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Forget Looking in the Mirror, It’s Your Digital Image That Truly Matters

It’s great to stay in shape at the gym and pick out stylish clothes. But more and more, the personal image that really counts is digital.

That’s because the Internet of Everything (IoE) era demands new ways of looking at, well, just about everything. And everything includes you. In an expanding universe of new connections, each of us needs to ask, just where do I fit? And how am I being viewed?

In short, what is my digital persona?

The ways in which we are seen online have assumed acute importance in recent years, and that only stands to increase. Therefore, our digital personas have to be cultivated and maintained, just as we care for our images in the physical world.

In career terms, for example, you may be known in your daily work life as a good leader. But the physical world has limited reach.  If there is no evidence of that in the digital world, you will be in trouble, especially if you happen to be looking for a new job. Recruiters, of course, know that they can do an instant search and start compiling your digital profile within seconds. If you say you’re an expert or a good manager, your digital persona had better back it.

According to some recent research, job recruiters are turning more and more to Facebook, which by some measures is becoming even more impactful for employment purposes than LinkedIn. So, if the personal social media site can actually trump the professional social media site, think twice before you post those Spring Break photos.

As the consumerization of IT extends ever further into the workplace — via personal devices, social media, and so forth — the blurring of the personal and the professional will only continue.  As a result, everyone must be aware that personal actions have an impact comparable to professional achievements. And the digital trail that you leave behind every day influences how you are perceived in the marketplace.

The case of Donald Sterling, the embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner, provides a cautionary tale for the digital age. Thankfully, very few people share his worldview. But all of us need to know that while idle talk may once have been no more than ephemeral sound vibrations to be lost forever in the ether, today’s words have the power to spread virally in no time — and follow us for a long time.

So, it is crucial to build, manage, and enhance your own digital persona. To do that, you will need a personal listening infrastructure. Just as organizations strive to become hyper-aware through mobility, data analytics, and other IoE-related technologies, individuals must stay connected and cognizant of their online presence. The personal listening infrastructure helps turn reams of personal data into the kind of insights that will promote your digital image.

I will talk more about the specifics of creating your personal listening infrastructure in future blogs. In the meantime, you should begin to ask yourself:

  1. Who are the individuals, communities of interest, companies, and so forth, to which I should be connecting?
  2. How will I stay connected?
  3. In what way will I organize and distill information, so that I can quickly gain my required insight.

And remember, individual data is empowering. In what I like to call the new Marketplace of Me, the majority no longer rules with the same authority. That’s because your data is crucial. Companies of all kinds will use it to create content, products, experiences, and advertisements tailor-fit to your interests, your wants, and your desires. So, it is key for you to ensure that that data — and your overall digital persona — is accurate.

Given the importance of personal data, the opportunity exists for great disruption. In the Marketplace of Me, you don’t just consume the experience; you are a core part of the value chain. Today, companies may be making money off of your data by monetizing your digital behaviors in the form of targeted advertisements. But imagine if another company turned the tables and offered to return some of that revenue back to those who generate it? I see the potential for a whole new business models. Elsewhere, startups will develop the personal listening infrastructures to help individuals manage their digital personas in novel new ways.

Meanwhile, in this age of hyper-awareness, opting out is no longer an option. After all, you can’t succeed in a digital world if you are not connected to it. Whatever the risks for exposing your data, I believe they are dwarfed by the risks of not creating and cultivating a digital persona.

A key part of cultivating the digital persona is to realize that the journey itself is home. And there is great value in the trip, not just the destination. So, make sure your online presence accurately reflects who you are today and who you aspire to be in the future. But remember, the end destination is subject to change. If you think you want to be a legal professional and wind up being a marketing professional, all the better. The true value lies in the journey and the connections you make along the way. Not to mention the wisdom you gain from the adjustments and course corrections.

So fail fast. Fail often. And learn along the way. But most important, enjoy the ride and have a blast.

And make sure your digital persona reflects it.

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