Have you ever asked yourself how your digital fingerprint will impact your future? I am sure, if you reflected on your lifetime’s content library – all the ‘likes’ you gave away on your favorite social media platforms, the posts and comments, pictures and videos that feature you online as well as all those old Kodak photos your friend took 20 or 30 years ago that may still see the light of social media one day – you would certainly not be able to recall every single piece of content that can possibly be tied back to you. Yet, it’s out there, regardless of your recollection. If not on someone’s phone, your precarious image is buried under some old documents in a school friend’s drawer or packed in someone’s memory box in their closet.
RescueTime tells us that the average adult swipes, types, and makes calls over the course of 3 hours and 15 minutes each day (the top 20% even spend 4.5 hours on their phones). In short, 50 days per year are full of opportunities to make just one little mistake, one post or comment that you might regret later in life. Maybe it will cost you your education or your job. Maybe it will cost you your family. Or if you are lucky, it won’t cost you anything other than data charges, and you will be just fine.
We all tend to share our thoughts on social media without being intentional at times, unaware of possible repercussions, especially on our so called “private” accounts we only share with family and friends- those accounts that feel safe and protected. How many times would you say you posted something because you thought it was funny at that time? How many times did you post after a few drinks and what you shared did not seem like a great idea the next day? How many times did you post based on an emotional reaction to something you read, heard or saw? We have all been there. The danger is that everything we say and do on social media is on the record, stored away in the cloud, screenshotted on someone’s phone, waiting to come back at us later in life with the potential to impact our career, our family or our life.
Our lifetime content library, one that I call our life-brand, is our digital fingerprint shaped by the collection of publicly accessible content shared by or featuring us, including photos, videos, audio recordings, social media posts, and written statements or comments. This includes all possible content pieces that have not seen the light of day yet, but possibly will in the future. We all possess one life-brand, there is only ONE. It might be strong, or it might be weak, but our individual life-brand exists. Our life-brand takes control if we are not aware of it and gains power and strength over the course of our lifetime the more content we accumulate in the cloud. It is literally out of control. The good news is that once we become aware of it, we can actively control it so we can arrive, advance, and thrive in the professional corridors of our livelihood instead of potentially tarnishing our education and career. Nobody prepared us for what could come after opening the social media floodgates through our first Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or Twitter account. Screen time is no longer a casual activity. A click, a post — in one breath — can stain our reputation in just seconds. However, if you frame your life as your life-brand, you will indeed be able to use social media as the tool it was originally designed for and instantly recognize the risks your engagement could cause you.
How to control your Life-Brand
The concept of a controlled life-brand goes way beyond what we understand as “personal branding,” that is, the intentional effort to build credibility in a certain field, advance one’s career and build a particular identity. Life-brand also includes all of our actions and words that we unintentionally put on record through recordings, “private” comments and posts, and photos and videos we record, or others record of us. It identifies one person as distinct from another and is defined by a person’s unique purpose and identity through their everyday displayed public behavior and chosen language in the real and virtual worlds, which ultimately shapes the public’s perception about the life-brand owner.
Life-brand expands the definition of personal branding as an intentional effort of using your purpose in life to impact change, to build (early) confidence, and to be comfortable with self-promotion (I am particularly addressing my female readers with the last point). Life-brand takes into account your public display of (un)intentional language and behavior, or how you portray your identity to others. While personal branding is clearly defined as intentional efforts to advance your career and increase influence, life-brand develops itself with or without your control, with or without your intention. Like personal branding, life-brand can positively influence your development and career, if understood and controlled. If unaware of its power or existence, your life brand can negatively impact your career and future career, family, and aspirations by virtue of disadvantageous public perception of you. Considering this additional component of life-brand, you might be perceived by the public in an inaccurate way based on interpretation of your unintentional behavior or language that might not reflect your true identity.
The image below shows the elements that control everyone’s life-brand. It consists of two components: your identity and your chosen purpose in life. Identity in the context of life-brand is defined as the summary of your behavior and language displayed through social media or in the real world, while purpose can be discovered through the vehicle of a passion, an idea, your profession or expertise in a certain field, or an interest or hobby you pursue.
Managing the combination of and connection between identity and purpose is crucial to truly controlling a life-brand rather than being controlled by it. This means your behavior and language must be in alignment with your chosen purpose and need to be portrayed with integrity. That is the case for social media, as well as behavior and language displayed in the real world because a public outburst can also make its way as a viral internet video. Sharing your purpose with the world through social media channels is an intentional, controlled effort you undertake. Make no mistake, it is not random.
Public display of purpose can lead to significant positive impact on others and our community thanks to the vast reach social media channels have these days. When a life-brand is owned and controlled, it is created by both public perception and positive impact and becomes a powerful vehicle to impact, reach, and influence others. When the concept of life-brand is understood, controlled, and proactively developed with integrity between purpose and identity, the concept enables us to establish a unique life-brand voice, powerfully influencing others who listen and inspiring them to take action in response.
We can protect ourselves from possible social media missteps simply by having awareness that our life-brand exists. But the earlier we understand the concept and the possibilities we have to actively control it, the bigger the opportunity to use social media as a tool to drive our careers forward, impact positive change in the world and our communities, and help educate the next generation of social media users on following our example.