Online Bully Defense

Yesterday I wrote about how one’s email address has become their online identity. As I think about online identity, it occurs to me that a difference in strength of identity might be enabling online bullies. Just as a physical bully seizes initiative to exploit another’s physical weakness & lack of vigilance, online bullies can operate in the same way. If your whole online life revolves around one site, and the bully has a stronger presence, bullying is enabled. It’s a difference in strength of online presence and reputation.

The internet is so new, has moved so fast, its not surprising that this is happening. Even well-funded corporations who have devoted huge resources to PR are still challenged to manage their reputation online. No wonder kids can find themselves exposed.

Helping my kids develop a stronger online identity, in advance of them really needing it, will help them be more bully-resistant. Having their own place to publish content is also a hedge against social sites changing terms or moving from free to paid. At the end of the day, what will matter in the long run is what comes up when someone types my daughter’s name into a search engine.

I’ve pulled their firstnamelastname.com domains, and when needed we’ll develop sites for them. They have control over the content, and can build whatever presence fits them. They can probably manage the SEO of their own site well enough to make it place higher than Facebook or other pages, which is a hedge against the inevitable, regrettable social media content. It can be the site they mention to prospective employers (preferably, investors) or whoever else they need to impress.

They can still enjoy all the fun and drama that comes with Facebook and other sites, but they will have their own presence on the web as the anchor. This is the same strategy recommended to businesses, and the same logic is applicable to personal brands as well.

Your email address is your identity

It seems like I’ve had the same conversation several times lately. Someone asks me for help with Linkedin, or blogging, or some other aspect of social media. They’ve signed up somewhere and let an account go dormant, and now they’re finally motivated to get it going again. This is pretty common, especially with Linkedin.

Anyway, as they try to get the old account going they realize it’s connected to the email at their last job. After all, Linkedin is a work thing, right? Why not have it connected to work email?

But they’ve forgotten the password, and while Linkedin is happy to send it to them, it’s going to go to an email address that is now dead. They didn’t realize that on the internet, their email address is their identity.

Your email address is your identity

I also come across people who are interested in an opening where I work, or what me to pass something on for them. They forward a resume, or pass on their contact info. And then I notice their email address – bigv8speedr@hotmail.com, or it’s the spouse’s email address, or worse yet it’s the spouse’s work email address. These folks also don’t realize that their email address is not just their identity, but their brand.

Many sites, like Linkedin, use email addresses to identify users – really as the unique identifier. On Twitter you can login using your email address or your screen name, and that’s quite common. The wonderful thing about email addresses is that they are unique, so it’s nice when I go to a site and they’ll take my email address as the username. I know I won’t end up being swduncan51 or some other oddball thing.

So, if your email address is both your identity, and the most basic brand that you will have, shouldn’t people take it more seriously? They should. The problem is that people still think of the Internet and their online presence as new, fangled, and therefore not really permanent. But it is and if you don’t think so now, you will the next time you have to change email addresses because you changed jobs or internet service providers.

Control your identity

Get yourself a permanent email address that has a decent, neutral brand. You won’t have to change it, ever. It will project a simple but clear brand: I am who I am, and I can communicate reliably. It will cost you as little as $10 a year, and you can get it done inside of an hour without hiring anyone. That hour includes the time necessary to find, and read more detailed instructions on exactly how to do it. Here’s the high-level:

  1. Go to a domain registrar, like godaddy.com, and buy a domain. A domain is the part of an email address after the @, and the part of a website address after the www. Your first name followed by your last name is a great choice, but not always available. I use swduncan.com because it was available and short, but .net, .org, .us, .cc, .biz and all the others work perfectly well. You can also use something nonsensical or a unique word – I used to use lornitropia.net – but keep it short and easy to spell phonetically. A domain costs about $10 per year, if you go year to year. Not bad for your own, never-changing identity.
  2. Either use the registrar’s email service, which might cost $5 a year, or go to a more serious provider like Google (free), Yahoo, Fastmail.fm, or one of the many others out there. This could be free, or cost as much as $100 per year. The advantage is that you will get good email support, lots of storage, and great uptime. Note that you are NOT stuck with whatever provider you choose. You can start with the registrar’s email, switch to Google, and maybe switch again later. Your email address will be the same.
  3. You will have to ‘point’ your new domain to your email provider. This is done by editing the DNS settings at the registrar’s site, specifically adding MX records. The details of doing this are fairly easy to find via google, and it’s really just filling out a form. Your email provider (that would be google, fastmail, etc) will tell you the names of servers to enter in MX records. Sounds hard, but you just enter in 3 to 6 server names and you’re done.

