Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
February 2, 2011 9:55 PM

Your Digital Footprint Is Muddy

You may have the best of intentions, but pay close attention to the digital footprints that you leave behind. They can often be muddy.

True story: someone recently reached out to me for favor. In all truth, this would benefit them much more than it would me, but they are a good acquaintance, and I have a hard time saying no. We agree to a meeting. That person doesn't show. I email them to see what happened. No response. It's no (literal) skin off of my back as I wasn't all that interested in helping out in the first place. Then, a month later, they reconnect and tell me how the month has been insanely busy, but never apologizing for the back and forth prior to the meeting and for ditching it in the end.

Here's what they didn't realize...

We're connected. I follow them on Twitter. I follow them on Facebook. We're connected. So, while this person is "busy" all month, I'm able to see a four-week-plus digital footprint that includes a bunch of twitpic moments and Foursquare check-ins that weren't exactly screaming, "I don't have a moment to breathe!" Sure, they could have changed their mind about asking a favor. Sure, they could have decided that it wasn't worth the time. Sure, a large majority of people lack the basic social skills of good manners and kindness, but still... it' clear as day what, exactly, is going on here.

Senior executives have shared similar stories. 

A senior marketing executive recounted to me a story of a very well-known individual in the Social Media space and how their engagement unraveled because of the very channels they were hired to help the company with. As strategy decks and tactics were delayed, complicated with errors and deadlines moved with apologies, this senior executive was watching the principal in the organization (and the lead on their project) as they tweeted their life (and good times) for all to see. The company's final statement about dismissing this Social Media agency? "It was apparent by their use of Social Media that they had no time for the work they were being paid to do for clients." 

Ouch.

The physical world and the digital world are intrinsically connected. So, if you're tweeting while on a conference call, be aware that the people you're supposed to be engaged with on the call may very well be watching you as you tweet (or read those tweets later in the day). I've, personally, been in multiple situations where an individual said they could not do something because they were busy (or something) but could then be found tweeting away or updating their status on Facebook. The more content we create the more breadcrumbs of our lives exist for all to see and trace.

I wonder how many people truly stop to think about their digital footprint... and the imprint it makes on their professional life... and their reputation.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Lee Traupel
    Mitch Joel

    Insightful Blog Post and agree so much with your perspective Mitch.

    Reply
  • Posted by Kelly Rusk
    Mitch Joel

    While I doubt that anyone is really missing deadlines or not getting back to someone DUE to social media use, the fact remains if that's what appears to be happening... It just looks bad regardless.

    The obvious lesson I see here is just respect deadlines & other people's time, and you're all good.

    Reply
    • You're right, Kelly. I often tell people to look at what time my Blog posts go live to get an indication of how my Social Media usage happens after the real work gets done, but perception is reality.

      Reply
      • Posted by William Rice
        Mitch Joel

        And perception can be managed, people only need to wise up a little. For instance blog posts can be set to be published at a certain time. The same for tweets (you can preprogram). But I'm sure you're not doing that ;-)

        Reply
    • Posted by Eric Pratum
      Mitch Joel

      This was going to be my point exactly. Sending a tweet with no link rarely takes many of us more than 5 or 10 seconds. You could do that 20 times in a day and not really take away from your work time.

      The problem is perception. Even the the social media savvy that know this will look at all of your activity and question it. Now think of the people who are not keen to social media and believe you must be just camped out all day on channel XYZ.

      At a previous job with a few very social media savvy employers, I was questioned about all of my activity during work hours. Proving to them that I had scheduled a number of things (so that I didn't blast tweet 40 things in the mornings or on the weekends) was no excuse. Their position was something like, "We can appreciate your tactics, but perception is the important thing here. Your coworkers and our clients cannot view you or us as potentially being focused not on the work they are paying for, but rather on something they see as superfluous."

      Reply
  • Posted by Paul Flanigan
    Mitch Joel

    I heard a while back: If you're a CEO and you see something on a PowerPoint deck, assume you're the last one to see it. That seems fitting here because with digital media, you need to assume that everyone - your best friends and your worst enemies - see what you're doing. It's not always flattering, and I'm not going to support a politically correct attitude to avoid alienation.

