Nov 082011
Digital Identity

Digital Identity

Have you checked in on your digital identity lately?  Seen how it is coming along? What it is revealing about you? You are aware of your digital identity, right?  I am pretty sure you have built it for a while.

I seriously doubt you would be reading this blog if today was your first day on the Internet, (and if so – kudos to you for discovering this blog on your very first day online.  You are a genius!) so I am going to safely assume you have been online long enough to be tracked by Google and Yahoo and Bing.

The search results someone gets when “your name” (or moniker) are searched are a key part of your digital identity.  (I will talk about other components of digital identity in another blog post.)

Everything you do online is recorded in a database somewhere (even in private forums your comments are searchable the private forum). Google and other platforms are relentless in their pursuit of data. Our online actions create results to be consumed, categorized, and analyzed for demographic, marketing, and searchable purposes.

You may not have built your digital identity INTENTIONALLY, but regardless of your intentions, you have built it.

So, how does your digital identity compare with the real life “personal brand” you try to convey?

  • You carefully craft your résumé.
  • Your digital identity captures your unguarded thoughts and feelings about your job, your boss, your career.
  • You painstakingly design your promotional materials.
  • Your business is revealed by everything you, your employees, and your customers say online about your company.
  • In real life, your professional and personal life rarely mix.
  • Online, they can blend to the point that your customers easily know what your cat looks like on Flickr or Instagram, where you like to eat dinner on Yelp or FourSquare, and which political party you support on Facebook or Twitter.

When we use social media, our digital identity grows exponentially. It is insane how social media crafts our digital identity relentlessly and unabashedly promotes who we are online 24 hours-a-day to anybody searching.

I hadn’t checked on mine lately.  Thought I would give it a gander on Google.  In fact, I got curious about the first references to myself I could find within Google.

Using a “custom range” in my search, I found this little entry from 2000.

Family Tree Maker’s Genealogy Site: User Home Pages:
Sep 6, 2000 – Mindy Lee Koch 9048-E Nathan Hale Court Wahiawa, Hawaii 96786. United States 808-624-4142

None of that information except my name is still correct. But there it is. September 6, 2000. A scrap of information about my life from 11 years ago.

My first online marketing article appeared on Feb 1, 2001 – way back in the infancy of online marketing!

Being The Best In The Biz! – Franchise Mentality!
Feb 1, 2001 – By Mindy Koch. I have a cousin who just bought a Subway … Mindy Koch has been in Sales and Marketing for over 10 years. Having joined Internet…

And there it begins, the beginning of my digital identity. Genealogy. Yup. Online Marketing. Yup. Definitely me.

Sure, I did things online before 2000 but most of it was chat rooms, forums, email and static html websites that didn’t accept comments except for the few that put up guest books.  (Remember guest books?? Anyone? Anyone?  Bueller??)

Now, it is much, much harder to be online and not build a digital identity. In fact, not creating one is WORK.  Avoiding creating a digital identity requires juggling usernames, consistently being mindful of privacy settings, not connecting social media platforms in any way, and complete separation of online personas and real life interactions. (Once an online moniker becomes recognizable it has created a digital identity.  It isn’t based on a real name, but it is an identity nonetheless. If that moniker is ever attached to its’ real life digital identity counterpart, they are intertwined and the anonymity of the moniker is lost.)

For everyone else, not interested in jumping through all those hoops, creating a publicly viewable digital identity is the natural result of being online.

If you are using social media platforms, you are constantly creating a steady stream of data that builds your digital identity at an accelerated rate.

Digital Identity and Social Media Example

As far as I can tell, there are 28 people named Mindy Koch in the US. There are 12,100 results in Google for “Mindy Koch”. Of the top 100 results, 71 of the results are me. And each one of the 71 results involves social media. Each one. Granted, I have been online since 2000 (obviously, since I showed you the very first entry in Google already) but so were one or two of the other “Mindy Kochs” in the list.

If you are interested in the social media sites I showed up in the first 100 pages, they are listed at the very bottom of this article.

On top of the 71 search results that were about me specifically, there were  8 white page listing type pages that listed “Mindy Koch” across the US which I was on as well.

71 results about me plus 8 more about me and other Mindy Kochs. Total of 79.

The other 21 results not connected to me:

  • Mindy Koch FL – 3/100 (not social media)
  • Mindy Koch MI – 8/100 (1 wiki, 1 Flickr, 6 not social media)
  • Melinda Koch OH – 1/100 (not social media)
  • Mindy Koch NM – 2/100 (not social media)
  • Mindy Koch IL – 3 /100 (1 Ning, 2 directories)
  • Mindy Koch PA – 3/100 (directories)
  • Mindy Koch CA  - 1/100 – (not social media)

Am I trying to say, “Oh look, social media is ROCKING for SEO?? Look how I am in 79 of the first 100 references to me in Google just for the year 2011?”

No. That is not my point. Ranking for an uncommon name has little to do with SEO so it isn’t about that at all.  Also, I am online a great deal more than the other Mindy Kochs apparently.

What I am saying is “Look how social media puts my online activity on display!” My digital identity is very easily discovered.

Do I mind? No. To me, this isn’t a problem because I want to be found in Google and I want to have a robust digital identity. I use social media to BE SEEN online.

But, someone who isn’t mindful of what they are doing or saying when using social media, is probably not aware they are creating a digital identity that is very, very long lasting.

Don’t Be Surprised By Your Digital Identity

Anyone under 25 has grown up pretty aware of the fact that their lives are on display over the internet. They may not truly comprehend the long-lasting impact their social media actions can have on their digital identity, but they are aware that they are creating one.

For people over 25, (especially considerably older than 25) it can be a big shock to see what their digital identity is.  Many people are unaware of their digital identity hidden with in search engine results.

When my father retired as a Lt. Col of the military and was putting together his résumé, he was stunned to find that a political action group had slandered him and other people like him on numerous websites. He was given an epithetical label that no one who knows my Dad would ever attribute to him. Since my Dad only used the Internet (besides for work) to check email, buy airline tickets, and shop for a house, he was completely blindsided by the fact that he had a digital identity that he had not built in any way. It took me quite a while to clean up his digital identity and cover the slander with positive information.  The slander is still out there, but luckily, employers would have to go several pages into the search results to find it now.

Everyone needs to check their digital identity.

Social media marketers and entrepreneurs need to more than monitor their digital identity.  They need to shape it intentionally.  Businesses need to do the same.  Individuals looking for jobs need to shape their online identity purposefully so their expertise is clearly established.

My next blog posts will be about how to check and shape your digital identity using social media.

Until then, let’s see if you can find your earliest reference in Google!  Search your name in Google, from the left hand side select “More Search Tools” and from there select “Custom Range”.  Put in dates to search.  I did mine in years.  1/1/1998 – 1/1/1999 but you could do a bigger range.

If you do this, what was your earliest contribution to your digital identity in Google??

 Mindy Koch
My entire social presence ->
Digital Identity Photo, “Costume Characters” by Alaskan Dude, used by Creative Commons License