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Are You A “Digital Immigrant”?

June 3, 2012 - Ernest Hohmeyer
That’s a mouthful.

I was reading a marketing article the other day and felt I was in this warped version of the movie Matrix. Creating your own “Google trails,” the importance of personal branding and “managing your identity” were the buzz words.

Years ago when the information highway was a meandering path, the “shelf life” of how you portrayed yourself lasted much longer and often was seen by a much smaller audience.

It was also much more static. That is, you created something like a printed brochure or an ad; the message stayed the same, sometimes for years. There was little interaction between you and your customer. Your customer responded or did not.

Your Marketing or Theirs?

It was what David Meerman Scott in the book “The New Rules of Marketing & PR” calls “one-way interruption marketing” where “advertising was one-way: company-to-consumer.” In other words, you put out there what you sold and customers bought it or didn’t. There was very little interaction in between.

Now, they may never see your ad, they discover it through their own search or chat rooms – and they contact you. But when they do you may want to be prepared – in a message they understand that is succinct and moving.

According to Meerman “On-line success comes from thinking like a journalist and a thought leader.”

For some of us this is hard: to sell ourselves or to put out there we are “experts.” Especially as you get older, you come to respect that there is so much more we don’t know.

And for those of us that struggle with advocating for ourselves, there was an article “Presence: How to Get It, How to Use It.” in a special edition of Harvard Business Review OnPoint titled “Managing Your Image.”

It questions the belief that “You may think that presence is inborn – you either have it or you don’t.”

You Can Do It

But this is not true, says the Aerial Group in this article. “Presence can be developed.” They suggest “discover your natural communication style” as it “leads to authentic presence.” It is important in “finding and enhancing your own style – not trying to be someone else.” Further, “To make your message come alive, use stories, metaphors, and imagery when you speak.” In “Are You Managing Your Identity” in this special focus of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) author Anne Fields writes “It takes years to build an identity, but only moments of un-availability to tear it down.”

She continues “How the outside world perceives your company depends not only on what information you allow them to see and how you let them see it, but also on the accuracy, consistent look, and easy availability of the data.”

She concludes “Thus was born the field of identity management.”

She points to four problems caused by poor “identity management” including being accurate. “…customers are 50% less likely to buy from your company again if they received inaccurate information, even something as seemingly trivial as ‘misspellings."

According to the author you should consider nine questions including: “Who are the users” by keeping in mind that there are different people listening to what you are saying and their perspectives and needs may be different.

A key question for us as community or businesses may be to consider who is the most important target audience? A one-size-fits-all message may not work. Targeted messages that direct them to the appropriate place in your media material may be something to consider. Is a “green tourist” a key market? Do you have the right language that highlights your “green attributes”? Is it a local customer, 2nd home owners, families?

Allow these target groups “to access the specific information they need in a consistent format.” “How often is information updated” and “is the information presented consistently” are other criteria to keep in mind when evaluating your “identity management system” according to Fields.

“Is everyone in the company on board?” Fields finishes by stating “… A strong, cohesive image of the company both internally and externally – rests not on bits and bytes, but on something more basic: managers who are truly committed to the organization.”

Talk Their Language

There are so many different users with countless perspectives who may view the information with completely different interpretations. It may be critical to draw an image of your key target audience so that “you may speak their language.” Understanding where they “are coming from” may be critical for your words to be viewed in the correct context.

For example in an HBR case study in this edition “We Googled You” commentators reflect on information received in a Google search on a job applicant. Should it influence your decision to hire someone? What information is important and does it accurately reflect what that person is all about?

“Digital Immigrants & Natives”

Again feeling like I was in the movie Matrix, they talk about “digital immigrants” and “digital natives.” According to John G. Palfrey among other titles Executive Director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, digital immigrants are those who “have not immersed themselves in the electronic culture.”

They “are trying to work through their ambivalence toward the current generation of 20-somethings [digital natives], who increasingly put negative information about themselves online.” .” Further, the generation gap will continue to widen until the digital natives become CEOs and HR executives themselves.”

In further commentary on this case study which reflects on a hypothetical job interview and what the employer should do upon discovering something negative on a “Google search” it is suggested to “protect their reputations and think twice about the online personae they are presenting to the world.” Further, according to the commentary by Jeffrey A. Joerres Chairman and CEO of “Manpower” an employment services company “On Online content is public information, and it is fair game for employers to ask about it.”

Further commentary on this case study “We Googled You” displays the varied perspectives of the social media world. “Digital Natives” may be used to on-line banter and not place the same emphasis on content.

Google Trails

Commentator Danah M. Boyd a senior researcher at Microsoft Research suggests the problems with “If you read just one entry, you’re bound to get a distorted view.” It may be important to develop “Google trails” which is to create a body of work on your perspective or brand. “Part of living in a networked society is learning how to accessorize our digital bodies, just as we learn to put on the appropriate clothes to go to the office.

We seem to be in this murky world of personal and public messages. It seems evident folks are using both to form impressions. Whether we are a community official, a business or even someone going for an interview, understanding who you are talking to and maintaining a consistent image may be important to your personal or business brand. Apparently now we may need to “manage our identity.”


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