A decade ago, networking was all about first impressions. Everyone took extreme care with their appearances, the way they introduced themselves, and the people they connected with. It was strategic. But when the pandemic happened, all of this shifted online. Now, many of us work and socialize remotely more often than in person. 

Now, your digital impression is your first impression.

Whether you're logging onto a Zoom call or sending a LinkedIn message, people will take note of your online presence. All of us have digital records that impact how we are perceived. Your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter profile pictures usually come up when someone searches your name in their browser -- and so do all of your public posts. Your current and previous work show up in a timeline on your LinkedIn page. And all of this is part of your digital first impression.

So how can you make your digital first impression count in 2022? You have to assess and optimize it to help you meet your goals. Here are four key steps for making your digital impression count.

Solidify your online brand

Before you can build your online brand, you need to know what information is out there. Do you have inactive social accounts from when you were in college or even high school? It might be time to make those private or delete them altogether. 

After filtering through and adjusting your current online presence, it's time to determine what you plan to post in the future. Set guidelines for your personal posts on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. These posts can show current and future employers, colleagues, and even customers the type of person you are and the type of work that you do. You can even pull from a traditional social-media marketing strategy and determine your "content pillars" to use as a guide for your posts. 

Optimize your digital connections

It's safe to say that more people use social media professionally than ever before, and there are more ways to connect online than simply following friends and influencers. Use your online profiles to boost your career -- and I don't just mean on LinkedIn. 

Look for virtual communities that are targeted to your industry or your niche and use them to connect with others who share your interests and can help you reach your goals. For example, Stage 32 is a platform that caters to creatives in the entertainment industry who need to connect with others in the field. More than one million users around the world convene on the platform to connect with like-minded professionals and receive training from industry leaders in film and TV, which can lead to work opportunities with Netflix and other entertainment titans.  

The moral of the story is don't waste time on social-media sites that don't add value to your life. Find a platform or a group of people on a platform that can connect you with leaders in your industry.

Shore up your cybersecurity

As you invest more in your digital impression, you should also invest in security to protect yourself online. Be more careful about your cybersecurity. According to Experian, there's been a 25 percent increase in online activity since the start of the pandemic. This has only further incentivized scammers to steal your information. It's imperative that you protect your digital impression by creating strong accounts and keeping them secure with passwords, two-factor authentication, and the like.

Experian's annual Future of Fraud Forecast highlights that online identity will be a key focus for many, including hackers. From how you manage your finances digitally to how you present yourself online, you will need to keep a close eye on your digital accounts. Practice safe cybersecurity habits and protect yourself from attacks. The first six months of 2021 saw more ransomware attacks than all of 2020 combined, and that will only continue to rise. In short, stay alert in an ever-changing digital landscape.

Invest in digital life, and do so wisely

Forming an online presence is, in part, about showing the people around you that you're engaged with digital acceleration. When you show interest and participate in digital trends, new digital experiences, and the overall digital community, you're building trust. 

One of my predictions for the next year is that more people will start investing in cryptocurrency, both because of the financial benefit and because it helps them participate in the global digital revolution. Sandclock is a cryptocurrency company that is helping people engage with the digital revolution by bridging the gap between decentralized finance (DeFi), cryptocurrency, and charity. They are forward-thinkers in this industry who are helping people invest in digital life in ways that fit their unique needs and interests, like combining cryptocurrency investments with finance. Find a company you trust, and start investing and participating in the cryptocurrency conversation. 

If you take a thoughtful approach to online life, you can create a digital impression that supports your career goals, sets you up for success in new endeavors, and helps you build a network of people that you can learn from and grow alongside.