    This might argue a bit with your theories about control, but I believe you can control what you put out there. You can't control what people do with it (share, manipulate, etc.)

    Reply
  • Posted by joe sorge
    Mitch Joel

    Love this Mitch! I totally agree that most of don't consider that footprint. Great reminder. I'm quite sure I've been guilty of this myself.

    Reply
  • Posted by Ava Chisling
    Mitch Joel

    In my experience, media has little to do with a person's character. I recently had someone arrive late for a senior manager job interview because her inbox was "overwhelming". I suspect she would have also been late because the wind was too windy or the taxis were too slow. Someone who doesn't show up and doesn't explain why can tweet until the cows come home -- her character is revealed by her actions not her words.

    Reply
    • It's less about the channel and more about where the individual puts the emphasis on what's important (and in what order) in their lives. These channels can be addictive and fun and important... but knowing what's most important matters.

      Reply
  • Posted by Kneale Mann
    Mitch Joel

    It is certainly difficult to snuggle under the warmth of busy when you are on Twitter for six hours. Funny that many who claim to be experts in these channels fail to remember that. Oh, and can I ask you for a favor? I kid. :-)

    Reply
  • Posted by robert salk
    robert salk

    Tweeting or updating your status takes 30 seconds at most. Nobody no matter how much they pay you, should be upset if you tweeted while you were busy. Your acquaintance was rude to stand you up and not apologize. The facebooking and tweeting is irrelevant. I think you spying on his social media activity is the sketchy part

    Reply
    • "Spying"? Do you know how online social networks work? When we're friends and following one another what I see online is in your hands. If you spend your days on Twitter and Facebook, I don't seek that out... it just shows up in my feed and my wall... and that's the point of this post. This isn't about creeping... it's about understanding how your content flows.

      And yes, writing a tweet takes 30 second... but if you look at the stats, the average user is engaged in these channels for a whole lot more than 30-seconds... and the people who are really connected? The numbers would make your knees buckle.

      Reply
  • Posted by Maja Pelc
    Mitch Joel

    Something else happened to me lately. I was trying to find information about my client online, to prepare for a meeting. Young person, but high up in a very respectful company. First thing that came up on google graphics was his photo from facebook with a bottle of JD and a crazy party face. One more thing to consider when you're a public person...

    Reply
    • I worry less about this. The fact is that everyone is sharing more personal information online. People drink. People party. Everybody does this. If they're involved in illegal activity or have a huge amount of content like this online, that's another story.

      My standard "joke" when people say, "I can't believe someone would post a picture of themselves drinking online!" is: "do you really want to hire the one person in the world who doesn't have any photos of themselves drinking online?".

      Reply
  • Posted by Ryan Jones
    Mitch Joel

    I've wondered about this myself. On a couple of occasions I've caught myself being "too busy" for others, but still managing to feed a particular social channel. We need more "wake-up call" posts like this to remind us of what matters most...people & relationships (not our "e" ego).

    Txs Mitch

    Reply
    • People think less about priorities when they're actively engaged online and there's still this weird psychological thing happening where individuals don't make the obvious connection that you're connected offline and are probably connected to you online as well... and there's no difference between the two.

      Reply
  • Posted by Bill laidlaw
    Mitch Joel

    In the almost two decades I have been in my current business I can count on one hand the number of times senior people from two major suppliers have showed up on time for a scheduled meeting. This screams "my time is more important than yours".
    That I could out them by checking their feed on FB is something I had never considered. I would have to friend them first wouldn't I? Not worth the price of admission to that club.
    Can't help but think your insight would make a great premise for a Columbo episode Mitch. Time for another career change?

    Reply
  • Posted by Phil O'Brien
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Joel. Great post - as always. It's a wake up call for everyone that in building trust - there is no place to hide. You have to be yourself, do what you say you will do - and for pity's sake cut the BS. The difficult thing is even when trust breaks down - these connections still show up in social media as associated with you on the same level and your closest pals.

