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Friday, August 8, 2008

Developing your professional digital identity or personal branding

Which domains do you need? Web Worker Daily answers this timely question. I just had a conversation with a colleague at lunch yesterday about digital identity and developing a digital presence. One step in developing a digital identity is to figure out what your website moniker should be, which then of course can be used for email, too. I've been thinking a lot lately about digital identity lately. I think it is going to be a huge issue in the future. It's not just about distinguishing what is yours (or is about you) but perhaps, more importantly, who is NOT you and what is NOT by you.

I've learned about digital identity the hard way. In the late 90s, I bought a domain (.com) and a lawyer in LA bought the corresponding .net name, within a few months.
Happens all of the time, right? 8 years later, I am still receiving PERSONAL and business correspondence directed to either Arthur or his family. Unfortunately, I know entirely too much about this family and his business (which now seems to encompass IT training, too, adding another layer of potential confusion of our identities) . I've tried various tactics -- contacting his office (no response), contacting him via his domain (no response), ignoring the emails, directing them into spam box, or emailing back the originator of the email. I've tried being nice and not quite so nice. Generally the most effective response has been a rather harsh message to the originator a "you don't know who I am but you just sent me photos of your children!"

Am I stalker? Absolutely not. Someone associated with this domain does not understand the difference between .net and .com and gave out the wrong email address. Since then it's perpetuated, putting me on school function listservs and more. It has decreased in the last year. I am not sure if that is because I've started being more harsh with my emails or if people are wising up that .com does not equal .net.

I've also considered letting the domain lapse and starting fresh, but what is to guarantee this won't happen again with a .me or .tv domain?

Given that I can't control all of the people who have the same name as I (and the converse being true), I can control some of the information that is available online about me and try to bring some kind of order to it. In other words, I can cultivate and develop my digital identity.

To me developing a digital identity is commonsense and a necessary part of being an information professional. If you do not develop your digital identity, chances are that someone else will, and in might not be to your best interest.

So, in that vein, here are my tips:
  • Decide what your professional digital identity will be. First name + last name? First initial + last name? Make it easy to remember and be consistent.
  • Buy your namesake in .com and .net AT LEAST. At this point, these are the most common and most likely to confuse people. If you have an alternate identity/company/web name that you would like to use as a web presence, buy those in .com and .net, too. If you want to buy a nonprofessional domain address, that's fine, but it probably shouldn't be your professional identity (unless, it somehow relates to your business).
  • Use your chosen digital identity (web name) at professional/social networking sites, e.g., facebook, linkedin, namyz, and other web2.0+/social networking sites. Even if you do not actively use them, you will have "claimed" that user name.
  • Think before you link. On any of your professional websites, link to those resources that reflect the professional you. If you blog professionally, call your blog whatever you want, but make sure your professional web name is tied to it.
  • Use digital identity services like ClaimID and openid to pull together your content; use social aggregators to create online portals of all of your content.
  • Create at least one professional website: a CV, a portfolio, a resume. Put some effort into it and make sure that it presents the image that you want to present ...and don't forget the metadata!
  • Finally, don't wait too long to develop your digital identity. If you're looking for a new job or changing careers, your digital identity should already be in place.
  • Google yourself at least once a year to see what it out there.

The added bonus of using openid is that one login is good across all sites that support openid. If I understand openid correctly, it is kind of like a paypal for IDs. Your original information is never shared, but is protected behind the openid login.

Another way to look at developing a digital identity is that it is a form of personal branding. Chris Brogan writes alot on personal branding. I didn't read his quick branding tips prior to my post on digital identity, but there is a lot in common.

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