Over the holidays, I found myself sharing a funny anecdote with my friends. The jolly little tale involved someone I’ve only interacted with online. What struck me is how I spoke of this person as if I had known him all my life, when in fact I’ve never met the gent at all.
Later, when reviewing my online interactions with this person, I was shocked to discover we had shared but four messages within the past few months. True, I read a blog post or two, and his tweets pop up regularly in my timeline. But in looking back on the evolution of our relationship, I realized we didn’t have much of a relationship at all. I’m a complete stranger.
That’s when I wondered: how many ‘intimate strangers’ are following me?
With the New Year comes the usual spitter-spatter of blog posts that help us decide what resolutions to make, how to keep them, or why not to make them at all. But what about our online lives? Shouldn’t we make conscious decisions on how we want to live those, too?
First, we must take stock. I’m sure you’re all Googling yourselves from time to time to see what the Web knows about you. But how deep do you go? Think about what people might know about you. Combine that info—your name, for instance—with other pieces of info… like where you live.
The trick is to be as creative as possible. If you Google your name + “arrested,” you may discover someone of the same name has a checkered past. It will be important to know, so you can head off any possible cases of mistaken identity with prospect employers, love interests or even nosey neighbors.
But reputation management isn’t just about what’s out there, but what you put out there. A trick I use before posting something online is to imagine me saying it in a dark alley with hundreds of eyes staring back at me from the shadows. It’s a rather bleak assessment of the Internet, but we do reveal so much about ourselves without audiences ever having to reveal anything at all.
As such, it’s a good idea to regularly look back on tweets, updates and blog posts the same way. What may seem fine one day may not feel so fine the next. If you’re suddenly uncomfortable with something you put out there, modify or delete it until you are (though never assume it truly goes away), and let it be a lesson for next time.
For bloggers and social networkers, building relationships and an identity online is what it’s all about. But this year, make a point of taking control of what the Web knows about you—for your safety and sanity, as well as that of your loved ones.