What does it mean to have an identity? I think of it as the sum of all the parts that make up a persons personality. The attributes and experiences we use to describe one another. It’s our own personal reality.
The internet is a shared reality. That means that your digital identity is made up of the sum of the verifiable evidence of your personality plus the opinions of the digital community. Ie: you are what the community thinks you are. Digital identity is created through social validation.
Your digital identity isn’t a permanent. You can influence digital communities to alter their perceptions. You can imprint your personal reality into your digital identify, and rewrite your digital persona in an image you see for yourself.
As an example, let’s say I am a history expert. I’ve spent my entire life reading history books and studying the Industrial Age. I decide I want to share my expertise with the world so I begin writing about the industrial age online. With no previous record or credentials highlighting my expertise, I am not seen as an expert. I’m seen as a nobody. There is no proof that I am what I say I am. No subscriber base validating my expertise, no elements of credibility, just my word. I’m just another person, one of 8 billion people, with something to say. Like a random book in a library, gathering dust until someone finds me.
In digital settings you are the sum value of your past contributions to the community. If you are new and have contributed nothing, you are in a sense, nothing. Only through social proof of work can you establish your value and authority on a topic. Social proof of work is a method of establishing a paper trail of credibility. It’s a way to build trust online.
In my example, I would build trust by writing consistently about the Industrial Age over a long period of time. Writing to establish my own history as a digital authority on the subject. Citing and referencing other works on the subject (bonus points if they are easily referenced digital works). Proof of work allows me to validate my knowledge through insightful sharing, showing that I am a valuable filter for quality information on this topic. Proof of work is building a digital paper trail of value.
But as I build up my proof of work, I need also find a digital community to establish my early identity with. I need to source the correct individuals that have some form of established reputation and can lend credibility to my identity.
If I build a website and start writing about the Industrial Age, it’s akin to screaming into a great void. A black hole. No one will know about my work unless I seek out pre-established communities to engage with. My goal should be to share my reality with these communities, seeking social validation for the work I’ve created. In doing so, I can establish a quality digital reputation, build a following, and leverage the network effects of this following to generate a deeper digital identity.
The key to building a strong digital identity from scratch is having a vision for who you are and how you will share that information. It’s a chance to define yourself and influence the outside world towards seeing that reality. A concise vision and understanding of who can lend credibility to that vision is critical to establishing a digital identity.
The vision of yourself is the focal point for all future strategy for growing your digital reputation. It’s what empowers you to learn the tactics to grow an online, reputation building audience. More importantly, a clear vision of self allows you to effectively use the common tactics so that time and energy aren’t wasted on counterproductive efforts.
Building an identity online is important for success in the Information Age. The people that build and manage their digital identities will be more successful at navigating future opportunities. They will be more resilient in times of hardship. When there are fewer jobs to go around, the opportunities will gravitate towards the known commodities online. The individuals that have clear visions of self and have established a clear identity online.
Individuals that become familiar with their communities are at an advantage to those that are not.
Learning to control the narrative around a personal digital identity will be a foundational skill in establishing digital influence. Influence will be the currency, the capital, and the tool of power in the Information Age.