Canadians struggle mightily to manage multiple online personas

Socializing online is more than a pursuit for Canadians – it’s a passion, a recent survey suggests.

Most Canadians spend more than three hours a day online, and manage an average of seven to eight Internet accounts, according to the poll by Ottawa-based research firm Harris/Decima.

The study, which quizzed more than 1,000 adults across the country about their Web surfing habits, was commissioned by Microsoft Canada in Mississauga.

The software firm is promoting the new “online profile aggregator” capabilities of Windows Live, the company’s personal Internet services and software offering.

While socializing on multiple networks and sites might add variety and spice to many Canadians’ lives – it infuses a fair amount of confusion as well.

With multiple social network profiles, many Canadians find it very tough to keep track of their “online personas,” according to Andrew Assad, research manager, Microsoft Canada’s Consumer and Online Group.

“Results show most of these social net profiles and accounts aren’t being managed effectively.”  

And by allowing accounts to remain dormant, business users may put themselves at risk, Assad said.

Social networking postings now encompass – not just fun stuff – but business and professional data as well, the Microsoft executive said.

He said by not keeping tabs on their professional LinkedIn profile, Twitter account, or blog, knowledge workers might miss out on key professional opportunities.

Worse still, they may fail to detect and deflect negative information about themselves, Assad said.

“Social networking can be fun, but users also need to do a better job at protecting their online identities.”

The Harris/Decima survey also uncovered other interesting facts:

  • Nine in 10 Canadians have more than one online account or profile; one in five say they have 10 or more
  • More than half of those polled (53 per cent) found it “time consuming” to log into all their online profiles and wanted to consolidate contact lists in a single place
  • Eight out of 10 Canadians spend at least an hour on the Internet for personal reasons; of this number 45 per cent spend three or more hours online
  • Two-thirds of Canadians check e-mail accounts frequently throughout the day, while 95 per cent check these at least once a day
  • More than a third of Canadians check instant messaging accounts, and 30 per cent check their social networking profiles frequently throughout the day

With these kinds of numbers, it’s not surprising Canadians aren’t happy with the amount of time it takes to manage their social networking and online activities,” said Assad.

Interestingly, 56 per cent those polled say they avoid joining social networking sites because they prefer to keep their private lives private.

Despite their reservations, Assad says people should embrace Web 2.0 rather than ignore it.

“If you’re not online, you aren’t taking the advantage of the best opportunity to highlight your assets. Even worse, you face the risk that someone may be post unfavourable pictures or information about you without you knowing, he said.

Here are tips on how to better manage your online profiles:

1. Never let your account go stale

Don’t neglect your social accounts, keep them up to date because you never know who might be reading, says Assad.

Very often people create a LinkedIn profile and let it languish while they get hooked on Facebook, or a blog.

“You could lose a potential business deal, partner, or employer if they get turned off by your LinkedIn profile showing outdated entries,” the Microsoft researcher said.

Assad recommends using an aggregator such as Windows Live.

The tool not only allows users to access e-mail, SMS messages, photos and other content from various accounts, but also enables them to create content once and publish it to multiple locations.

Windows Live now has partnerships with LinkedIn and Twitter and will soon have connections to Facebook, he said.

2. Create your own brand

Essentially, you’re selling yourself online, says Jim Stanton, president of Stanton Associates, a Vancouver-based communications and training consultancy, specializing in crisis communication.

People may not have full control over their information online, he said, but this is a trade off worth making.   

“You’ve got to learn to surrender some privacy to develop your own personal identity online. This identity will serve as your corporate logo on the Web.”

Stanton said it’s not uncommon for people to develop multiple personas online.

For instance, they may have a professional persona on LinkedIn and a more social persona on Facebook – and several other personalities within these sites, or on other sites.

Another great way of “managing your message” is to set up your own Web site, blog or micro-blog,” said Stanton.

3. Always check privacy settings and policies

Never sign on to a site blindly, cautions Carmi Levy, independent technology analyst based in London, Ont.

He says users of social networking sites should ensure their privacy is protected. “Read the fine print to find out what you are allowing the site to do with your personal information.”

The recent controversy over Facebook altering its service terms to give the site greater control over users’ personal information should serve as a warning, he said.

He also urged users  to double check their privacy settings on profiles. This provides another level of protection.

4.  Be proactive

You need to actively manage your online personality and accounts, says Colin Smillie of Refresh Partners a Toronto-based boutique marketing firm specializing in social media.

His advice: get involved in online communities – not just ones that are relevant to your business – but also those that bring out the best in you.

This way you will build an online trail that tells people about you and what you do.

This is also the best way to keep current and visible in your circle, Smillie said.

5. Monitor your profile

Always stay on top of any material posted about you or your company. Google yourself regularly to discover this.

Keep track of industry news, sign up for tracking services — such as Google alerts — to receive online notification each time your name is mentioned on any sites or forums.

Check BlogPulse or Technorati regularly to keep tabs of online talk about you

6. Mind what you post

Web 2.0 is a double edged sword. It’s given us new freedom to broadcast our ideas to the widest audience possible. But it’s also the perfect weapon to shoot ourselves in the foot.

Levy says users should always be mindful of what they say or post online.

Check your facts, make sure your posts are sending the message you intend to, and carefully consider their ramifications and consequences.

“Remember, it’s always harder to erase something once it’s online rather than to post it there in the first place,”  the analyst says.

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