Google your name and see what comes up. Go ahead. What you get with this search and a little digging is your digital footprint. It’s what people see and understand about you when they search for you. It’s a traceable timeline of everything you write and what people write about you. It’s the amalgam of writing, ratings, rants and clips that make up the first pages of Google when your name is entered.
This is called a vanity search. Except when you’re a health care professional, it’s not vain; it’s smart. What you see is what your patients and colleagues will see. Your digital footprint is a reflection of who you are, and it can be modified by how we choose to present ourselves. (Read that last sentence again. It’s important.)
The two core realities of digital footprint
So you have to do everything you can to ensure that what people see represents who you are and what you’re about. However, other people can have a say in this, too, so managing and shaping your digital footprint boils down to two simple realities that you must keep in mind:
- You have no control over what people say.
- You have 100 percent control over what you say and create.
Because of the first reality, you have to act on the second.
If you create nothing, you are entirely at the mercy of what’s created about you on your behalf. You, as a public physician, have a new responsibility to be involved in creating the reality people see. And like it or not, Google will always deliver a first page about you. You can control it or leave it to someone else.
This is the argument for participating in a positive, meaningful way. This is the argument for being an all-in public physician.
Content defines your digital footprint
To shape how you present yourself online, you have to begin by understanding what happens online. It’s pretty simple, because there are only two things online:
- Content. This is what we consume.
- Conversations. This is the dialogue that happens around what we consume.
So there are only two things that you can do in public:
- Make the content that people talk about.
- Talk about the content that other people make.
If you own the content or the ideas that everyone looks at and talks about, you’re in a good spot. With it you can influence policy makers, peers, patients, and the world. You can change the way patients understand themselves and their diseases. Your ideas can be used to change the way a teen sees tanning beds or influence whether a frightened young mother immunizes her baby.
And the content you shape is what people understand about you when they look for you.
Creating content that the world consumes is now the core currency of influence. This is how doctors will affect change and influence how we are seen as a profession and as individuals.
Your digital footprint is always changing
Most of us were raised in a world where information is static and fixed. If you’re a later generation physician, information lived in places like libraries, textbooks and encyclopedias. Where it landed, it sat. Not so much anymore. And that has real implications for our digital footprint.
Information is now linear and lives in a stream. The good news is while that two thousand word ranty review from the angry patient is giving you fits, it’s likely that its place in the public eye is short-lived. Today’s news is tomorrow’s page 5 filler on Google.
Sounds good, right? But (and it’s a big but) that goes for both the good stuff and the bad stuff.
Your digital footprint is like a garden. It needs attention, time, upkeep and cultivation in order to look its best. Or, as I once suggested, your digital footprint is like a beach ball in the cheap seats at the baseball park: you have to keep hitting it to keep it in the air.
How does your footprint look?
This digital footprint primer is part of a bigger project: The Public Physician, a field guide for life online. To read more check out the Public Physician landing page. Check it out.