I had several goals with this exercise, none of which was explicitly to embarrass the class (though it did lead to some needed laughter at a tense time in the semester). My goals were to address (1) why and where one should be careful with information, and (2) how to shape one’s own digital footprint.
Why be careful? People who only know you in a professional context are going to search for you. Maybe it sounds Big Brother, creepy, or stalker-ish, but it will happen. The moment you email someone about a job, about their graduate program, a post doc, or ask to meet him/her at a conference to talk about shared research interests, you are opening yourself up to be googled or searched in Facebook. Be careful in all of these places:
Facebook. I know, everyone knows they should be careful in Facebook. But is everyone? I believe the people who say that we probably all should be off Facebook for the sake of our privacy, although I’m not willing to make that change. But do look at your privacy settings. There are some good posts out there on how to protect your Facebook privacy, so I won’t go into it all here. But things to consider include who can see what you post; whether your Facebook account can be found in a google search; whether people can tag you in things without your approval; whether friends of friends can see you (this is, I believe, how I saw a lot of my students’ photos and posts that they thought were private – it only takes one mutual friend for me to see everything). Even though my account is relatively private, I do often ask myself, how would I feel if (my department head; my students; my colleagues; my mother-in-law) saw this post? Sometimes that question gets me to stop posting something. Sometimes I post anyway, but I at least am thinking about the privacy issue.
Other similar places to consider are Instagram, twitter, Pinterest, Flickr, and google+. I’ve opted to use twitter only for work so I keep that public. If you use twitter for non-professional reasons, consider making your account private. That’s what I’ve done with my Instagram account, and there I’m pretty picky about even letting anyone follow me, so it doesn’t become like my Facebook account, filled with 100’s of “friends” I barely remember.
A related point – if you use google+ and you use Gmail as your email, even if you funnel your work email through your Gmail account, then when you email people to a Gmail account, your google+ picture will show in your email to them. Even if you emailed their work account but they also funnel through Gmail. Think carefully about your google+ photo.
Google searches. Google yourself every once in a while to see what comes up. For me, this task is a bit freaky because given my research area, there are some really random blogs and other sites that refer to my work. But it’s good to know who is doing so. I also have some google alerts related to my name so that if someone writes about me, google should tell me. It’s good practice to google your name once in a while. It matters more for people like me with rather unique names. If you’re named Jennifer Miller, google searches aren’t easily going to point to you.
Google image searches. Occasionally do a google image search of yourself as well. Someone else might, so it’s useful to see what will come up. I’ve shown students before that their name in a google image search might lead to finding a picture of yourself at a friend’s wedding, or something else that you didn’t know was out there.
So what can you do to better position your online presence? I just googled my name, and here were the top results, in order:
My Penn State webpage
My CV on my Penn State webpage
Me in googlescholar
Me in ratemyprofessor (wish that one didn’t appear so high in list)
Me on twitter
Me on Linkedin
Then it gets more random, but I’m happy that 6 of the first 7 are places I would want to send people.
Here are some places to shape your own digital footprint, and improve what comes up when others google you:
Linkedin. I think I received 17,000 invitations to Linkedin before I finally had to join for work. The good thing about Linkedin is that it’s so clearly business that you’re unlikely to be tempted to write things there the world couldn’t see. I think Linkedin could be valuable in the business world for making connections, though likely less so in academia. But, it’s another place you could come up in a search where someone could see you looking all business-like and professional.
Googlescholar. I’m a huge fan of googlescholar. It does a great job of pulling in all your publications, giving you a citation index, and generally making it easy to manage your own citations. I find it useful at times to go to googlescholar and search by topic, to see who is most cited (of those on googlescholar) in a particular research area. If you have at least 1 publication, it’s totally worth your time to set it up.
Professional website. If you haven’t already, go set up your own professional website. Here are some examples from graduate students that I think look great. An advantage of setting up your own website is that it’s portable. If you move jobs, your website remains and you don’t have to worry about the one at your old institution and getting all of the information to the one at your new one (though you’ll probably have to do that, too). You can post your CV so that people can easily access your CV. You can describe your interests in ways that you can’t easily do on Linkedin or other sites. You can link to websites and people you admire. You can start a blog and share your thoughts more regularly. You can let some of your personality shine through with pictures or descriptions, while maintaining a professional presence. The only caveat is if you are going to be bad about updating, then you should make something pretty static that doesn’t need to be updated. It doesn’t help your online presence if someone visits your website and your last listed publication is from 2 years ago, or if someone visits your blog and it’s been stagnant for a year.
What platform should you use? There are tons of choices. Some people use the one from their academic institution (that has the portability issue, though). I’ve been happy with weebly because it’s quite easy, and you can set it up for free if you don’t care about owning your own domain name. Some people like BlogSpot or WordPress. There are tons of options and many free options, so find one that works for you. Then start having control over what people find when they google you.
“The post Managing your online presence first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog on December 3, 2014.”