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Have you ever been told to fear something that you later wish you would have learned more about instead of avoiding it completely?

Growing up, I was taught that credit cards should be avoided and that I should never have one especially as a young adult. Even though my parents had good intentions, the advice to not get a credit card was actually somewhat harmful. In fact, I remember trying to apply for my first loan and realized that my credit score was terrible because I never had a credit card. Even though I wasn’t in debt and had always spent money responsibly, I realized that I had viewed credit cards as a threat instead of an opportunity to build a great credit score.

Today I use that same analogy when I speak with parents, teachers or administrators who discourage online activity. Why? Because not having any digital footprint could actually be harmful.

Fear vs. Respect.

I believe parents, teachers, administrators, and mentors have good intentions when warning kids about online activity. We have seen what happens when teenagers and adults say or do things online and how that can come back to haunt them years later. A few months ago, we saw how a reporter from the Des Moines register was fired because of offensive tweets he had made in the past.

However, not being active online or not taking advantage of building your digital footprint might actually be harmful as well. I have had the opportunity to mentor a number of students throughout the years. As a former educator and preceptor, I immediately go into research mode to see what I can learn about students that I have agreed to let shadow or learn from me. If I can’t find any digital footprint or online activity, it actually makes me really suspicious and I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

I recently spoke with several business owners and HR representatives who share the same concern about the lack of online activity from applicants. In fact, one business owner said, “If that person has no digital footprint, they might be trying to hide something.”

Taking the right steps.

A few years ago, I was working with a student who was really nervous about being active on social media because she didn’t want a digital footprint. At the time, she was working on her finishing her Master’s degree and getting ready to graduate. I offered to let her come on my podcast and talk about a subject that she felt confident about.

The episode was published and did include her name and the show notes did a good job of highlighting her area of expertise. Several months after I had finished working with her, she called me to let me know that she had just landed her first job. It turns out that when she applied for the job, the HR representative searched for her online and came across the podcast episode in which she was featured on my show.

After listening to the podcast episode, they called her to come in for an interview and then she was given an offer immediately after. Not only is creating a positive digital footprint important for being a good digital citizen, but it might also open doors to opportunities you never thought possible.

It’s not a marathon. It’s a sprint.

The best time to start building your digital footprint was yesterday. This goes for adults too! In the example given above, it only took one positive post to help build that student’s digital footprint which led her to land her dream job. So, consider how you can quickly start taking steps in the right direction. You never know when or how you could benefit from a positive digital footprint, so start building one today.

Classroom conversation starters:

  1. If you buy something online, do you look at the reviews? Why or why not? Would you buy an item that didn’t have any online reviews? Why or why not?
  2. What would your friends say is your best quality and how could your online activity reflect that?
  3. How would adults or people who you don’t know judge your online activity?
  4. Are there words or phrases that you have used in tweets or posts that could be misinterpreted by people?
  5. If somebody that you messaged privately decided to take a screenshot, would you be embarrassed?
  6. What can you do now to start building a positive digital footprint?