As hard as you may try, privacy on the Internet is tough to manage. Across social networks, blogs and websites, your digital imprint is everywhere and sometimes beyond your immediate control. Even with pseudonyms and heavy privacy settings, if you have something to hide, it definitely shouldn't be online. On the Internet, information can quickly become a commodity that will slip through your hands. (Online is not the only place where your information is available. For more, read 5 Overlooked Places Where Your Identity Can Be Stolen.)
TUTORIAL: Business Plan
Instead of retreating offline to hide from prospective employers, admissions counselors and decision makers, leverage the Internet to your advantage by building a personal brand. In all likelihood, your negative traits are less extreme than you may think, and you're better off investing your time in focusing on your strengths to create a positive self-image. Showcase yourself in the best possible light by leveraging these seven strategies:
Buy a Domain Name
Unlike websites on free web hosting platforms, domain names are personable and essential for building your online character. In the online marketing world, they are also important for bringing your name to the first page of search engine results. That way when somebody Googles you, they'll land on your site very quickly. Even better, you control what you display on your site.
Create an Online Portfolio
If you've done great work, showcase it online. Above all, prospective employers and recruiters care about work with a strong return on investment. Leverage your website to showcase your worth with examples of what makes you proud.
Twitter conversations confirm to one of two extremes: mindless chatter or intellectually engaging discussions. Use this platform to establish yourself in the middle as a smart person, with a knack for down-to-earth and fun conversations. Believe it or not, Twitter is also a powerful networking tool for meeting and engaging with new people across industries. You don't need to stay plugged in all-day-every-day. For busy people, even once in a while is good enough. (To learn about tweeting, check out Tweeting: The Next New "Profession.")
Make LinkedIn Your Professional Community
LinkedIn is more than just an online-resume: it is a robust professional networking platform. Make an effort to actively build your LinkedIn network to create a digital map of your connections across industries. Moreover, you can join discussion groups to ask and answer professional questions. By sharing information, you position yourself as an authority in your field, and by maintaining a network, you keep yourself on recruiters' radars.
Start a Blog
Blogs are a great way to discuss your knowledge in depth. Put substantial work into writing that is unique in your niche, and your blog will become a pull-mechanism for recruiting new followers. It does not matter what your industry, experience level or skill set is, you can write to impress your clients, educators or prospective employers. More importantly, writing can help you personalize your voice in a way that you can't through short social status updates.
Contribute to Industry-Established Blogs
Across industries, there are blogs that appeal to industry leaders. Why not write for one? If you're looking for free publicity, you can offer to submit a guest post. You can also ask whether paid freelancing positions are available. Either way, you'll be able to publicize your name.
Look Awesome with a Great Photo
No matter what you do, look good while you do it. Instead of using your awkwardly dark webcam or smartphone photos, ask a friend to take a genuinely compelling photo that showcases who you are. If you're a professional blogger, writer or artist, you might even want to invest in a professional headshot. Online, everything is two-dimensional, so a photo is worth more words than you could possibly imagine.
The Bottom Line
Don't let the Internet scare you from sharing who you are. Leverage social media to your advantage to showcase your strengths and put your best foot forward. Professional brand marketers consistently deploy this strategy – and keep in mind that it works on a personal level too. (For other strategies in searching for a job, see 4 New Job-Search Trends.)