You’ve probably been told ever since you were in middle school that you should watch what you post on the Internet. Parents, teachers, and coaches would chide you that maybe, someday in the indeterminate future, you’ll have a potential employer googling you to only find pictures of you at parties with a lampshade on your head and a bottle of cheap beer in your hand.
They’re right, you should watch what you post on the Internet. But too often this results in young people living out such a bland, boring, and unoffensive online presence that you have to wonder if they’re planning on running for Senate in 2036 and are so paranoid and neurotic about somebody finding something that could potentially hurt their chances. It comes off as boring at best and insincere at worst.
No matter how hard you try, there is no such thing as a neutral digital presence. You might think that your not posting on Facebook and twitter is neutral, but it isn’t. It’s just allowing a potential great asset to go to waste. Your digital presence can either work for you or against you — but know that there is no middle ground.
“But how is that possible? Isn’t not being online or not being active the definition of neutral?”
There are a few reasons why there is no such thing as a neutral presence.
Not Being Active Online Is Weird
Most young people are active online. They at least have a Facebook account and probably post to it every now and then. They allow pictures of themselves to be tagged and might even share things they think are interesting.
Some have twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram accounts. Fewer (to the loss of those who don’t) have LinkedIn profiles.
If somebody is searching for you online and they can’t find any trace of you at all, this leads them to ask why. What is up with you that you don’t have a Facebook account, at the very least? Why don’t you have a LinkedIn?
Maybe you do have a Facebook account, but it is amazingly sterile. You know what kind of account I am talking about here. It’s the account where the only picture is a high school or college headshot and the only posts are those of mindblowingly uncontroversial substance. This person may think that they look loveable by all, but they don’t. They look like Clint Webb.
Not having a digital presence when so many people have one — even your aunt who doesn’t understand that she doesn’t need to sign off with her name on Facebook — doesn’t make you look neutral. It makes you look odd.
There Really Isn’t Anything Uncontroversial
I say that these people only post uncontroversial things but that really isn’t true. There really isn’t anything uncontroversial.
People can find a way to be offended by anything and have an opinion about anything. Even posting that you hope everybody has a happy Thanksgiving might lead to a diatribe by your friend that you haven’t spoken to in three years about how Thanksgiving is a holiday of celebrating oppression and imperialism. All you were trying to do was be friendly to your peers! People can read what they want into anything.
So it’s better to post the few things you believe and actually defend them outright. Don’t live in a way that you think won’t offend everybody — it sure enough will.
Your Competition Will Be Online
Not only does not being online make you look generally odd for a young person, but if you’re competing for a job or for a position, your competition surely will be online.
Employers and people who run programs google people not to find incriminating evidence about them, but to find out about the person in general. How do they present themselves? Do they have good judgement? Can they write well? What do they even look like?
It’s useful for an interviewer to know to whom they are speaking before they actually start the interview. Your competition being online but you not being online already gives them a leg up over you.
You Choose: Positive or Negative
There are plenty of ways to have a negative digital presence: post pictures of yourself doing stupid and/or illegal stuff, be a jerk online, have poor grammar, not be online.
There are also plenty of ways for you to have a positive digital presence — but where do you get started?
You have to choose to have a presence, and it is an active choice and set of decisions that you should make. You can get started in a few ways.
1. Update Those Social Profiles
If you have a Facebook profile picture from 2009 that you haven’t changed, change it. Make it something fresh and nice. Same goes for twitter and especially LinkedIn (there is nothing worse than the default image on LinkedIn profiles). Update where you live, work, and go to school. Make it so that people can learn stuff about you when searching for you.
2. Update Your LinkedIn
Updating your social profiles in general is useful, but updating your LinkedIn can really set you apart from your peers. List your recent jobs, post long-form posts, and generally just be there. The great thing about LinkedIn is that you can spend 1 hour on it and have a profile that is better than 90% of your peers’ profiles.
3. Start a Blog — And Use It
Starting a blog on WordPress or Weebly is one of the best ways of increasing your digital presence. This way, people know that you are proactive, that you are trying to make a name for yourself, and that you can write at a level that you are confident to show to the world at large.
But if you start a blog, make sure you actually use it. There is nothing worse than googling somebody to find they have a blog that hasn’t been updated since 2012. This signals to me that you can do things but you can’t stick with them. Devote yourself to posting periodically. Try a month where you post every day. Just create something online.
The more you build online, the easier it is to find you. The more posts on your blog, the higher your blog ranks in searches. If you have a common name, then starting now and creating more content is even more valuable for you — it can help set you apart from that Jimmy Johnson who got arrested for his 12th DUI a county over from you last year or that lady with the same name as you who does scandalous work.
The sooner you get started, the easier it will be. Creating begets creating.