My top ten pieces of advice for looking after your web shadow


A while ago I did a video for the Insititute of Chartered Accountants called “12 Golden Rules for Online Personal Reputation Management“.

I really enjoyed it, and played with the idea for a bit, then decided to write a book about the subject. It’s called Web Shadows and will be finished any day now * ahem *. The paper (yes, paper) version will be out in March 2010

It’s a book for my friends who aren’t totally obsessed with the web and social media, but do have a creeping awareness that what is said about them online matters and that they maybe need to look after their personal reputation a little.

Headlines like Office worker sacked for branding work boring on Facebook in the Telegraph and surveys that say 45% of employers vet job candidates on social networks make them think that even more.

If you take my iCrossing e-book Brands in Networks, I guess Web Shadows will be People in Networks. But that would spell PIN, and anyway I get told off for talking about networks too much, so Web Shadows it almost certainly is.

Anyway, here’s my top ten pieces of advice as they stand today. If you let me know what you think I’d be very grateful:

1 Don’t think of online as another world: The web’s more like a layer over the world we live in, not a “cyberspace” that only geeks live in. It’s part of our lives. The more we think of it as part of the world we live in, the better we will be at using it and looking after ourselves in relation to our online presence.

2 Check your Google shadow (and keep checking it): make sure you can see what others see when they look for you online, wether that’s Google, Facebook, LinkedIn or whatever. (Jeff Jarvis’s Google shadow phrase is what got me to “web shadows” as a title for the book.)

3 Be the world’s leading source of information about yourself: Ideally you want people to find your website, or cluster of social network profiles before they find anything else.

4 Understand networks (and which networks are important to you): Explore the online world around you. Which spaces matter to people that matter to you: employers, colleagues, friends, etc. It doesn’t hurt to start to understand network theory 101. Principles like “every node that joins the network doubles its value” help you to feel less like a supplicant and more like a network citizen. A part of it, not a passive. An owner among owners of a shared space, with rights – and responsibilities to the network.

5 Learn “crap detection” skills: One of Howard Rheingold’s four digital literacies, “crap detection” (the phrase comes from Hemingway) is about being a critical user of the web. Spotting the scams, attention tricks, the bahaviours that means that someone you have met online isn’t a person, or is one you need to stay away from. It’s part experience and part knowing how to use the network technically to understand – sometimes literally – where someone is coming from.

6 Be useful to your networks: You don’t need to turn into a pain-in-the-whatever professional networking douche to be successful in looking after your web shadow. Be yourself. Make the most of the things that you do – put your presentations and articles from the newsletter on SlideShare, bookmark interesting things you find on Delicious, maybe try out blogging even. once

7 Think about private and public: The web is a public place. You’re going to need to think about the dividing lines between your professional self online and your private self – where are they going to be? Get to know the privacy settings on Facebook for starters… And don’t forget to tell your family about them too.

8 Remember: you’re always on the (permanent) record online: “You’re never off the record,” we used to tell clients when I worked in PR. It’s true all the time when we’re online now. Don’t say anything you might regret later. If you are angry: calm down. Been drinking? Sober up or shut the web connection down. And the record may be permanent, like a digital tattoo.

9 Get a thicker skin: So you’re always on the record – so what? Everyone else is too. You’re going to make mistakes, get into arguments, look a bit foolish sometimes. The alternative is being a digital hermit, which… well… if you want to, I suppose.

10 Make it work for you: So we have had email addiction, SMS addiction and now, if you want to, you can become a social web addict. Or you can learn how the social web works and use it to enhance your life. Articles and posts like this one are good while you’re learning the tools’ basics – then you need to make your own mind up about how it should work for you.