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Build Your Digital Footprint One Step at a Time

By Kevin Anselmo

Google a young person’s name - a recent college graduate for example. You will usually see one of the following:

  1. Hardly nothing

  2. Inappropriate content

  3. Content that makes a young person come across appealing from a professional perspective

It is somewhat understandable, though not ideal, that a recent graduate might be in the first category. The young person hasn’t lived long enough to be able to share professional insights and experiences.

All too often, there are those in that second group. It certainly is unappealing if an employers comes across images showing someone drinking too much at a party or using inappropriate vitriolic language in a political debate on social media.

The sweet spot is to be in that third category. There are a number of different ways young people can build their digital footprint to be attractive to employers and other decision-makers who provide access to opportunities. This could involve regular blogging about professional interests, sharing insights on one’s career interests on social media, shining a spotlight on industry leaders in the field and asking smart career-related questions that drive conversation, among other means.

For me, this third category personifies the building of one’s digital footprint. The Global Innovators Academy’s Interview an Innovator program enables students and young professionals to create a compelling piece of content based on an interview with someone whose work aligns to their interests, thus building their digital footprint.

I was speaking to a top marketing book author a few months back. When I explained the concept for Global Innovators Academy, I shared that one of the benefits of the program is that students build their digital footprint by writing an article based on an interview.

“Someone isn’t building their digital footprint by having just one article online,” he told me empathetically. “It is just not the case.”

While I like receiving negative feedback, I was taken aback by this comment. While ideally anybody’s digital footprint would include a plethora of content, I always viewed a digital footprint as the idea of anything that might appear about someone in a Google search. I didn’t necessarily think there was a mandatory quantity threshold.

So as with any question I am contemplating, I decided to see what the internet had to say about this. Among the first page Google search results for the query “digital footprint” I came across some of the below:

  • Wikipedia defines a digital footprint as “one's unique set of traceable digital activities, actions, contributions and communications manifested on the Internet or digital devices.”

  • A section about digital citizenship on the New South Wales Department of Education website notes that: “Your digital footprint can have a lasting impact on your reputation, relationships and employment opportunities (both positive and negative). Understanding how this works is an important step toward making this impact a positive one.”

  • The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction notes that: “The digital world we live in is permanent and, with each post, kids are creating a digital footprint. A digital footprint (sometimes called digital tattoo) is the information that exists online about you and your activity. Being safe and responsible online will help ensure your digital footprint does not damage your reputation.”

None of these sources say that there must be a certain number of content pieces to have a digital footprint. So to a certain extent, I would view a young person with a robust LinkedIn profile and a few other content asset as fulfilling the criteria of someone who has a positive digital footprint (answer number #3 to the initial question posed in this article).

At the same time, the marketing book author who was critical about my thoughts on a digital footprint being at least one piece of solid content has a point. It is an ongoing journey. It would be problematic if that same recent graduate who has 2 or 3 new content pieces still has the same amount of digital assets 10 years later.

So what is a young person to do? My suggestion would be to get started and be deliberate in building a digital footprint over the arch of a career journey. For example, dedicate yourself to writing one blog post article a month that is published on LinkedIn and share a weekly LinkedIn update. Or post a monthly video on Instagram sharing some key insight you learned related to your career interests based on a book you have read.

But the key is to get started. It won’t be perfect in the beginning. That is fine. I leave you with this quote I came across in the book Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky: “The stupidest possible creative act is still a creative act. On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.”

Kevin Anselmo is the founder of Global Innovators Academy and creator of the Interview an Innovator program. As part of this experience, students / young professionals interview different leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators and then write articles that are rigorously edited and published online. In the process, they are inspired about careers to explore, gain valuable communications and networking skills, and build a digital footprint that makes them more marketable. Contact Kevin to roll out this program at your high school, university or organization.

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