We all have one whether we want to or not. One’s digital stamp, a term coined by Erik Qualman, is the sum total of everything about you in the digital domain. One’s digital stamp, sometimes referred to as one’s digital identity, is a key concept that we all must be aware of when we interact online. It is also a particularly salient concept for the rising generation of emerging adults. So what is a digital stamp? One’s digital stamp consists of three components:
Your Digital Footprints
Your digital footprints include everything you post and put out into cyberspace. When you post to social media, add comment on a blog or article, or create a public facing account on a website, you are adding to your digital footprints. Of all of the three components that make up your digital stamp, you have the most control over your digital footprints. In fact, the best way to have the information you want surfaced when people search for you online is to expand your digital footprints. By posting the information you want to be found, the more likely it is that other artifacts and data found on the web will get pushed down the search results. Having healthy digital footprints is a good thing. It allows you the most flexibility is taking control of your digital stamp!
Your Digital Shadow
Your digital shadow is similar to your digital footprints, but instead of being the information you post, it is the information that others post about you. When someone tags you in a picture, an article is published about you, or your headshot is uploaded to the company webpage, this content contributes to your digital shadow. Unlike your digital footprints, you have far less control over your digital shadow. Oftentimes, this shadow includes information that you cannot take down or easily hide. You should be aware of your shadow and aware of what others may find when they search for you online.
Your Digital Trail
Your digital trail is all of the information that is sucked up when you create accounts and surf across the web. It includes the information Google saves on your location when you search for something via its maps, it’s the item you bought on Amazon that results in advertisements and suggestions constantly following you, and it’s the information a company collects on your buying habits when you create a shopping account. Your digital trail is tricky, because although there are privacy settings and the ability for you to close accounts, this information is often collected and stored without your knowledge. Knowing about your trail and the information that is potentially collected and stored on you is important in maintaining some level of privacy.
When I speak to 18-24 year old college students, one of the basic concepts I review is that of the digital stamp. Developmentally, these college students are at a critical time in their lives and their knowledge of the concept of a digital stamp is of heightened importance. As a part of the growing up and maturation process, it is natural for us to make mistakes, particularly in college. For my generation, however, these mistakes were more easily left in the past. For the current generation, this is no longer as true. The mistakes they make can sometimes follow them long afterwards and become part of their digital stamps. This is not meant to be a scary lesson, but it does highlight that one has to be careful to protect their reputation online.
So how does one protect one’s reputation? There are a number of strategies:
- Be aware of what others post about you and what others find when they search for you.
- Set your privacy settings at a level you are comfortable with and review these settings regularly.
- Add positive content to your digital footprints. Posting what you want to be found means that what you don’t want to be found gets buried.
- Pay attention to the terms of service when you sign up for a new account online. What information will be collected and how will it be used?
There are many more strategies I could list, but the main takeaway here is that you can take control of your digital stamp. You have power and you have agency in this process. If you don’t engage, you will allow others to define your stamp for you. Don’t let that happen. Know about and take control of your digital stamp.