If you are looking for consulting or sales opportunities, the internet provides firms with a fast way to check you out. And they will!

Are you digitally distinctive in a positive way? If you are not sure, Google yourself. Do the same on your company’s intranet and other search engines (Yahoo, Altavista, PCH, etc). Are you there? Do you like what you see? If not, it is time to reinvigorate your online image. You may be amazed at what your first search shows.

Keeping Your Online Identity Professional

  • If you are in a field where you regularly publish, establish yourself with a professional society that allows its papers to be searched online. If not, join an online community (like and write a book or article reviews.
  • Join a reputable blog and write about topics related to your field of expertise
  • Start a blog (There are many sites which provide “free” blogging services but if you take it on, it is a large time commitment to do well)
  • Comment on this article
  • Check the online Web sites of professional organizations to which you belong and write an article (or review someone else’s article)
  • Join an organization that is active online and get on their board
  • Write a book review for Amazon or other booksellers in your field of expertise
  • All of these can provide positive search opportunities

Get Your Professional Information Online

  • Join LinkedIn or ZoomInfo or another online business networking group. (Do be sure it is a legitimate site and NEVER give personal information like your birthday or social security number).
  • You can also create a Google profile. (And, of course, you should put your profile on WomenCo.) Spend time crafting this profile to make sure it projects you in that positive and professional manner. Remember it is your business bio and should not be full of personal information. Take as much care with the profile as you would if you were sending out a resume to that “ideal” job. Many people will only read the title and summary, so make them dazzle.
  • Ask people who respect your work to recommend you. Join some of the groups these networking sites offer that match your field of expertise, and write meaningful comments or articles there.
  • You can even post articles you’ve read and think will help others. Keep these professional, business-related, and current.

If you have a common name, an enormous number of entries will appear with any search. You might want to get into the habit of using your middle initial in all your writing and business documentation. Also, if you have your photo on your profiles, it helps searchers know which “John T. Smith” is you.

What about Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Other “Friend” Creating Sites?
Here is it still important to remember whatever you post may be read by a potential customer or employer. Always stay professional and limit your comments to appropriate interactions. If you are Twittering too much or writing silly information on Facebook, you will make others wonder if you do any work during the day.

I always ask myself before I post: Would I be upset if this somehow got into my employer’s hands, was printed in the newspaper, or if my Mom read it? If the answer if yes, hit the delete key!

If you own your business or are part of an organization, create a business Facebook or MySpace page or group. You can post events and invite others to attend. People can become fans of your group. I have just started to explore Twitter. It can be a powerful link to people but only if you have a conversation worth following. Choose people who are in your field or have common interests to “follow” and they will likely follow you back.

Create a Web Site Just for You
If you have a business, even if it’s part time, mostly a hobby, or you are the only “employee,” consider getting a Web site. They can be inexpensive (shop around on the internet), and the fastest way to broadcast to the public everything you want people to know about your firm.

If you are computer literate, there are many free and user-friendly web building software packages available. If not, hire a web designer. Remember to make it about what your customers want, not a tribute to you or your personal work chronology.

Update your Web site frequently so people know what is current and have a reason to revisit it. Ask companies you do business with, industry groups, and trade associations to put your Web site link on their web pages. Increase the likelihood of being found near the top of a search engine by using keywords and phrases throughout your site.

Make sure to add your website address to your business card and your LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, Goggle, WomenCo, and other online profiles. The more you can link articles and information to your website, the better. Check out Google Ad Words or other search engine optimizers to help people “find” your Web site. Use these words in the title of any blog posts you make, and link back to your Web site. Put links to your site in your email address.

The old rule of thumb for networking was that most people knew 250 people who knew 250 more people so that your friends and the friends of your friends enabled over 60,000 contacts. On the internet you can easily grow your contacts to 1000 or more. These contacts and their contacts’ contacts can set off a chain reaction that enables tens of millions of connections! These people may become your future employers, employees, coworkers or customers. Make sure that when they Google you, your internet identity is professional, accurate, distinctive, and easily linked to what you want them to know.

By Renee Weisman of WomenCo.