    I've just reviewed a new service called MyWebCareer (no connection to them) - developed by guys who “experience in developing mission critical solutions for US Federal Law Enforcement, Intelligence, and Forensics clients.” It's another "scary" level on how your digital footprint can catch you out/change how people view you. http://wp.me/pYnfH-8f

    Reply
  • Posted by Kasey S
    Kasey S

    I'm surprised we haven't had any vendors swoop in and leave their "pitch" responses. Clearly, above mentioned examples aren't utilizing the right dashboard that allows them to monitor/participate on behalf of their clients and their personal profiles without having to toggle through different screens!

    You raise a good point. As someone who does this for a brand, I still find myself feeling guilty when I check/participate on my personal accounts during the work day. Something about having my boss find a personal tweet at 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday still makes me feel like I'm playing around instead of working.

    That being said, I should probably stop playing around at 9:15 on a Thursday morning!

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    I never experience problems related to this personally, but I read many cases like the ones you mention. And it's not just about Twitter of course, after all Facebook groups were created also to separate groups of friends and avoid embarassing situations. The more we go on, the more people will be "connected" 24/7, the more your digital signature will become something to really take care of.

    Reply
  • Posted by Sheila C
    Mitch Joel

    Great post Mitch!

    Boils down to respect. Good old fashioned respect for others. "Being busy" does not cut it for such rudeness. We're all busy! And if this person was too swamped to make the meeting - using all this wonderful technology would have taken only a few seconds to say 'sorry not able to get there'... or whatever. Perhaps the smell of a burning bridge is not incentive enough for some to have basic manners.

    Good reminder on the footprint - many people don't think about the real power this technology has and how their actions may be viewed.

    Reply
  • Posted by Craig Lund
    Mitch Joel

    This is both fascinating ...yet terrifying at the same time... I did a bit of poking around and funny enough, went to google and did an advanced search against my own name using googles 'Discussions' Search...

    Of course the other 'Craig Lund's in the world pop up too, but I was alarmed to come across one or two discussions that refer to me (call it digital eaves dropping)...

    Might be a good first place to take a look...

    Reply
  • Posted by Robert Saric
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch - this is right on, great insight as always. This muddiness doesn't only apply to professionals. Think about how many students/recent-grads are using the web socially but forget that their digital footprint doesn't magically disappear when they are Google'd while being considered for an entry-level position.

    Everything on the Internet is written in ink, not pencil.

    Reply
  • Posted by Trudy
    Mitch Joel

    Incredible points. It makes me think of a company I looked into years ago that stated that a position was filled (they social media searched and didn't like me after I applied), but then reposted the position on Career Builder, Facebook and Twitter.

    The world is open. Everyone sees. Thus, we have to decide what we are going to say online and offline.

    Great post.

    Reply
  • Posted by Brook Johnston
    Mitch Joel

    Not trying to defend flakey people that abuse social media at the expense of work....but isn't there a discernible difference between being 'too busy to meet' and being too busy to tweet?

    Just because I went on FB for 5 minutes doesn't necessarily mean I have enough time to take on projects, right?

    Reply
  • Posted by Tara
    Mitch Joel

    The truth of the matter is this, "busy" is an excuse for any number of things including didn't want to do it, forgot about it, never wanted to do it in the first place. We need to replace "insanely busy" with the truth- "I'd rather not" "I honestly forgot, and I am sorry"- whatever the case maybe. While it may only take 10 seconds to tweet or to post on FB, those same 10 seconds could be used to be honest with the person you are dodging. I'm guilty of using the catch all phase "busy" as we all are, but the visibility we give people access to with social media means we should be more honest and less "busy".

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Bravo Mitch. Once again, you've managed to put something in words that I've had difficulty assessing.

    This has happened to me all the time. Somebody says they're "busy" but meanwhile they'e got all this time to tweet about stuff. Gets me every time.

    But meanwhile, I have to make sure I don't do that myself! It's easy to do if you're not careful. But it's a muddy footprint, and that's not cool at all.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jenn Sudbury
    Jenn Sudbury

    An excellent reminder about thinking before typing. Social media have blended the professional and personal in ways most of us didn't think about a few years ago.

    I do agree that a quick status update may take only seconds to complete, but it's not about the action, it's how it's perceived.

    Great post!

