One of the ways that I explain digital footprints to college-bound students is by using the following scenario:
Imagine a puppy in an apartment with a white linoleum floor. The puppy has just come in from a muddy romp outside and walks around the apartment. No matter what room the puppy meanders into, we can see the comings and goings because of the traces left all over the floor.
Now imagine this: your data = muddy footprints and your Internet presence = the white linoleum floor. And there you have it, what your digital footprint can look like on the net: a muddy mess.
To state it more clearly, your footprint is everything that shows up when someone searches your name. Gasp.
It is never too late to clean-up your digital footprint or to create a positive digital identity and reputation and the following steps can get you started:
1. Download the FOSI checklist to guide you on your initial clean-up of your digital footprint. The checklist advises you to do a web search of your name, check privacy settings, use strong passwords, update software, and think before you post.
2. Go through your social media accounts and delete any questionable photos. Turn all your settings to private, even settings on past posts. Delete abandoned social media accounts and unsubscribe to mailing lists that you no longer follow or that would be undesirable to follow.
3. Once you’ve cleaned things up a bit, start thinking about how you can build your positive reputation.
4.Set Google alerts on every college that interest you, like them on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites where they have a presence. If you really have something to say, engage with them. But don’t just post blah-blah to have contact. It’s like being in class: raise your hand when you have something to say.
5. Create a positive identity by ensuring that your social presence means something. What are the issues you care about? Do you have blog about something you are passionate about? (if not, create one!) Get some ideas by looking at how these teens used Internet for major good.
6. Use social media to inspire others; start a blog about the good things in your community, make a virtual fundraising campaign, text a compliment to a friend.
Above all, once you start, keep on going. Keep adding to the positive footprints by your positive actions, one step at a time.
Image courtesy of Flickr.