That’s it. At this point you have a functioning email address. It’s yours, and you can repoint the DNS records to point to whatever email provider you want just by re-editing the MX records. It takes a while for DNS servers to talk to each other and these settings to get all over the globe, but within 24-48 hours it’s a done deal.

Now the trick is to transition all those people who send you email to the new address.

  • Send an email to your friends with the new email.
  • Forward ALL of your non-work addresses to this new address, and change to your new address on the various sites that need to send you email. Make sure you change to it everywhere. A nice tip is to set your new email reader to show emails that have been forwarded from your old address in bold or a special color so you remember to notify that sender.
  • If you’re provider has the feature, use an auto-responder on messages that arrive using an old address. Sometimes the ‘on vacation’ feature will do this. This will help with those folks who need a lot of reminding.
  • After 6 months or so, and you are getting few if any messages coming to old addresses, you can let them drop.
  • Relax, knowing that you now have your own identity and brand, and that you won’t have to change it ever again.

Here’s a special Linkedin tip – always, always add whatever functional emails you get to Linkedin, including your work address. Linkedin uses those addresses to identify you when someone invites you to connect, and having these addresses in there prevents a new account from being created when someone invites you. However, make sure the primary email address in Linkedin is your new personal address. You want to do this so that if you unexpectedly get laid off you know your still going to get messages from Linkedin, and receive any password resets. If you really want to get the Linkedin emails at work, that’s fine – just set up a rule to forward them there. That way you’ll get them at home as well.

Another bonus tip: When you have your own email domain, you own all the users in that domain – everything before the ‘@’ in an email address is the user. This means that you can make up and use new addresses on the fly. At some store and being asked for an email address? Just give them one. I was at 2nd wind fitness and they asked for an address. I told them 2ndwind@swduncan.com. This is nice because I will know if they sell it, and I can block email coming to that address later if I want to.

David Pogue and the power of a single tweet

David Pogue, a writer for the New York Times, apparently found my new site NumberQuotes.com, and tweeted about it at about 10:30pm last night. I realized something was up because all of a sudden I got a huge traffic spike. I had gotten one a few weeks ago when Michael Hyatt tweeted NumberQuotes, but this one was a bit steeper. I noticed that the hits all seemed to be direct – as if people were entering the address rather than hitting a link on a site somewhere. I know that this is how hits from a tweet show up, so I went to twitter and did a search.

Sure enough, David Pogue, with 1.3 million followers, had tweeted it. Then a boat load of other folks retweeted it. Mr. Pogue clearly has a lot of quality followers!

The result? Over 2,500 uniques and growing. All from a single tweet. Thank you Mr. Pogue, for giving my fledgling site such a boost!

I think I need to beef up my twittering!

You need to look at more profiles.

Today I got an email purely because a local training guru noticed I’d looked at her profile. I often look at random profiles just to look at profiles. I might pick up some interesting language, or a photo idea, or some other tidbit. I’m sure I came across her looking for local 2nd-level-connection marketing folks. Anyway she sent an email and now I’ve got more of a connection to someone interesting. Cool!

Then it hit me – the first thing I do when I log into Linkedin, and I suspect I’m not alone, is to look at who’s been looking at my profile. Call me vain, but I’m curious. Anyway, when I look at a profile I show up in someone else’s ‘Who’s Viewed My Profile’ list, and that is a form of advertising. Now, most people I see in my WVMP list are coy, and I see a list of items like ‘Someone in the Executive Leadership function in the Public Relations and Communications industry from Greater Chicago Area’ – sort of interesting, but ultimately not very useful. I’ve always had my Profile Views setting (it’s under Privacy Settings) set to show my name and headline, and boy am I glad.

You need to look at more profiles, and let people know who you are.

I imagine that if I was job hunting, I’d be looking at the profile of every HR person I could reach!