Katy Meyers is an Anthropology PhD Student at Michigan State University and a founding editor of GradHacker. You can follow her on twitter at @bonesdonotlie .
I've done a number of bootcamps and workshops on managing your digital identity and learning different social media technologies. While I find that grad students are fairly quick to learn the tools and have the intuition required to figure out a lot of the problems, there is one problem I see repeatedly: grad students don't understand why they should be doing it. If I had a dollar for each time I heard someone say "Well, I've got an account but I've never really used it...", I would probably be able to pay off a very small portion of my student loans.
So I'm not going to write about the cool technology out there like Twitter and LinkedIn- you already know it's there. I'm not going to tell you how to use features of Facebook for networking or how to use Zotero to collaborate on projects. What I want to do is convince you non-believers that you do need to start controlling your digital identity, and to reinforce this idea for those of you who already maintain that identity.
1. If you don't, someone else will: Every website you register for, every company you've worked for, and every school you've been to, likely has a digital record online. Since everything that goes online stays online, your digital identity is forming whether you like it or not. When someone searches your name on Google, you want a positive professional page to pop up first- not an embarrassing myspace page from high school. Find out the social media your discipline uses and start defining yourself on it. Take control of your identity. You wouldn't want someone defining who you are in person- so don't let it happen online.
2. Same picture, same name and same headline, always: Companies have single logos, names and headlines that help you remember them. You want to do the same thing to help people find you online, and recognize that its the same 'you' on different sites. If you want to learn more about branding yourself, you can check out this GradHacker post on the subject . If you drastically change something about your brand, like a completely new hairstyle or a new married last name, then make sure to change it everywhere.
3. Engage with people: If you aren't getting out of social media what you want, its probably because you're not putting in the effort or are putting effort in the wrong areas. If someone posts on your LinkedIn page, or mentions you on twitter, make sure you take the time to reply. Find interesting conversations and add your two cents. Join groups that are relevant to you and make connections. Social media is like the hallways at a conference- a great place for networking, but you'll have to make the effort to get into the conversation.
4. Be professional, be personable: One of the things people do wrong on social media is that they complain about things- their job, their life, anything. If you do a lot of complaining your social media is going to appear more negative. Again, social media is like a conference- you don't go and talk about how much you hate your committee or the struggles of getting funding because that would be inappropriate. Keep your complaints for when you're out with your friends. Be professional. On the same token, don't be so professional that you act like a robot. It's okay to mention some personal things, as this gives your digital identity a personality that people can relate to. Just find a good balance. If you don't know what a good balance is, check to see what others in your field are doing.
5. Keep it up to date: This is more for people who already have social media accounts and have begun to shape their digital identity. If your job/school/status changes, make sure to edit your online accounts. You want your digital identity to be a reliable reflection of you, so make sure it's always in line with who you are currently.
If you're not sure how to start, what accounts to use, or how to jump into the conversation, find someone online who you think is a good example and copy them. The advice I got going into grad school was to find a successful student or professor, and notice how they succeed. The same applies for digital success. Watch what others say, how they interact, what they choose to post, and soon enough you'll be ready to shape your own digital identity.
What are your tips for creating or maintaining a digital identity? Let us know in the comments below!
[Photo by Flickr user Derek Gavey  and used under Creative Commons License]