Happy Easter, everyone! We all know that bunny with the gift basket leaves his footprint everywhere, but you do to through your use of social media. And unlike the bunny’s, your footprint is digital.
So what exactly is a digital footprint anyway? The simple answer is the reputation you establish through social media–but even your in-person encounters with other people can be captured by someone’s smartphone or camera and posted on the web. The bottom line: try not to do things that could adversely affect your reputation with others. (This rule is universal to every one, not just businesses, professionals, simple every-day people, writers, etc.)
But here’s the next question: how do you build your digital footprint? The answer is as simple as sharing a photo on Instagram, or a video on YouTube, or even posting a short story you’ve written to a story-sharing website. (Sites that allow users to share their stories and comment on / favorite the works of other writers include FictionPress, WattPad, Figment, Quotev, and a few others out there that I have yet to discover.) In other words, your online activity is what establishes your reputation–but online and offline.
My point however is not to tell you how to use the internet–but how to use it responsibly. Let’s think of potential employers, for example. You want to work for a publishing house (we’ll call them PH-A) and you send them the resume of your skills–interning for a publishing house back in your college days, an experience of editing stories through college classes in editing, etc. Your skill set is not too shabby–but very shabby is your digital footprint. Your Twitter is infested with pictures of you writing graffiti on the walls of public buildings. Some of your Facebook statuses read things like, “Just thought about hanging this guy from the brim of his neck for messing up my order today,” and, “I absolutely HATE the publishing business; they’re nothing but dogs who are all about themselves and NOT the writer!”
Don’t get me wrong–we have every right to feel upset about something. But sometimes posting those feelings to public places–such as online–isn’t the wisest choice when we’re trying to get hired by someone and make a difference in the world. To make a difference, you have to play by others’ rules first–at least long enough for you to stand on your own feet without their help. But even then, don’t post something like, “HA! You idiots! You helped me become the big cheese now!” You never know when you’ll need those idiots to help you in the event that you fall on tough times. It happens to us all–even the “rich” and “successful” people.
Even if you think establishing privacy settings for your social media profiles hides the things you don’t want others to see, think twice. If it’s on the web, it’s vulnerable to anyone’s hands. Who could still see your posts even if no one else can? Simple: the website owner(s). Nothing is private on the web–so certainly don’t post what you wouldn’t be willing to show anyone in person. Even if you delete a post, you can’t delete our memory banks–we’ll always remember your digital footprint, even if you try to erase it.
We writers especially must remember that while social media can be used to establish our character in the eyes of others, it must also be used in a way that respects our audience. How can we use the internet in a way that advances others and not just ourselves? Again–respect is a good place to start.
One way to respect others is to post things that teach them. Posting a status update to Facebook that reads, “Just got a new pair of sunglasses! I feel so special *heart heart heart*” is one thing. But posting a status that reads, “Just got a new pair of sunglasses! You all should totally invest in this brand; they offer X-Y-Z” not only tells us how happy you are, but how we can share in your happiness and get that pair of sunglasses for ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with telling us how proud you are of something, but it’s even better to invite us to share in that pride.
So the exercise I want you to try today is pretty self-explanatory: build your digital footprint. Post photos, videos, status updates–things that express to us who you are. And while you’re at it, invite your audience to join in the fun! Also keep in mind that you want to convey your love for creative writing–but in a way that invites others to find their own inner writing capabilities.
Don’t just promote your book or only post things about your experiences with writing, but invite us to learn from your experiences. A post like, “Today I learned that my character is too one-dimensional” is not the same as, “Today I learned that my character is too one-dimensional–but here’s how you can avoid the same for yours.” Help your audience first, and they’ll help you. And remember, a post like, “I just thought of rolling this person over for taking SOOOO long to cross the street,” could leave you with the skid marks in social media.
This all said, your exercise today is to do something with social media, but not just anything. Research information on your field of creative writing (thriller novels, personal essays, poems, etc.) and share it on Twitter, Facebook, etc.–any social media platform you use. Start sharing meaningful content with your target audience (that is, content that they would be interested in seeing). And remember, post responsibly. Anything posted on the internet lasts forever–even the bad stuff.