Protecting Your Online Persona

Digital PersonAs the world is digitized and every word you say and act you do is bound to be caught on video, it’s important that you police yourself. This is key for businesses who wish to open their marketing efforts to blogging and social media.

While meeting a colleague at a baseball game and having them see you boisterous and drinking wasn’t a big deal in the past, online doesn’t have a boundary between personal and business life. If you have an online persona, that is your persona for work as well. Someone doesn’t distinguish you from a dating website to LinkedIn – you’re just ‘online’.

Online History is Already a Human Resource Tool

Employers are already utilizing Google to find and research employees. The last thing you want is to leave a trail, personal or business, that can impact how your company or a prospect will perceive you.

A few years ago, I worked at a company where an inappropriate classified was posted by an employee and it made the rounds. Though it didn’t have anything to do with the person’s work, it was noted within the office of the person’s management staff – a mark that was irreversible and would hurt that person’s ability to get promoted or assume other jobs within the organization.

A Video Record

I’ve been spending time on Seesmic, of late, an application that is sort of a mixture (and integration) of video and chat. One friend remarked tonight that he’s seen some really concerning behavior in people that he had respected otherwise.

The problem is two-fold: Seesmic is almost real-time, so people converse and sometimes get into heated conversations. The other part is that Seesmic bridges the gap between professional and business. Some folks drink while they converse… a few are even drunk. Other people have exploded over conversations on religion and/or politics.

The World is NOT Ready

It’s a wonderful thing that we have technology such as this where one can bare his/her soul and communicate so effectively with friends around the world. The problem is that the world is not prepared for this kind of transparency yet. A tool such as Seesmic can provide a ton of insight into a person’s thoughts on work, life… and provide some input on their stability.

Someone, who may have otherwise been a perfect employee, could get eliminated from opportunities after a hiring manager sat and reviewed hours of their online conversations.

Protecting Your Persona

There are a couple things you can do to protect your Online Persona and Reputation:

  1. Avoid charged conversations on sex, religion, politics, etc. where you might inject opinions that may be misconstrued. Take those conversations offline.
  2. Avoid being under the influence of any medication or alcohol online. You’re simply not in control of your emotions and actions.
  3. Always keep in mind that everything you are doing is a record that your School, Work, Reporters, Government, and even Family have ready access to.

Minimizing Risk and Risk Removal

  1. Some programs, even online ones, do offer deletion of your content. Read those Terms of Service and see if you are able to permanently remove video, sound, history, etc. If you ever do find yourself in a situation where you made a mistake, do your best to get it removed. By the way, the chances of you being successful are very, very slim.
  2. Dilute it. If you have 1 conversation in 10 that shows you blowing your top on Politics, be sure to hold the next 1,000 conversations without blowing your top. Providing much more positive content online will minimize the risk of the negative content that someone might find. Again, this isn’t foolproof, but it can help.
  3. Think! The best advice is never to get into a situation online that you might be embarrassed of later. Just avoid these situations altogether.

I am optimistic that someday we will be a community that is a lot more tolerant of (mis)behavior, recognizing that bad things happen to good people and good people make mistakes, too. But until then, be sure to keep a close eye on how you’re online persona is perceived.

I should add that this conversation was partly inspired by Dr. Thomas Ho, who’s blogged on the topic of creating an online persona.


  1. 1

    We run a big risk of getting into trouble when we even start thinking in terms of “personas” either on or off line. The implication is that we aren’t being ourselves and are intentionally hiding something or pretending to be something we aren’t.

    That kind of thinking can become dangerous because people have a tendency to discount consequences when they think they are anonymous.

    Doug I also think you were a touch wide of the mark in one of your statements above. Add one word and I’m with you.

    The last thing you want is to leave a trail, personal or business, that can [negatively] impact how your company or a prospect will perceive you.

    I certainly hope that prospects will be positively impacted by my online trail. It’s part of who I am and the value I bring to table.

    And always I assume that Mom & a future employer will both be looking at whatever I put online. That helps me have self control and leave of the especially stupid stuff.

    • 2

      Great feedback, Chris!

      I’ll respectfully disagree that having an online persona is hiding or pretending.

      If I go to a meeting with a prospect, I shave and wear a suit. Everyday at work I wear khakis and shave every few days. On the way home I might crank up some metal in the car, but if I drive a client around, I’m not going to throw in AC/DC.

      I also have a sarcastic wit that might put some people off at times. When I’m with colleagues or prospects, I rarely display that sense of humor because many might deem it inappropriate.

      In all cases, I’m not being dishonest or hiding the real me. I’m simply showing my ‘best side’ or ‘most appropriate side’. It’s still me (trust me – I’m transparent to a fault), but it’s necessary if I want to reach the widest audience and gain peoples’ respect.

      My point is actually something we might agree on – the world is not ready for this kind of transparency yet. I wish it were – then I could dress in khakis, not shave, and crank up some “For Those About to Rock” with my colleagues in the car.

      That’s not happening any time, soon, though.


      • 3

        I’m with you there, Doug. I sing along to the radio with the windows rolled up!

        It’s one thing for the person sitting at the stop light next to me to think I might be a little silly bellowing away. But it’s quite another thing to prove that I am by rolling down the windows!

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