The digital identity or the final bet for transparency
The principle of identity is one of the pillars that have forged logic and philosophy. It is a fundamental lifesaver that has helped us to understand and to name the world around us. It is one of the few certainties that have led us to state that the sun will always be called the sun, no matter how its color and position changes in the firmament, because its identity has not changed. It will always be the sun (even when we just glimpse its rays on a cloudy day). For several years now, on the online world, we witness a reality that would delight any psychoanalyst: our digital identity may not necessarily correspond to what we “until now” understood as our real identity. This split of our personality becomes even more complicated if we analyze the huge impact that the arrival of social networks has brought to the Internet: the dialogue flows in all directions and, what it is more surprising, there is no unique direction anymore. Everyone is –or may be– a creator of messages.
Oscar Wilde, the master of irony, stated that you had to be yourself, because everyone else is already taken ((“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900))). Now more than ever, we may need to define who we are because we are scared that someone else will come early and give its non-official version of ourselves. Others keep a sort of digital anonymity trusting that if they stay away from blogs and social networks, their identity will be linked only to what happens in the real world. Some have already realized that the Internet is also part of our real world, not a parallel sphere without any connection to our reality. Many companies are changing their way of interacting with the consumers in order to make consumer care policies coherent, regardless of the way they are performed. Establishing a dividing line between the online and offline purchase experience of a consumer ceased to make sense a long time ago. If someone has not been kindly served by an operator or gives up hope when it comes to order through the website of its favorite pizzeria, the mental image that the consumer has of that service will be seriously damaged. The consumer will not distinguish if the purchase experience has been in an online or offline environment (consistent customer experience across channels). The company will have failed him, because it will not have taken care of his needs. Its reputation, the most tangible of the so-called intangible assets, will be deteriorated in the mid- and long-term, affecting ultimately to the review of the achievements of the restaurant.
Our digital identity may not necessarily correspond to what we understood as our real identity
What happened in the corporate environment in the last five years, with the incorporation of big, medium and small companies to the ecosystem of social networks, clearly overtakes what will happen in the coming years in the area of personal and professional digital identity. Companies have understood that, to be in contact with their stakeholders or public audiences, it is necessary to have previously assumed an identity aimed at answering what is maybe the most complex question a CEO can ask: how is my company perceived and what is it here for? The need of defining this view has been aggravated by the noticeable dominant customization of networks. The anonymity of the first chats and forums has been replaced by the identification of users. The personal voice is now more important than ever before. Hundreds of services of added value allow us to connect directly with Facebook or Twitter accounts. It is not necessary to create a user from scratch: saying who we are is enough. What it seems like a wink to usability to avoid headaches to Internet users hides a reality: social networks define us as our ID or credit card.
The expression digital fingerprint is very explicit and explains why people search themselves on Google. In many countries, this search engine accumulates more than 90 per cent of the searches performed out of social networks. This implies that what search engines say about us will be seen by most of the users that do a research about us. In the first page of results, in just ten links, it will surely contain all the information that many will use to build our identity -without even asking us anything about it-. It will be enough to fit the pieces of the puzzle in.
The organic positioning has become a profitable industry (the so-called SEO or search engine optimization) that optimizes the results that search engines (and more and more social networks) offer in order to easily find the products and services of the companies. It is not advisable to ignore the importance of the content in this process. Strictly speaking, contents not results, are the ones which are listed. When it comes to improve our personal and professional position, the key is to define what type of information (visual, audiovisual, in text format, etc.) we are prepared to share on our Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest. This will be our personal and professional story. The answer to this question is more strategic than tactic because it answers to a question that has driven philosophers of all time mad: who am I? We probably think that when we post a picture of our holidays on Facebook, tweet breaking news on Twitter, or share a professional advice on LinkedIn, we are being guided by a short-term vision.
The reality is that we share a view of the world that makes us unique and allows others to know us better at a professional and personal level. Thanks to this knowledge, many relationships based on mutual confidence that will possibly enrich us in many aspects will be created. This leads us to believe that the management of personal reputation is in the axis of every online interaction, and that it should become a priority for those companies that have understood the importance of conversation and wish to involve its best professionals.
Social networks define us as our ID or credit card
From the point of view of communication consultancy, an exciting working line has been opened: the management of the digital identity of the managers and corporate spokespersons. According to the study Connected generation of IBM ((Connected generation. Perspectives from tomorrow’s leaders in a digital world. Insights from the 2012 IBM Global Student Study. IBM Institute for Business Vale)), CEOs see in technology something more than a tool to improve the efficiency regarding organization: they consider it as an essential component of the culture of collaboration, innovation and creativity which is necessary for the viability of their companies. In the coming five years, social networks and websites will be, not only an important channel of interaction with the consumers, but the most important one. This vision –curiously enough– is shared by the CEOs as well as by the students surveyed in the study of IBM. 58% of the students and 44% of the CEOs stated that the need for transparency had to be the priority of the companies. It is remarkable to contrast how the aspirations and attitudes of the so-called “millennials”, real digital natives that see social networks as part of their personality, have imbued the business plans and the strategic vision of companies. Nevertheless, there is a disagreement between what the CEOs consider they should do, and what they really do to manage their identity and the identity of their teams on the Internet.
