Thursday, July 9, 2009

How's your cyber footprint?

A Twitter connection asked me the other day, somewhat to my surprise , if I had an alias for my "fun and social side". I have to say an eyebrow was raised! The thought of myself skulking around cyber space with a nom de plume or an alter ego, stretched the imagination. However the question was actually entirely serious and raised a very valid point that I had been discussuing during the week with fellow professionals and coachees. What impact does our cyber foot print have and how much should we be mindful of it?

As a transition coach I talk to individuals constantly about raising visibility and the job search process changing from looking for a job, to becoming a need to be found. So they are coached through a process to raise their SEO and their Google ranking, to connect on Linkedin and to be active on other social media. Some I encourage to have a blog and a web site, all to enable job search specialists to easily locate them. All the time, this supposes that they are being tracked for their excellent professional backgrounds and first class, on- target experience, rather than photos of them stealing signs during their college days, or messages about whooping it up at some party. So my visibility suggestions are also accompanied by equal doses of cautionary tales to be careful about what is posted by and about them, not just in their own posts, but via other people's.

But it's not that that really concerns me now.

Shankar Srinivasan a Recruitment Technologist in his blog of July 1st ( Glimpse into the Future of Recruitment Technology) brings to our attention the future of recruitment ,with all the new technological developments in the pipeline. One of these is candidate profiling from social media content. Eventually he anticipates that profiles of candidates can be drawn up from input to sites such as Facebook,Linkedin, Twitter and so on. So all sorts of conclusions can be drawn from even the most harmless, innocent and banal details which send out messages to others about our personalities, our values and our skill sets: in photos, web sites, texts, messages and tweets. I suspect this might also ultimately have an interesting impact on psychometric testing.

I actually don't have an alias! I believe that people do business with and recruit people they like and trust and you can't give an all round impression of yourself if you only display one side of your character and keep the other half hidden. But then I don't have a terribly wild or mysterious life either and as many of you already know, the organisation of it all would simply confound me! I think I would also find having two different personas quite hard work. So no, I don't have a professional and a social account. But I do understand why some people do this, even though I believe that software spiders will eventually be able to penetrate even private social accounts to glean any information they're looking for. So in time it won't make any difference if they are separate or combined .

But I am also mindful that I am constantly leaving cyber messages on a daily basis, not just about my professional life, but also about my personality, my skill set and deficiencies (some of them very obvious) hobbies, interests, family, values, opinions etc . Each time we send a message, post a blog, write something on someones wall, tweet, answer a discussion,join a professional network, we are telling the world something about ourselves. How we engage, react, the vocabulary we use, the topics we that we pursue,all tell a story about who we are.

We can't control how people react to us, but we can manage the message. By that I don't mean being fake. For me it just means treating cyber space as you would any other networking or social arena. Social norms still prevail. Why should things be any different because you're on line? The only thing now is that everything is in writing and can be traced. Nothing will disappear the day after. It can come back to haunt you and it might well. They say that 47% of candidates are rejected based on on - line content, although that figure is not very meaningful. The same people may have been ruled out in a networking event.

So what are basic rules or guidelines? Same as in actual life I think. Don't be rude, bitchy, abusive , crude or aggressive. Don't swear. Anything private and intimate - should be just that... private. Don't over share! Just as it's inadvisable to drink and dial - don't tweet when tight. Don't bad mouth your boss, company or co-workers! They will find out . Keep language constructive and it might even be be wise if inflammatory topics are kept for email or phone contact. Would you try and flog someone a timeshare or marketing programme the minute you were introduced at a party? No. So why do it on-line? In all, it's just commonsense.

I actually think that people, whether fellow professionals or recruiters, do want to see the lighter sides of their professional on - line connections in the right and appropriate context of course. Just as you would off line. Otherwise the process becomes only about information exchange, rather than authentic engagement. I still think that despite all the technology that surrounds us, that's what we all want. To engage.


  1. The future is already here. Profiling by a web search is done already whether it's about someone applying for a job or a client/customer.

  2. Hi Bengt - Thanks for your comment! You are absolutely right of course. In fact people actually seek to create visibility to facilitate profile matching ( advertising!). It's just a reminder that we are perhaps unconsciously leaving a long trail of other data, through even the smallest cyber transaction ( just as I am doing now!) New software developments seem to be making it increasingly easy to collate and process this information from multiple, disparate sources .