Your presence online is either a liability or an asset. There is no middle ground.
The trick is getting your digital paper trail to work for you.
I don’t mean this in the way of your teachers in high school who cautioned you about putting pictures of parties online. I mean it in a way that’s far more useful than that.
You want to make it that when somebody searches for you online — on Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, even Snapchat — what they find works for you rather than against you. This doesn’t mean not having a presence.
We all know that one person who is ridiculously cautious and sterile in their online presence and communication and they strike us as weird for a reason — it is as if they are culling their life so that they can run for congress in 15 years and need to live in such a bland, repressed way that it strikes us as unnatural. Lack of a digital presence is just as much a red flag as one that is oversharing and scandalous. It evokes in the searcher’s mind questions like “What is this person hiding?” “Why is this person offline?” “How does this person operate today?” In a world where nearly every mobile app integrates with Facebook, not having a social presence requires an explanation.
But rather than look at it as something defensive, look at it as something that works for you. An unused social presence online is cash lying on the floor — why wouldn’t you pick it up?
There are a few easy steps you can take to make this digital paper trail work for you whether you are 30 or 18. Go out there, create a blog on WordPress or Medium, share to Facebook, like, retweet, engage! What do you have to lose?
I have had Praxis participants hired at our business partners based off the consistency of their blogging alone. The ability to be consistent in your output is a much under-sold skill, especially by young people. Whether it is blogging once a week, once a day, or twice a week, just get something out there and be consistent about it. If you are a photographer, get your content out there on a regular schedule. If you want to podcast, do it in a way that people will know when to expect new content from you.
Most people have a hard time sticking with something when other people assign it to them — if you can signal that you can stick with something you assign to yourself, that tells great things about your character and work ethic.
Praxis participants are challenged to blog once a day for thirty days during their second month of the program. This is not just to improve writing (although it certainly does) and to feel more comfortable putting yourself out there (although it certainly does), it is to help participants know that they can signal the power they have in their will to potential business partners and gatekeepers elsewhere in the professional world.
Create Social Proof
Have you ever met somebody through a mutual friend and were told, “Any friend of Joe’s is a friend of mine!” or felt that way?
That is social proof — essentially allowing others to make shorthand decisions based on what others think of you. The great thing about the Internet is the ease with which you can create social proof. This is what Endorsements on LinkedIn are supposed to show, or what references you put on your personal website can do.
As you create projects online, give and request social proof. If you wrote an eBook, ask a good friend to review it for you. For those of you who have a podcast, ask your listeners to go on iTunes and write a review. If you work with somebody, get references on LinkedIn or AngelList. Put logos of the companies with which your last freelance project worked and take screenshots of your name or company name appearing on other websites.
This might feel kitschy or too self-promotional but, if you don’t promote yourself, who will (answer: nobody)? And if you’ve ever bought a product because of lots of good reviews or worked with a company because you saw they were featured on a publication you trust, you’ve done the same thing. You know it works.
Another thing we help Praxis participants do with their personal websites is build a following through email lists. Your email list, to quote the founder of SumoMe on a recent This Week in Startups podcast, is your ATM. It’s your ATM of money if you sell a product or your ATM of social capital if you don’t. It’s the place where people can get to know you, engage with you, and can feel like part of an exclusive club.
Engaging with an audience of readers, listeners, or just your friends helps them know that you are actually human. That you are a person with whom they can actually speak, and opens up the door for new opportunities and communication. Send out an email to your email list of even 50 people, engage by asking a question, and see what answers you get. You may get none. You may learn that one of your readers is a good friend or relative of the CEO of a company with which you want to work. At the very minimum, you’ll drive engagement and get some entertainment out of it.
You don’t have to do this on an email list, either. You can do it on Facebook, on Twitter, or in the comments section of your blog. Have you ever known a person who was destroyed while building their career because they engaged too much with the people that wanted to speak with them?
If these sound engaging to you, you should apply to Praxis. Praxis participants build their digital paper trail and make their online presence work for them. Participants have built engaging email campaigns, launched podcasts, and created so much more. Why not apply?