Be mindful of your digital footprint

We always say that everything in business requires communication. Everything. It’s a reality every professional must embrace in order to be successful. Here is something every professional should also be aware of: Everything you do online leaves a footprint. Everything!

Every tweet you like, every Facebook post you publish, every email you send — it all creates a digital record that will likely exist for your entire life. That digital footprint can have an impact on your reputation as you search for a job, market your professional services, etc. It also has the potential to impact the reputation of your employer. Make your employer look bad, and there’s a good chance you’ll be looking for a new place to work. Therefore, you must be mindful of the digital footprint you create.

How can you create a positive digital footprint online?

First and foremost, keep the big picture in mind. How do you want to be viewed by others online? Even if you aren’t the face of your organization, you have to build a personal brand for yourself and create online content that supports that. With every online action, keep in mind the big picture of how you wish to be perceived.

Before you do anything online, ask yourself: Would I feel comfortable with anyone seeing this? If the answer is no, think twice before proceeding. Just because you have a social media account that is set to private, there are still many scenarios in which your activity can get out to a broader audience than you intended. Even on Snapchat and similar services where your content disappears after 24 hours, that content can live on through screen captures. Online, nothing ever truly goes away.

Be careful about what you put in an email. Much like social media, what you put in an email can be seen by recipients you never intended to receive your message. From hacking to messages being forwarded to others, you never know who may read what you write. Keep that in mind before you hit send.

Stay positive. Social media and the internet are not the appropriate places to air your grievances. Most people like to surround themselves and do business with people who are positive and upbeat. If you create a digital footprint full of gripes and complaints, you’ll be painting an unattractive picture of yourself.

Proceed with caution when using humor, especially sarcastic humor. Social media is a great place to show your personality. That said, before you publish what you believe to be funny, take a moment and consider if any reasonable person could find it offensive. Mindless jokes or memes published without consideration can become something you regret later.

Stay on brand with what you “like,” “share” and “retweet.” It’s common to see disclaimers in Twitter bios such as “RTs are not endorsements.” Nonsense. If you retweet, share or like a post on social media, people will view it as you giving your stamp of approval to that piece of content. If you give that stamp of approval toward crude, vulgar or insensitive content, that sends a bad message about you.

A conundrum people sometimes face is a situation like this: On Twitter, one of your close personal friends shared a meme with borderline offensive humor and tagged you in it hoping for a response. What do you do? This is your friend and you don’t want them to feel as if you are ignoring them, even though you don’t feel comfortable with the content of the tweet. You have to do the right thing and ignore it. You can’t be held responsible for what somebody tweets to you. But, the moment you “like” or “retweet” a piece of content, you’re giving your approval to it. You must act in a way that is consistent with your company’s brand and your personal brand.

There is a permanence to your online actions that necessitates you are responsible in how you use social media and the internet. Follow the suggestions above, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a digital footprint you can be proud of.

Davis Young and Scott Juba own Fast Is Good® LLC which offers communication training in 90 minutes or less.

 Davis has provided communication training for some of the best known organizations in the country and, in recent years, has taught more than 200 college classes focused on communication.

 Scott is an experienced communication trainer. He is a recognized thought leader and consultant on social media and the use of technology to communicate.

 Material for this column is based on their book — Avoid Workplace Communication Screw-ups: They’ll Cost Money and Get You Fired! — published by Smart Business.