Digital identity is a popular topic of recent conversations and especially important for college students. I recently presented at Chapman University’s Parent Spring Summit on digital identity and leveraging social media to present your “brand.”

Digital identity

A digital identity includes more than social media; it includes all technology. Technology has become an extension of our self. Amber Case, cyborg anthropologist, presented a TED Talk in 2010 about technology’s impact on our “second self.” Our second self is our online identity, an identity that people may engage with even when we are not there. Our second self is available and accessible to the masses 24 hours per day; therefore, we must consider proper maintenance and care.

Our social media obsession

We have an obsession with technology and social media. The fascination with alternate realities and digital platforms is stimulated by our obsession with “nowism.” When I surveyed the parents at my presentation, more than 50% of the room admitted to owning 2 – 3 smart devices. Laptops, tablets, eReaders, and smart phones are tools to stay (and feel) connected to what is happening now.

We also adopt “cybridism,” a term used by Martha Gabriel in a presentation at the national HighEdWeb conference in 2012. Simply said, cybridism is our escape to a virtual world where we feel in control. Cybridism is common among gamers and introverts, but it also applies to the stealthiest of social media users. The ability to post, reply, and contribute our thoughts gives us immense power and feelings of control.

Branding your (second self) online

We are the “social web” generation. The social web changes the way we interact with others, the way we conduct business, and the way we present ourselves. Being social is the foundation of social media, but being social has evolved into being strategic.

Here are simple steps I recommend as you begin to consider an online “brand:”

1) Write your elevator pitch.

Write your 30-second elevator pitch – the one you give your employer in an interview or the one you tell when you meet someone new. Your elevator pitch should include who you are, what you do, your interests, and your strengths and contributions. The elevator pitch is what you want to be known and remembered as, and it can become your “brand statement.”

2) Decide which social media platform suits you.

Social media are a collection of tools to connect and engage with other people. We need to use the right ones for the right objectives. Just as I would not use a screwdriver to hammer a nail, I would not create a profile on Pinterest if I wanted to share my locations (that’s Foursquare). Browse the hundreds of social media sites and identify which best represents your brand and helps you achieve your goals.

Click around those sites and read their guides. Each platform has an exact idea of how they want you to use their service. Educate yourself with the do’s and don’ts.

3) Portray yourself accordingly and accurately.

Never tell a lie. Write your About sections and descriptions intentionally, thoughtfully, and purposefully. Use verbiage and keywords that closely align with your brand statement.

 4) Build a network and contribute to conversations. 

Not every social media site is considered a social network (that’s Facebook), but every site requires social networking. Find key players in your industry or with similar interests.

Contribute to conversations in Facebook groups, LinkedIn discussion, Twitter chats, or G+ communities. Research different groups to join, or follow relevant people in your industry and notice their communities. No matter the type of “group,” your contributions will build rapport with others.

Remember, you are branding you. As you grow up, so must your online accounts. I advise you, readers and college students, to reevaluate your brand yearly. Make necessary changes and grow your profiles from adolescence to adulthood with practice and patience.

Sheri Lehman is Chapman University’s social media specialist. She manages the institution’s social media presences and oversees social strategies on campus. Sheri frequently blogs about social media, emerging technologies, and best practices. You can connect with her on Twitter @SheriLehman or Google+.