    Reply
  • Posted by Jay S.
    Mitch Joel

    Believe it or not, about 12% of Millennials believe it's acceptable to post negative comments about their employer on blogs or Twitter according to a survey from the Ethics Research Center.

    It just doesn't get dumber than that, as pertains to ones digital footprint and future chances of employment....

    Reply
  • Posted by John Morgan
    Mitch Joel

    Glad someone finally said something about this!

    I once saw an internet marketer launch a big traffic product and after generating over a million dollars in a day the product was late to ship to customers & had faulty packaging (causing the CDs inside to break). While his blog was blowing up with people who were outraged, he was on vacation & updating the world of every step via Twitter.

    Social media has a funny way of showing who we really are. That probably keeps some people up at night.

    Reply
  • Posted by Rene Power
    Mitch Joel

    Great post Mitch. This cuts deeper than the 'do you integrate your Linkedin and Facebook accounts'. With always on visibility, we all have to be careful that we are being true to our contacts and true to ourselves, as we'll get undone by the tech if we don't. Perception, as Mitch alludes to in the comments, is reality.

    Reply
  • Posted by Alex Graham
    Mitch Joel

    One word that I haven't seen used in previous posts is 'transparency'. As Mitch rightly says, we have to understand that any posts or check-ins we make, we're going to have to be held accountable for.

    The reason this is a problem is that through the saturation of social channels, there's no borderline between our personal and professional lives. Too many people think that they can keep the two separate but, as is illustrated in Mitch's example, even those who work in Social Media clearly haven't learnt that you're never out of the firing line.

    Does that mean we should limit the content we publish where it might be sensitive to certain people in your network? Personally I don't think so. We've opened ourselves up for scrutiny by offering this level of transparency, so we should understand the consequences of our actions.

    What it does mean is that people need to be more 'human' in the way they interact with social media - making a conscious choice whether or not your digital footprint and the message you're putting out into the public domain is going to land you in hot water, and most importantly being honest (and perhaps even courteous and professional) with the people you work with i.e. not standing them up when you're doing them a favor!

    Reply
  • Posted by Keren Burney
    Keren Burney

    Dare I say that, being in PR, I reckon social media engagement actually takes me longer than readers/followers perceive. I work hard to understand the footprint, how it affects the brand or how a tweet might come back on a client. Integrity and consistency in communications is essential, and applies equally to social media as to traditional marketing and PR. This is not something to be undertaken lightly... although oftimes tempting!

    Reply
  • Posted by Dan Collins
    Dan Collins

    Excellent post Mitch. One of the things that this addresses is the inescapable truth that we all have one character. Not, as some profess, one business and one personal one. The digital footprint you so aptly describe broadcasts and highlights that for all to see. Thanks again for a great post.

    Reply
  • Posted by Charles Baratta
    Mitch Joel

    I know professionals are those people who value time and others time as well. For countries that have great economy and business development time is very important.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    What a great point! I just wrote a post today about digitally stalking that is very similar! www.siblingsnotspouses.com
    Thanks so much for the insight!

    Reply
  • Posted by Erica Allison
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,
    Sad, but all too true. I struggle with how much time to spend on social media (and thankfully, figured out scheduled posting of links- not my tweets) and how to make sure my clients' needs are taken care of. Actually, it's no struggle. Clients come first. SM comes second. Like you, if you take a look at when my blog posts are published, it's often very late at night or very early in the morning...not during my peak work time for my clients. As a PR professional, it's imperative that I understand this new media world. However, it's paramount that I fulfill my obligations to my clients. I just better make sure I balance the two in a way that when viewed through the lens that is now our world, it makes sense to my clients and delivers results.

    Thanks for the post! Timely!

    Reply
  • Posted by Stephen Garner
    Mitch Joel

    Great post, I learned the hard way about my digital footprint. I attended a class over a year ago, a FB friend saw my update and replied, something to the effect that he heard the class was boring. I apparently wasn't thinking, I posted that the class was "brutal" and went on with my day. 2 days later the instructor requested a meeting with me where after the small talk he showed me my comment (we were not connected digitally). I was extremely embarrassed, and apologetic but the damage was done.
    Takeaway- I now assume everything I put online will be seen by my clients, family, my worst enemy etc, because it will.

    Reply
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