Stacking the Digital Deck

It's probably a safe bet that every parent of a teenager or college student has heard stories of young Facebook users who foolishly posted photos of wild parties, or exploits of their participation in the college party scene.

Later, of course, the sad Facebook user has found that prospective employers also use the internet and (surprise) those Facebook postings are likely to come back to haunt the student when looking for a job.

The message many parents learn from this is that Facebook is bad.

The lesson anyone should learn is to use common sense when posting anything online. The fact is that prospective employers, or even clients, now search online before making business decisions.

But they are not necessarily looking for dirt.

They are looking for any information that can either support or disprove someone's claims about themselves. They look for background information that can help to choose whether to hire or do business with Candidate A or Candidate B.

What smart students, professionals or businesses are doing then is to post lots of information about themselves online.

Students are posting their term papers on Google Docs, they are posting pictures of themselves volunteering for Habitat For Humanity on Flikr, videos of school projects on YouTube, or they are writing on Facebook about interesting things they are learning and doing in school.

And yes, they are also writing about having fun and college activities they are involved in. But they are foregoing posting photos of college keg parties.

Businesses are doing the same thing. They are uploading interesting content, blog articles, videos and pdf documents that prospective clients might find helpful and interesting.

What these people are doing is stacking the digital deck to make themselves easily found online. They are creating and posting valuable content online.

A few weeks ago I had this conversation with a relative who is the mother of two very smart kids. But she had only heard the negatives about Facebook.

I mentioned my opinion that resumes are facing extinction. I believe that people will instead replace their resumes with blogs to attract the interest of employers. This will tilt the advantage to students and even people already mid career to blog about their fields.

Like graphic or advertising artists, they will find that portfolios and samples of their work are much more effective tools to getting jobs.

To my mind, this would be a win-win for both employers and quality job seekers. Employers could get a better understanding of who a person is and what knowledge they have about their field. The job seeker could rise above the crowd simply by creating and posting great information pieces that demonstrate both skill, knowledge and level of interest on a topic.

The key to getting jobs or new business increasingly begins with being found online. The first thing most people do when considering doing business with a company is to do a Google search about that firm. And they don't just look at the company's website, they look to see if the company has created informative articles or videos about their products or services.

Employers too, want to see past the resume. Anyone can claim just about anything on a resume and, aside from outright lies about past employers or schools attended, can be confident that exaggerations about their accomplishments will not be caught.

Creating content, such as blog articles, videos, and even pdf documents, demonstrate expertise and knowledge.

Imagine a business person who works in the banking industry who also writes a blog about the industry. She could examine various news stories about the industry and give her thoughts and ideas about these topics. She could also write about the problems facing banks and give possible solutions.

She could even interview various executives, business professors or government regulators and write about their slants on the issues.

In short order, her blog could become a valuable resource within the banking industry. But even if it doesn't become all that prominent, it still demonstrates her expertise and knowledge about her field.

Would you, as an employer, consider hiring this person? Of course you would. In fact, you might even find her online because of the content she has produced. You might even initiate contact to ask if this blogger might consider making a career change to your company.

A college student could do the same exact thing. He could start a blog on the industry he hopes to work in when he graduates. Moreover, he could create videos, podcasts or other online content related to his chosen field.

It is hard to think of anything that would make a job candidate more sought after than stacking the digital deck with quality content that demonstrates expertise. It would also make this person easy to find on Google. And the information an employer would find would be very impressive.

But what about the job seeker that is invisible online? Employers, like prospective clients for businesses, WANT to find information about a person. A graduating college student without a Facebook account is looked upon as unusual - and a hiring risk. At best this student is viewed as bland and uninteresting. At worst an employer might wonder if the job seeker is hiding something.

There are too many negatives about NOT being found online, or not leaving a digital trail, that they far outweigh parents' concerns about Facebook. I've actually known many well-meaning adults who discourage (or forbid) students from having Facebook accounts, simply because they only consider the negative impact of posting foolish information online.

The point of all this is that success for individuals and businesses today depends largely on creating content and posting it online. Rather than striving to be invisible online, the goal is to be so visible (in a positive way) that you stand out from the crowd.

One example that I've written about before is a true story about a young lady who foolishly allowed a boyfriend to film a sexual video of her. When they later broke up, he posted the video online. This video was everywhere and it was the first thing anyone would see if they did a Google search for her name.

For this young lady, who was soon to graduate from college, this was a potential career disaster. Any employer would naturally Google her name and they would find this video. The result would, of course, stop any job offer in its tracks.

Clearly this is just the sort of cautionary tale concerned parents want their kids to read about.

But what this young lady did was pure genius. She knew she could never get this video completely removed from the internet. So what she did instead was to bury it.

She created an awesome amount of positive content to post online. She posted content on a blog, Facebook, YouTube and Flikr. All this new content pushed the infamous video back farther and farther on Google. Eventually she created so much positive content that the video was a hundred pages back when someone did a Google search for her name.

Needless to say, NO ONE looks back 100 pages when they do a Google search. The result was that this sexual video was buried, and virtually obliterated, by content she created that did cast her in a positive light.

Companies get negative information posted about them as well. When this happens, I would certainly advise that they correct the problem and try to get the information removed. But at the same time, create informative content that highlights expertise. In other words, create so much positive content that the negative is buried.

But don't wait for the negative. Post informative content proactively.

For businesses that create content that solves problems, gives how-to information or just answers common questions, this sort of educational content is a HUGE competitive edge.

Educating your customers is something too few of your competitors are doing, but it positions your company as THE experts in your field.

The simple fact is that all of us, both as individuals and as organizations, will be leaving a digital trail from now on. Take advantage of this fact and make sure this information is of your own creation. Tell your own story from your point of view. And stack the digital deck in your favor.

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COPYRIGHT © 2009, Charles Brown
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