On Choosing to Create a Limited Digital Footprint

Why some of our best colleagues decide against participating in social media.

June 10, 2015
I have a colleague whom I greatly respect. She is brilliant, knowledgeable, hard working, modest, and decisive. She is honest and critical and always adds value and positive energy to all of our work. She is the person I often look to for a reality check, to tell me when I’m not making any sense. If you can’t tell, I really have great respect for this colleague.
This accomplished and respected colleague chooses not to create much of a digital footprint.
She is not a huge fan of social media, and you will not find her blogging (or leaving comments on blogs), or on Twitter.
Her academic profile on my campus is large. Her digital profile is small.
As someone who spends a considerable amount of energy trying to make a dent in the digital universe, I am curious about those who choose digital silence.  Why do they not do it?  Why do you not do it?
I have some guesses as to why an academic would choose not to create and maintain a big digital profile - but I may have it wrong:
Conservation of Energy: Creating and maintaining a digital presence is time and energy consuming. Leveraging social media to build and nurture professional networks requires a commitment to consistency and presence. This is time and energy that has to come from somewhere. Less time on social media means more time for writing, teaching, collaborating, and thinking. We don’t talk enough about the tradeoffs of the decision to be active in social media. If there is any evidence that us social media mavens are any more productive or add any more value to our institutions than our quiet colleagues, I have not seen it.
An Allergy to Self-Promotion: All the blogging and commenting and tweeting and posting must seem a bit self-involved to those observing our behaviors. Do we really have so much to say that we need to blog / tweet / post it out on a daily (if not hourly) basis. Are we making the digital mistake of talking more than we listen? Aren’t our social media missives really self-promotional gambits? Our quieter social media colleagues are probably too polite to point any of this out.  
A Preference for Non-Public Means of Communication: It would be a mistake to think that those without big social media profiles are also without strong professional connections and networks. It may be that quieter social media people are more authentic, more tuned in, and thus more valued as professional colleagues.  They may privilege personal connections over digital ones. They may take the time to go on walks, have lunch, and really listen when you talk. Perhaps they even write hand-written thank you notes.  
A Desire for Privacy:  A final reason why some of our colleagues may choose not to create a social media profile is a simple desire for privacy. Norms for privacy have shifted so much in the past decade that today’s acceptable social media behaviors would have seemed exhibitionist just a few short years ago. Some colleagues are very careful in what they share, and they only share with those that they really trust. They may think that to say so much cheapens what they say. A strong desire for privacy is mostly incompatible with the actions that facilitate public connections through social media.
Do you have quiet social media colleagues as well?
Are you someone who proudly maintains a small digital profile?

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Joshua Kim

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