Recently I was lucky enough to hear a fascinating talk from Microsoft’s Richard Banks about his research at Cambridge University into the kind of digital footprints we are leaving on the world.
I decided to look at mine. The result was a little unnerving, especially for someone who has spent nearly a decade espousing the need for consistency in branding.
As a starter, how I answer the question ‘Who are you?’ varies depending on the platform in which it is asked. On Linkedin and Facebook you get my first and last names; on Twitter I add a ‘miss’ and middle name, whilst losing my whole surname, suffice a k; on Instagram I adopt my married name, on my folio blog it is different again. Which is all without going into Flickr, Spotify, Pinterest and Skype.
But it’s not all in a name, there’s also content and style. Unsurprisingly, my folio and Linkedin profiles are purely professional. On Twitter, it’s more like casual Friday; mainly work, but sometimes I make it a little personal. On Facebook I’m a self-confessed stalker, eschewing words for pictures as a means of connection. It’s not merely that my tone varies, but my whole means of communicating does.
So what does my digital footprint say about me? What would someone make of me if they only had access to the digital version, without ever meeting the real one? Would they like me? Do I even like my digital self?
As became apparent, me, myself and I online are not a fixed entity. Just like in real life, our digital personalities can have contradictions and those differing aspects may not always come across as we think, nor actually give a true reflection of how we are face to face.
Think about who you spend time with online and if that relationship translates to the physical world. It’s not always the same. Your best friends can become over-sharing ogres, whilst that quiet guy you’ve never even said hello to at the water cooler can have you hanging on his every 140 characters on Twitter. It’s good to be critical and ask would you really want to spend time with yourself?
Of course, holding a mirror up to our social communications is not merely an interesting activity to do personally (and one that some of our friends may thank us for when it prevents us posting yet another cat video), it’s something that will reap enormous benefits if we do it honestly as a brand.
It makes us work harder at every interaction; it means we question if we’re being true to our product values and forces us to take responsibility for what kind of brand legacy we’re leaving with our fans and followers. It might even reveal that our intended, versus actual, digital footprints are at odds and that we need to take stock of our content strategies.
So what did I learn? Well although I’m quite at ease with my virtual reflection, I have admitted that it’s time to end the identity crisis so that it’s a little easier for people to get to know me. I think it might also be time to say hello next time I’m at the water cooler.