Thing 7: Online identity

WonderEyeIn this Thing we explore your online identity and ‘personal brand.’ You can think of this as an accumulation of all your activities online.

The first thing many people (including students, potential and current employers, and friends) will do when they hear your name is Google you. What will they find?

Why is managing my online identity important?

Your online identity should be considered part of your professional identity. A strong online presence can be a powerful tool in promoting your work and reaching a wider audience. Regardless of whether or not you have cultivated your online identity, or even whether you are active online, you have an online presence from which others can acquire information, and form opinions.

Before we go on, take a moment to watch this video.

As you can see, there is information stored about you online, whether you are aware of it or not. There are also ways for others to easily find and use that information to construct a picture, not necessarily an accurate one, of who you are. This advertisement presents the risks associated with having personal information in the online ‘wild,’ but there are opportunities too! There are ways you can, and should, manage that online presence to present yourself in a positive and professional light.

As researchers we need to understand the opportunities of the online environment, including knowing how to manage our own online identities (professional and personal), and assuring the protection of our personal “brand.”

What is a Personal Brand?

Personal branding is about strategically establishing your online image and reputation. You can present yourself to your target audiences as a trusted, reliable, and professional contributor to your research and academic communities.

Managing your presence online and through social media gives others the chance to know you and your work. It takes time to cultivate your personal brand and reputation, and to maintain currency, but making connections with others, sharing your ideas and contributions online, and highlighting your strengths and achievements can be very rewarding.

For example, surveys undertaken as part of the US 2014 Jobvite Job Seeker Nation Study found the following:

  • 76% of social job seekers found their current position through Facebook.
  • 93% of recruiters are likely to look at a candidate’s social profile online.
  • 59% percent of recruiters rated candidates sourced from social media networks as “highest quality.”
  • 42% of recruiters have reconsidered a candidate based on content viewed in a social profile, leading to both positive and negative re-assessments.

Here, “Google is the new business card.”

Kelli Marshall from DePaul University writes about the importance of digital identity in an academic context:

Getting Started

For this Thing, we’d like you to start by Googling yourself. Type your name into Google (and/or any other search engine) and see what comes up.

If you didn’t know yourself, what would be your overall impression of the person you have searched for based on the first few pages of results?  Include those results that belong to others who share your name.  What sort of ‘person’ emerged, and what might other people think about this person? Do you or your work appear on the first page or two? If so, is it content with which you’d like to see yourself associated? How easy were you to find online? Were you happy with what you found?

Once you’ve analysed how you appear online, start to think about how you’d like to appear and what you might be able to do to make that happen. Quite a few of the tools we’ll explore in upcoming Things can improve and augment your online presence (having a LinkedIn profile, for example, is a great way to make sure you’re visible), but there are things you can do now:

Track Yourself

Try setting up a Google alert for your name, or perhaps your name with a keyword or two. Go to Google Alerts and choose your search terms, how often you’d like to receive alerts, and where you’d like to receive them.

Have a Clean Up!

If you are bothered by the results turned up by Google or another search engine, you can ask for these pages or images to be removed from their results.  Most search engines have a feedback form that can be used to make ‘takedown’ requests.  Google has more information on their process for web pages, and for images. Just remember, that the offending item will only be removed from the search engine results, it will not be removed from the internet.

It is often said the Internet Never Forgets. The Wayback Machine has years and years of web archives. Everything that has been on the web can be found by those who are determined enough, so the best course of action is not to upload any potentially damaging content to the Web in the first place.


Think about online accounts and profiles you already have. Do they come up when you search? Do you want them to? Make sure accounts you already manage are up to date and reflect the persona you want to share – including your name and photograph, if relevant. If you haven’t already, fill out the ‘About’ page on your new or existing blog, and consider adding a photograph. Adjust the privacy settings of any content you don’t want people to have easy access to. Try to be consistent across all platforms.

Professional vs Personal

Do you want to keep your professional and personal identities separate online? Some choose a middle ground and let their personality become a part of their professional presence. Keep in mind that if content is accessible to colleagues and professional contacts, you might not want your latest holiday snaps or student party photos showing. You may also want to consider whether anonymity does or does not fit in with your professional goals.

try-this-iconTry this

There is no activity associated with this Thing. In the next few Things we will be discussing different aspects of managing your online identity.

explore-further-iconExplore further

“The more open I have been with my scholarship online, the more professional doors have opened to me”
Creating and Maintaining a Professional Presence Online (Higher Education Chronicle article).

“Increasingly, academics are looking for a way to create a digital presence that is not dependent on their current place of employment and that can go beyond the stodgy faculty pages at department websites with their mugshots and lists of courses and CVs”
All about me, dot com, Times Higher education

“Whether the behaviour is your own, someone trolled you and set up fake profiles to defame you, or someone’s been impersonating you online, here’s how to handle it for each service”
How to Clean Up Your Online Presence and Make a Great First Impression

“This paper explores … how the construction of online identities or persona is now an essential activity for the academic both from the perspective of university value and individual/career value”
Barbour, K., & Marshall, D. (2012). The academic online: Constructing persona through the World Wide Web. First Monday, 17(9). doi:10.5210/fm.v0i0.3969

“In the future, everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes. What if we flip this? What if you’re only going to be anonymous for 15 minutes?”
How to think about Digital Tattoos (Ted Talk Video)

“If I ever get bored being a professor, I’m going to go start a company that predicts … things like how well you work in teams and if you’re a drug user… We know how to predict all that. And I’m going to sell reports to H.R. companies and big businesses that want to hire you. We totally can do that now.”
The Curly Fry Conundrum: Why social media “likes” say more than you might think (Ted Talk Video)


Parts of this Thing were adapted from 23 Things for Research Oxford / CC By-NC-SA 3.0 and 23 Mobile Things / CC By-NC-SA 3.0.

Header image: Jalal Volker / Wikimedia Commons / CC By-SA 3.0
Icons: Everaldo Coelho and YellowIcon / GNU Lesser General Public License

This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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2 thoughts on “Thing 7: Online identity

  1. hmm – this is very interesting! Nothing too bad comes up for me, but some of it is so banal – I wish comments made on FB could just die away!! One thing I did find was a really old handout from a class I taught that someone had posted online – I have requested its removal.


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