CPD23 Thing 3: Public Image Ltd

PiL posterThing 3 in the CPD23 programme has got me thinking seriously!

I’ll start by saying that, if I’m entirely honest, I am slightly averse to using the word “brand” when talking about people. Two reasons: 1) It reminds me of Stuart Baggs “The Brand” 😀 and 2) I dislike the implication that people are products that need packaging and marketing. In my idealistic and probably slightly simplistic head, I prefer to think that my value is demonstrated by the quality of my work – or, to take it back to business, the product should sell itself. I know, however, that in reality things don’t work like that and without a good marketing strategy, most products will fail, no matter how good they are. Besides, managing your professional reputation or public image makes perfect sense – particularly if you are self-employed or work in the corporate world – and obviously, online presence is part of that public image. In fact, I think that as with many things web, we artificially separate the physical and virtual aspects of the problem, when in reality they are the same. The main difference is the amplification you get in the digital world. If I made a faux-pas at an interview or networking event, a few people might know about it, but the equivalent mistake online can reach all the corners of the planet in the time it takes to press ‘upload’. Plus it can be perpetuated in the collective digital memory for the foreseeable future. Scary prospect.

So, let’s talk about my ‘brand’, or as I prefer to call it, my ‘public image’. Jo suggests that we ask ourselves some questions:

What name(s) do I use?
I’ve sort of taken the opposite approach to what Thing 3 suggests. Instead of labelling my profiles in a way that would make it easier for people to find me, I’ve deliberately used different names in different places, depending on how official or public the account is. This was mainly out of concerns about digital identity and its implications in terms of security. You may think you’ve shared this here and that there and it’s all disconnected, but in fact it’s not. A simple Google search and anyone can build your full profile. I may be feeling particularly sensitive to this issue, having just got back from the i-Society conference, where various aspects of cybercrime were discussed and having also read WoodsieGirl’s account of her problems with a stalker, but it’s certainly something worth considering.

When I started creating online accounts I took the view that people who needed to find me, would find me through e-mail, my employer’s website etc. For everything else I felt it was best to keep some distance.

The result is that I don’t use the same name consistently. For Twitter, and a few other services, which are a mix of personal and professional I use a nickname. I started using it for Twitter because it was short-ish and didn’t take too many characters, then it stuck! As my real name is not English it’s relatively easy to find me in a UK Google search – in an international scale it’s a different story. There is also the complication of having two surnames – long story, don’t ask! 😉  I sometimes use them both, other times only one. I tend to use both surnames (hyphenated) at work and with people who know me personally. For everything else I use just my first surname. I know it probably makes no odds whatsoever, and anyone with a couple of neurones could find out I am the same person in no time at all, but somehow, it makes me feel safer.

I’m terms of managing my digital identity, I often wish I could have known what I know now when I first started to create online profiles. I could have been much more systematic about it. Even so, I have done a certain degree of re-organisation and consolidation of accounts and usernames over the years and I’m fairly happy with what I have now. As the time went by, I also became more relaxed about using my real name in more public places. I guess it’s a trade in for being a part of the network, but I still like to stay in the shade every now and then!

What photos do I use?
Similar to the name thing, in public accounts, I try not to use photos where you can see me clearly. For some things I use cartoon avatars, for Twitter and this blog I use a photo. If you see me or know me in person, you’ll probably recognise me, but it’s not too clear and hopefully it would be a struggle to pick me up in an ID parade 😉

Do I merge professional and personal identity?
To some degree… It’s really quite difficult to keep them separate in today’s connected society. I don’t have different accounts for the same service, but I keep Facebook for personal stuff only – and in any case, I don’t use it all that much. I try not to get too personal elsewhere, but hey, rules are there to be broken so expect random tweets about football, royal weddings or Eurovision 😀

Do I need a visual identity?
Possibly. This is something that I have been contemplating for a while. Not in a large scale, I wouldn’t design matching business cards (though Jo’s cards are ultra-cute!), because I use the ones provided by my employer. The way I see it, when I’m out on a business trip I’m representing them, so it doesn’t make sense to have a personal card. It would be different if I had my own business. But yes, I certainly think it’s a good idea to present a unified look. I have seen some integrated websites, blogs and twitter profiles that look fantastic. Most of them belong to designers, and I suppose in that field, your visual identity is key. I’m not sure ‘visual’ is a strong requirement for an information professional but it certainly isn’t going to hurt.


To be honest I’m not too worried whether my online profiles, including this blog, reflect my ‘persona’. The blog is not me, it’s just another part of me, like my work life and my personal life are all elements of me, but none of them is the full picture. I certainly try to keep things polite, though. Nevermind employers, I just wouldn’t want my mother to find anything too controversial and if it’s online, she will! Thanks Google! 😀





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