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This content is taken from the University of Leeds & Institute of Coding's online course, Create a Professional Online Presence. Join the course to learn more.

What do we mean by an online presence?

In this course, we’ll talk about having an ‘online presence’. But what does that mean?

Montage showing screenshots of a variety of social media platforms

Your online presence is made up of a range of different things, some of which you have more control over than others.

In general terms, it is any publicly-available information or content on the internet that is related to you.

That’s a very broad definition, and it’s broad for a reason. Most people, when they think about their online presence, assume that it only includes things you have chosen to publish yourself on the internet. For example, this includes:

  • social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube etc)
  • your own website or blog.

However, it could also include things others have published about you, including information or news about you that appears on an organisation’s website. This could be something which is:

  • professional (eg when you were announced as a new hire in a company newsletter)
  • educational (eg you were once featured on your school website for winning an essay prize)
  • related to a sport or other hobby (eg you were top scorer in a five-a-side football game).

In addition, other people’s blog posts may mention you, or social media posts may include your name.

You definitely have more control over some of those sources than others, and in due course you’ll see how you can influence any information which doesn’t help your online presence.

All of the above can be categorised as intentional information.

However, your online presence is more than that. It can also include information or content which is inadvertently shared (by you or others) as well as your ‘data exhaust’ or trail.

Inadvertent sharing

Inadvertent sharing happens when something you thought was intended for a particular audience (for example, private) is shared more widely. This could be due to misunderstanding the privacy settings. It could also be because social and content platforms increasingly make your interactions and activities on a site visible and related to a specific profile.

For example, whenever you leave a review on Amazon or TripAdvisor (and many other sites which are powered by user reviews) the username provided can be clicked on, revealing a list of all other reviews by the same user.

Close-up screenshot of the star ratings area on an online review site

When you create a Spotify playlist, unless you specifically make it private, it can be found (and played) by anyone searching for a particular artist you’ve included. They can also see the other public playlists you’ve created.

Data privacy

Should you be worried about the types of data above being available to the public? Not necessarily. Having a range of experiences, interests and communities is something that employers expect and, in many cases, applaud. You’ll find out more about this as you progress through this course. Being aware of the extent of your digital footprint can be helpful in figuring out how to address or control it, if necessary.

In addition, there’s other information, such as the data trail you leave behind, which may not even be content itself, for example, other smaller interactions: likes, shares, even the time of your last activity on a site. Have you ever liked a tweet or favourited a YouTube video? That information is part of your data trail. Have you commented on a friend’s new profile photo on Facebook? That comment is viewable by anyone.

We shouldn’t forget that sites collect even more information about us when we travel across the web. This includes:

  • our habits
  • our searches
  • how long we spend on a page
  • how often we return to a website.

They may not make this information public, and they may not (and according to data law, should not) make any of this identifiable to a single individual. However, you should know that when you use the internet, whatever you do leaves a trail: some of it public, some of it intentional, but other parts not.

In summary, you shouldn’t be afraid of using the internet in case the wrong information gets out. Instead, you should understand the various inputs that could make up your online presence, be knowledgeable about what information is findable about you, and take control of the parts you are able to.

Share your thoughts:

This step has given an overview of some key points when thinking about what is shared online. It touched briefly on privacy and security. What else should you consider when being safe online? Share and discuss your responses with other learners in the Comments section.

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This article is from the free online course:

Create a Professional Online Presence

University of Leeds