rock formationsBefore people were snap-chatting and creating Vine videos on the go from their smartphones, students were poking each other on Facebook from their laptops in dorm rooms. Nearly a decade ago, I can still vividly remember signing up for “,” while a student at Marquette University.  It was a new, exciting way to interact with fellow college students.

At that time, using Facebook was an experience that seemed like AOL Instant Messenger on steroids. We all used the platform with reckless abandon to talk about relationships, parties and stay connected 24/7.  Social interaction was uncensored and quickly became the rule, not the exception. All the while, we were posting and not thinking much about it.  After all, what’s the worst that could happen? Who could possibly care about what we did on a Friday night?

Flash forward a few years later when Facebook became available to the masses, including businesses, brands, employers, parents and grandparents, enjoying all the new advancements like Timeline and Graph Search to make it easier for over a billion people to view your content.  I wish I had been given a crystal ball – maybe I would have posted less, or at least given what I posted a half-a-second thought.  So much for my college content having a shelf life, now it will not only be mine – but available to anyone with access to the Internet apparently, forever.

Advancements in mobile and social technologies have created more transparency in our world than ever before.  The lack of control over my content on Facebook was truly an eye-opening revelation that made me take a hard look at how I can control online content linked to myself moving forward. Below are steps I’m continually improving on to better manage my personal brand online: 

1. Understand your digital footprint

Try a Google search on your name or set a Google Alert to monitor specific online activity. You may be surprised by the results that come up. I created my personal brand website, which is my home base online to help define my vision and aspirations, as well as inform people how and where they can contact and interact with me anytime.  This website serves as a very visible footprint.

2. Make your own rules

Once you understand your digital footprint, it is time to take control of it. Make your own rules and guidelines when it comes to posting online.  Before I hit send I always ask myself, “Would I say or show my grandmother what I am about to post online?” Lucky for me, I have an awesome grandma who continually reminds me, by her actions, to “tell it like it is.”

3.  Let your voice be heard

Define and describe your aspirations and mission online. Even if it is a web page, blog post, or whitepaper, it will give more context to readers of your content. This will help minimize the “perception is reality” around your online content, as people too often create perceptions from very little information. For any business or industry you are in, act as a leader and share your expertise, experiences and thoughts online.  Giving advice, sharing content or offering a tangible item can be one of the best ways to pay it forward and be heard in business, as Carol describes a great example in Give-to-Get-in-Business. 

Everyone has a digital footprint that represents his or her image online. The challenge for each of us will be controlling our online presence as social and mobile technologies continue to rapidly advance.  Age is independent of ability or success in managing your image online, but the younger generations will have a greater challenge, as they will all have significant digital footprints before they even understand the implications (e.g., kid/baby pictures on Facebook).

Mobile and social technologies have enhanced individual creativity and innovation that helps us move forward and evolve as a society. It drives me every day as a startup entrepreneur to empower individual creativity and innovation, while rewarding those for having a voice and sharing valuable content online.

So, the next time before you take that scandalous snap-chat, stop and think about that. Remember, the Internet is powerful and all your posts online are permanent, just ask Carol how she defines PRISM, and take control today of your digital footprint.

How do you manage your online presence?