According to the global study “Socializing your CEO” of the communication consultancy Weber Shandwick, currently less than 20% of the CEOs of the biggest companies worldwide has a presence on social networks. The companies that are the most committed to transparency have also been the ones that have understood social networks as an essential element of that strategy of being open and dialoguing with their stakeholders. It is not surprising to verify that there is a direct relationship between the companies considered to be more transparent according to the different existing scales, and their proactivity in the management of the digital identity of their professionals. The hallmark of the managers and spokespersons (not just of the CEOs) is an essential tool of management reputation. It is the corporate asset whose value has increased the most in the last thirty years, according to Standard & Poor’s (even exceeding the classical tangible values that were taught in business schools thirty years ago). A viable company that earns money is not enough: it has to generate confidence in its target audience. And that target audience has a name and a surname on social networks.
The management of personal reputation is in the axis of every online interaction
Which are the main obstacles when it comes to deal with the presence of managers on the networks? After holding multiple meetings with managers with various profiles, any online communication consultant will agree on what are the barriers that stop the final leap to communication 2.0: the delay in incorporating the management of digital identity in the strategy and culture of the companies, the lack of knowledge regarding networks and the argument of the lack of time to manage their presence on the networks. Luckily, the first three barriers are easy to avoid with an action plan correctly planned. The first barrier is the one that requires the higher effort regarding the increasing of awareness on the part of the internal and external teams that lead this initiative. It is necessary to mention that the digital identity is not an isolated action aimed at making the managers stars of the blogging universe and the networks. A coherent action plan is about the need to adapt the corporate culture to a new reality with the aim to gain efficacy, to build up trust and to improve the relations with the internal and external stakeholders.
The millennials, young consumers and professionals by their own right, do not entirely understand what cultural change we are talking about, because conversation 2.0 is part of their way to interact with the world. On the other hand, the lack of technical knowledge of the networks is viewed with mistrust, total rejection and even fear. In practice, that means resistance to change. The knowledge of the operational framework and the technical possibilities of each network solve efficiently this logic and mainly human resistance of the unknown. The lack of time is possibly one of the biggest myths associated to the networks. The creation of a customized calendar of publication and the knowledge of the available tools make the creation and diffusion of contents in networks as routine as the daily reading of the emails stored in the Outlook inbox.
A viable company that earns money is not enough: it has to generate confidence in its target audiences
Where is the mechanism that can put in place the gears of the digital identity? It is in the way of dealing with an exciting and complex project. It is not about managing consumer goods or services; it is about managing people with motivations, aspirations and fears. For that reason, a first phase of consultancy is highly advisable. At the end of this consultancy phase, a strategic document that will lay the ground for the subsequent interaction will be defined; the purposes of the plan of digital identity will be defined, as well as the possible reputational risks that may arise when communicating on the Internet and on other online spaces. Finally the expectations of the different publics and of course, of the professionals involved, will also be defined. The restriction will pave the way for proactivity and each professional will start his path on the networks searching his personal tone, a voice, which makes him recognizable for his public and values his ability to create and share contents of interest.
After the initial phase of consultancy and definition of the strategy of digital identity, the informative phase will begin, aimed at increasing the awareness of the participants in the programme regarding the benefits that derive from their presence in networks as Twitter, where they could become opinion leaders and have an influence on their corresponding areas of interest, or LinkedIn, the network that will allow them to establish contact with providers, clients, colleagues or professionals, and that will allow them to improve their competitiveness, to work in a more efficient way and to learn about the new trends. The information phase should be supplemented with a subsequent phase of training, strictly aimed at the mastering of management techniques: main networks and intrinsic characteristics of each one of them, complementarily and limits between personal and professional life, identification of subjects and interlocutors, tricks and routines, metric tools and monitoring, etc.
Those managers that deal in an intelligent way with this cultural change will contribute in a decisive way to the improvement of the corporate reputation of the companies they lead
Last but not least is the phase of assistance. The periodic audit of the identity and the digital reputation allows valuing and measuring the advances performed in an objective way. The establishment of the customized routine for each professional in the aftermath of the conclusions of the previous work meetings is presented as a fundamental tool for a good individual performance of the building and management process of the digital identity.
Clearly, the traditional expression personal branding, falls short to define this phenomenon that is changing the way citizens interact in their personal and professional area. Those managers that deal in an intelligent way with this cultural change will not regret it, because they will contribute in a decisive way to the improvement of the corporate reputation of the companies they lead. Once again, consumers and citizens are one step ahead. It is time to take this historic opportunity to talk to them and to tell them who we are.