Friday, December 7, 2012

5 Strategies for Using Your Digital Footprint to Create a Strong, Professional Online Reputation

If you are using virtual spaces for professional learning, it only enhances your digital footprint,” writes Kristen Swanson in her new book Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User-Generated Learning. Getting educators to think about their own digital footprint should be an important part of 21st century school leadership, and reflecting and managing our own is just as important. Examples abound in the media where educators post derogatory things about their students, or where teachers and administrators post improper photos of themselves through social media channels. Most lose their jobs as a result. My initial reaction as a practicing school administrators is, “Just what were they thinking?” and the conclusion I usually reach is, “They weren’t!”

The idea of deliberately shaping and molding your own digital footprint isn’t really a new idea. Experts write whole books advising businesses on how to shape their “online reputation” and their offline one as well. More and more businesses, though, are starting to take seriously this task of making their online presence positive. I personally see “digital footprint” and “online reputation” as strongly related but perhaps not entirely synonymous. One’s digital footprint is the collective substance of everything one has posted online. It is the physical substance of what you have posted. It includes blog posts, Tweets, comments on other blog posts, news stories, everything online connected to a single person. I personally consider the actual footprint neutral, but it is the digital footprint that foster’s one’s online reputation.Through all those blogposts, Tweets, Facebook posts, and all your other interactions online, people make a judgment about you, and that is your “online reputation.”

Which brings me to the whole point of this post: You shape and mold your online reputation through your digital footprint. In other words, you can use your digital footprint to shape and mold your online reputation, and in the world of the 21st century, it is imperative that educators take the time to make sure they are leaving exactly the kind of digital footprint they wish to leave: a strong, professional online reputation.

Here are some strategies and thoughts that I myself use to both monitor my digital footprint and to try to shape and mold my online reputation.
  • Monitor what is being said about you by setting up a “Google Alert” for your name, your Twitter Username, and any other identifiers connected to you. It is key to keep an ear to the ground to measure reactions to your digital footprint, after all, your online reputation is based on these. Setting up a Google Alert is a free and easy way to perpetually listen to the conversation about you. There are other tools that will help you do this as well. Here’s an earlier post describing “3 Free Social Media Monitoring Tools for the 21st Century School Leader.”
  • It is occasionally OK to post things controversial, in fact, having a strong online reputation demands it. Remember, if you post controversial remarks, you are going to get reactions from others, but playing it entirely safe may not enhance your online reputation. To have a strong “online reputation” your digital footprint has to have personality. In a word, it helps if it really reflects who you are. Be entirely neutral, and you aren’t real person. You’re a computer. How boring!
  • Everyone, administrators, teachers, superintendents, students, etc. need to be actively engaged in molding and shaping their online reputation through their digital footprint. Honestly, you have an online reputation whether you have taken an active role in developing it or not. When a parent or student posts a comment on Facebook or in response to local news article  criticizing you or one of your actions, that affects your online reputation. It is much better to engage in the use of 21st century tools and contribute your say in that digital footprint than to simply let others do so for you.
  • Establishing a strong online reputation requires a digital footprint that includes both quality and quantity. It is vital that you include thoughtful, engaging interactions on the web, such as blog posts, Tweets, etc. The quality of what you post is important. If you are simply using Twitter to post out announcements or to post what you are having for lunch, those are not qualitative additions to your digital footprint, and are not likely to add to your online reputation. It takes using these tools to post lively, thoughtful interactions to foster the qualitative nature of your online reputation. In addition, it does require a quantitative approach as well. You don’t want just a few posts or online interactions to represent the entire substance of your online reputation. You need lots of content in your digital footprint to balance out what might be seen negatively or doesn't truly reflect who you are. That means interacting and posting online often is a must.
  • Most of all, in my opinion, you have to be authentic online just as you must in real life. There’s something fundamentally wrong with posturing and being fake, and most of us don’t like it. Your digital footprint should contain content that reflects who are. In other words, it must be authentic. No one likes a phony!
The bottom line, when it comes to using your digital footprint to foster an effective professional online reputation, is simple: you either take an active role in contributing to your digital footprint, or there are those who will do it for you. It’s your choice to engage or not, but don’t think by avoiding interactions on the web that you have no digital footprint, therefore, no online reputation. We all do.


  1. Thanks for this post! I love the way that you consider the nuances between digital footprints and online reputations. I completely agree that being active in the digital space allows you to take control of the situation and mold it accordingly. If we remain passive about social media and technology, we are missing a huge opportunity! ;-)

    1. Thank you for the book. I am just about finished with the copy sent to me by Eye on Education. I was reading your chapter three in Professional Learning in the Digital Age when this post came to mind. I will be posting a review once I have finished my reading.