Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Curating digital identity: developing a personal social media policy

Earlier this summer, I got my first tattoo. I was (still am) really excited about it and immediately wrote a blog post to share it with everyone. I included a picture, explained the importance of it to me and was all ready to hit "Publish Post"...and I couldn't. It was the picture that stopped me, to be honest...the tattoo is on my ribcage and although there's nothing that you see in the picture other than my midriff and abs, I stopped because I wondered if posting the picture was appropriate for my blog where I mainly focus on topics that affect me professionally.

I had decided not to post the picture on Twitter, mainly because I thought it could potentially get me a bunch of "followers" (read: spammers)  I'd have to block anyway. Also, my Twitter account is connected to my LinkedIn account, and I didn't want the picture posted there.

I did post the picture on Facebook. My rationale was that even if you know me professionally, if you friend me on Facebook and I accept, we're agreeing that we're sharing more of the personal sides of our lives.

Now, keep in mind, this tattoo is completely visible when I'm at the pool in my swimsuit. Yet I literally thought through the implications of posting it to any of the social media tools that I use and what the impacts could be.

After going through this process and making my decisions, I realized how important it is to start getting kids thinking about their own digital identities and what information is appropriate to be shared online. I'm not just talking about avoiding child predators; I'm even thinking more subtly than losing out on a potential job or ruining relationships. Everything you post online is a representation of who you are. What other people post and say about you is an expansion on that digital identity.

My 13 year old nephew illustrated that point to me with clarity this summer during my vacation in Michigan. As I took pictures of him with my kids, he said, pleading, "Please don't tag me on Facebook." As an early teen, being seen hanging out with his little cousins wasn't exactly the reputation he was interested in curating online. Since that conversation with him, I've started asking my kids' permission before I share online any pictures of them or stories about them. There is an element of respecting other people's privacy, not just your own, that is one of the critical competencies of using social media and an important lesson for kids...and parents. People who share out information about their children's medical conditions, educational struggles, or behavioral issues are making decisions about how those children's digital identities are being formed, with potential long-term implications and impacts on their reputation.

As a professional, I'm making decisions daily on what messages, content, and personal information I share online that builds and expands my digital identity. As a parent, I'm talking to my kids about how they can start making good choices about their emerging digital identities. Forget corporate social media policies...each of us needs to develop our own social media policy to curate our digital identities and reputations. To support our personal goals, we need to develop the skills to critically assess the content we share, the context we're sharing it in, the intended audience, the channels that we're using to communicate, and the potential implications for ourselves and others in what we choose to share. For me, this means if you want to see my tattoo, you'll have to friend me on Facebook or catch me at the pool. 


  1. My cousin's daughter is a friend of mine on Facebook. She's 14 now and has started dating boys and her page is filled with thoughts on her feelings for him, along with pictures of them together. As the father of an almost two year old daughter, its all rather eye opening to my future.

    Anyway, at a family party where she and her father (my cousin) were attending I mentioned to him the name of her boyfriend, since I see it constantly on her posts. He was surprised I knew it and I mentioned that where I got it from. He said his daughter didn't let him have a facebook account. Her mother either. Later she even mentioned to me that if I wanted to stay on her facebook that I'd have to keep her page to myself.

    Your blog kinda reminds me of this situation. She's creating a social identity for herself and its not exactly something she wants her parents to know about. After more talking with her father about social media its clear to me that Facebook, Twitter and the like aren't on their parent radar. They just don't realize what being on the internet is really all about.

    Of course if she ever said or did something online I felt was dangerous or innapropriate I'd let him know about it. But it really tells me how important its going to be as my own daughter grows up to be a part of her social identity online. I'll need to educate her on just how the seemingly innocent things she shares with the world can effect her own social reputation.

  2. Another excellent post, Koreen!

    Professional people using social media should carefully consider what they would (and would not) like to be known for. While it’s important to be genuine and let your personality shine through – after all, there’s a reason it’s called SOCIAL media – some topics are easily misinterpreted… The online world is too thoroughly indexed and interconnected to be reckless.

    Save your drunken antics for Las Vegas… unless you’re attending DevLearn!! : )

  3. Thanks for this post, it's simple and wonderful. Deciding for ourselves the limits of interaction and information access is what today's digital age affords. Maybe people don't take enough advantage of this freedom, the idea being often lost in the race to post, project and pile up hits.

    I love your statement about developing our own social media policy. Those who do, will be better off for it.