Most of us now use social media. We read online news, visit job boards, join professional communities, and read and contribute to employer reviews. According to Gerard Daniels Principal Consultant, Chris Tan, this collective digital footprint puts an abundance of valuable information just a click or two away.
“Today, most executives actively use a variety of digital channels to research prospective employers – a relatively quick and simple task, given the vast amount of information that’s available online,” Chris says. “As part of the recruitment process, employers also screen and vet prospective talent online.”
“Having information at our fingertips allows greater talent and employer scrutiny, and it adds rigour to recruitment screening processes,” he continues. “But it also heightens the need to craft our digital footprint, and to carefully manage what we share, because what goes online, tends to stay online.”
While the growth of online platforms and mobile technologies has created opportunities to grow our brand and reputation, it has also shifted what we expect of businesses leaders in terms of being active and engaged online. One recent survey reported that before joining an organisation, as many as 82% of employees will research a CEO’s online presence, making an active online presence essential for leaders today.
Why does our digital footprint need to be managed?
Most executives are reasonably familiar with what constitutes appropriate online behaviour, personally and professionally. But in a corporate setting, the risks and ramifications of not getting it right are far more complex. Here’s why:
1. Reputational risk
In recent years many people have been vocal online about divisive issues like COVID vaccinations, political scandals and high profile court cases. But when executives choose to publicly share personal views, it can affect both their personal and professional reputation, and reflect poorly on the business they represent.
Regardless of the privacy settings that executives set, sharing commentary online it can also have serious commercial and legal repercussions. “Executives should never assume that their online privacy and the opinions they share will be shielded from public or even litigious scrutiny,” Chris continues. “If you choose to share something online you must do so on the assumption that privacy can never really be guaranteed.”
2. Leaking confidential or sensitive company information
IP breaches, and the sharing of confidential company or employee information is another risk that comes with poorly managed digital footprints.
“The net result of a breach could be anything from losing a competitive edge on timing or technology, to inadvertently influencing share pricing, impacting an IPO, patent, merger or acquisition process. The list goes on and the risks and outcomes are well known and documented today,” says Chris. “Potential criminal activity should also be considered in all online activity, because if confidential or personal information is leaked online it can result in fraud, phishing or scamming attacks, and also catastrophic personal loss through identity theft.”
Cyber bullying is a growing issue in the corporate environment, just as it is among school-aged children, with cyber-bullies becoming increasingly sophisticated in how they use technology to intimidate, threaten and coerce, and to control the environment of those around them. Technology has also blurred the line between our professional and personal lives, giving bullies greater access to their victims.
“From a legal standpoint, intimidating or threating conduct online is considered a criminal offence. Businesses and business leaders also have a duty of care for employee wellbeing, which makes cyber-bullying a risk that businesses must manage and mitigate too,” says Chris. “Being connected to a cyber bullying incident can also affect an executive’s competitive prospect in future recruitment processes, and irreparably damage a company’s brand and reputation.”
When deciding what to share, say and do online, defaulting to ‘if in doubt, leave it out’ is the safest stance to take.
Growing your professional brand and reputation online
Failing to manage online activity comes with risk, but there are also many benefits for executives in being active online, and in crafting and effectively managing a digital footprint.
- Building your brand: Some business leaders and executives shy away from having a voice online, but building a strong and consistent online presence can be a great way to grow your professional brand. Regularly creating and sharing thoughts and insights, and engaging with other professions online can increase your exposure to future employers, and to new leadership opportunities.
- Demonstrating lived values: According to Chris, digital footprints can be crafted to reveal many positive attributes that are difficult to demonstrate in other ways. “You might use your online profile to promote the charities you support, to show the commitment you have to your family, or your passion for environmental and social causes. These are all positive qualities, both personally and professionally, that are of interest to future employers and worth sharing,” he says.
- Achieving authenticity: Building a consistent and curated online presence can also help to boost your credibility as a senior executive. “By actively and intelligently communicating and engaging online, business leaders and executives are more likely to be perceived as authentic, relatable and socially engaged,” says Chris.