All the World’s a Stage by Nigel Job

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24/09/2013

What this means in the Digital Age and how online reputation can affect your career...

“All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players” writes William Shakespeare in “As you like it”. This is generally accepted to mean that life is like a play, and that we go through life acting out our parts. Now, though, 400 years on, the Bard’s original meaning might be extended. The internet really does mean that your stage to present yourself is the world.

Ability to access massive networks and data is now relatively straight forward. The opportunities for individuals to walk the global stage (sometimes inadvertently), in some form or other is immense. At one time only global statesmen and authors could have their words read and reported internationally. Nowadays anyone with a Twitter account can reach global audience, particularly if the content has sufficient interest to “go viral”.

Connected to this phenomenon is also one’s own ability to access information about individuals (that might in previous years been private), so that they might walk the stage with you, sometimes whether they like it or not. Indeed, they may also have the ability to drag you in front of the audience also if you give them to tools to do so. If this happens you’d better make sure you have your greasepaint on, your correct costume, and a good knowledge of your lines.

In spite of extensive data protection laws, the reality is that most people put large amounts of personal data into the public domain, and therefore draw back the curtain to the global theatregoer. Social media sites are the most obvious examples, but also company websites, online news articles and blogs reveal people’s personal details, their likes and dislikes and opinions (this article might make you guess I like the theatre!).

So how is all this relevant to the second part of our title – how online reputation can affect your career? Your virtual reputation is as fragile as your real-time one, and now the two are highly interconnected. Behaving stupidly (to some extent) as a teenager is something that might be considered by many as a sort of rite of passage, and those of us that grew up before the age of the World Wide Web may be grateful that there was no chance our parents had access to such a thing as Facebook!

Savvy young people (and also not so young people) would be sensible to consider that what goes on tour stays on tour and never should appear on your Facebook page, particularly if your Facebook page is “public”! A good example of this was an individual who was in an interview process for a very good job, only to have his offer of a second interview withdrawn due to him having photographs on his Facebook page showing him at what might best be described as an “adult” club! The best advice is if you wouldn’t want your employer or your Granny to see it, ask yourself if you really want to put it online. It is great to be someone who has a reputation for a sense of humour, but it might be somewhat “career limiting” to be seen as a bit of a joke.

The other aspect of the world stage is that your real-time reputation and behaviour may reach into cyberspace and then come back out again and give you a crushing critical review. Particularly odious examples of this are trolls or cyber-bullies who cowardly think they can hide behind anonymity only to get found out and have otherwise successful careers wrecked. Other less extreme examples might be individuals who believe they can behave rudely or dishonestly only to discover that through the internet their “victims” have tracked their identity (all headhunters will tell you how easy this is even with limited information) and made their behaviour known to their friends, family and employer. There is even greater need in the digital age to be scrupulously polite and fair, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because to do otherwise is to invite personally damaging bad publicity.

Socrates said “Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of - for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear.” To return to the theatre; all good actors know that a good professional reputation will ensure a busy schedule. If that reputation is lost, enforced retirement quickly beckons!

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