Peppercomm helps many of the top executives at our clients' organizations cultivate their digital footprint. That said, we've also run into just as many entrepreneurs who say they're simply too busy to worry about how their passion, energy, and expertise translates to what people might find about them online. To which I say, "Phooey on you."

A strong digital footprint is no longer a nice to have. It's a must have.

Here's why: Customers, prospects, recruits, and other key target audiences will search your name any time they want to know more about you, your POV, and your company's services. Your digital footprint is not a PR or marketing thing; it's a business necessity. As a result, I'd counsel you to make sure yours is bulletproof, up-to-date and relevant.

Assuming you buy into my logic, here are six tips and best practices you can follow to build or enhance your digital footprint:

1.) Start by asking, who am I? A digital footprint should be a mirror image of you. It should contain your thoughts on issues of concern to your respective audiences (or, the world at large, if you like). It should also contain examples of your passions away from work. For example, my LinkedIn profile begins by saying, "I'm a climber, comedian and dog lover. But not necessarily in that order." Now, those passions may seem a tad eccentric, but they provide any visitor a peek into my POV on life as well as how I pursue a work-life balance. And, oh, by the way, the prospective client checking out my site just may be a dog lover, and that just could elicit an opportunity to pitch her business (which has happened, BTW).

And, remember, there are different levels of engagement when it comes to creating a digital footprint. It can be full bore across all channels or as simple as ensuring your biography, profile, speeches, articles, etc., are regularly updated. There's nothing worse than reading a C.V. that's clearly been collecting dust since 2006. In fact, it'll reflect very poorly on you and your company (and may actually disqualify you for potential assignments or other opportunities).

2.) View your digital footprint as a virtual calling card. What do you want your audiences to know about you and your firm? Ideally, a digital footprint should include a rich blend of curated (i.e. articles, speeches you've seen, liked and have shared on your social media channels) as well as original content you've written (i.e. your own articles and speeches, as well as your Tweets, blogs, etc.).

3.) Audit time. To start the ball rolling, you should conduct an audit of your digital footprint (Note: This is where the perspective of an objective third party such as a PR or social media firm would prove invaluable) to see if who you want to be seen as, and what you want your calling card to be, is reflected in what people find when they look you up. Figure out what's right and what's wrong. Also, set parameters for the success of your digital footprint. Some clients see it as a pure numbers game. One, for example, was hell-bent on attracting 1,000 Twitter followers ASAP. We counseled that quality was far more important than quantity. Eventually, the client came around and began following (and being followed by) reporters, analysts, industry gurus, etc.

My firm always tries to share and create thought leadership that we think our target audiences will like and spread. For example, we recently co-branded a survey with the Economist Information UnitGroup. It queried top marketers and the executives they're trying to reach on the subject of content creation. Not surprisingly, there was a huge gap in the opinions of each. We saw the results as noteworthy and shared them on all of our social channels across a several-month span.

4.) Listen up. Perhaps the most important part of strategically building your digital footprint is first listening to what's being said by key voices you respect and want to be associated with on important social media channels. Once you've done so, you'll have a clear understanding of which topics are hot, which are not and what tone and content would most likely be accepted by your audiences. (Note: Remember that your digital footprint should not resemble a sales brochure. You want to share news target audiences can use, not a spec sheet on the latest widget your engineers just cranked out.).

5.) Meet the media. Many of our clients can secure a significant article in an important publication by first connecting with the reporter on Twitter or LinkedIn. The best way to do so is to follow them on Twitter, single out various articles they've penned and re-tweet them to your audiences strategically, along with an original POV in response. You'd be surprised how quickly a highly respected and influential reporter will be to ask if you'd be interested in being interviewed for an upcoming feature they're he is researching if you get on their his radar in a sustained way.

6.) Do you measure up? Just as you would with any other sales or marketing outreach, be sure to measure your digital footprint once it's fully up and running. As I noted earlier, measurement criterion differs from company to company, so decide what your bottom line is and hold yourself and your people accountable for reaching it.

I know you're a very busy person, but stop and take the time to engage in the wonderful world of social media. You can just dip your toe in the pool or dive headfirst into the deep end. Either way, you'll be glad you did.

Published on: Nov 18, 2014