How to Create the Best Virtual You

The virtual world looks very different depending on the generation looking at it. Millennial and Gen Z readers, with an instinctive knowledge of it, may feel an inclination to look away now. I urge you not to – at least not yet – as I ponder the topic of how to create the best virtual you.

I myself am from the generation targeted by a tweet asking ‘Why do all people over the age of 40 have that phone case that opens like a book’. While I may be fighting the urge to ask why all people under the age of 30 fail to use correct punctuation, that’s not why I mention it!

I saw it just the other day, but I notice this amusing observation from @dazeymais was posted in 2019, and that is my first point: does the present ‘you’ reflect the past ‘you’? (and for the record I do not own a case that opens like a book…)

Everything we make publicly available in the virtual world is as accessible today as it was when the younger you posted it without ever thinking of the future consequences – just ask some of the celebrities whose careers imploded overnight.

A social media expert I was talking with recently cited the necessity of periodic social spring cleaning. This is so those care free posts from the past don’t suddenly surface as unwelcome Facebook memories.

Gen Z I obviously don’t mean you as I know this platform is reserved for old people like parents and grandparents… but as much of your life has been lived on social media, it’s always worth scrolling back and editing where suitable.

Us oldies may not be naturals, but be assured we know how to use social media well enough to run a simple background check if we’re hiring… or firing!

As an aside, for Generation X and older, I can recommend scrolling through your homepage posts to a time when Facebook was something new. It’s quite startling to see how different our interaction with it was; clunky, innocent, naive and blissfully ignorant of the beast that it would become.

Back then many comments were posted on each other’s ‘walls’ – a public show of personal messages which would seem unthinkable now. Worth a check for anyone who is now 15 years+ in the social sphere.

The next point to make is to split the professional and personal virtual you. Maintaining a virtual presence is a lot of work. Sometimes it feels like it’s easier just to adapt a personal social account for professional purposes in order to keep contacts and algorithmic traction. However, this is a false economy.

A clean slate for the professional ‘you’ is always recommended and choosing the right virtual platform to do so is imperative. Once upon a time a personal website used to be a calling card, and before that an actual business card gave the essential stats. Now it’s all about checking out that Linkedin profile.

Which leads me on to the next point – make sure you keep your virtual platforms updated. Nothing screams irrelevant like a profile from 2015, when you posted the closest photo at hand (you in your holiday shirt) and stopped networking at 21 contacts…

Establishing the best virtual you also needs an appreciation of the power of visual imagery. Posing naturally and conveying an aura of professionalism is often as tricky as making it past 10pm on office drinks night, but it’s very necessary (some tips on looking good on camera here).

The next point is about the content you create. Obviously the aim of the virtual you is to to come across as authentic and also engage you professional peers. So what to write?

Content needs to be relevant and consistent without overdoing it. Politics and religion should always be avoided, along with strong opinions. You may be itching to write something or respond to a post/comment – especially late at night after a couple of glasses of wine – but don’t.

It’s never worth poking the hornet’s nest, because you can never predict which way it will fall. I know someone who will get it out their system by writing an email to herself and reviewing it the next morning to see if it’s still a good idea to post. In most cases, she tells me, it’s not!

The problem with the virtual world is that it is very easy to get stuck inside a virtual bubble, so my final word of advice on creating the best virtual you is to build in some self-vetting checks.

Always ask yourself: if you didn’t know me, how would I come across? And if you want to keep any credibility with the younger members of the office, ditch the phone case…