As an NFL player, your career will be short. Guaranteed. And the one place that I constantly see my peers fail to transition is in creating their new identity as a former athlete. Establishing your identity online can be a long road with many turns. Before the end of my career I built my digital presence—my digital identity—while I was playing.
Whatever you are doing now, you likely have plans for the future too, whether a better job, starting a business or retiring. Using your digital presence well today can set yourself up for tomorrow. In a world where 90% of content is viewed on a phone and people are checking their phones 10x/ hour, your digital discovery will take you to many new, exciting… and frustrating places. And every transition you face will demand you do it again.
Here are 5 tips to practice creating your digital identity. Prepare your friends and peers for “the new you” and watch yourself rocket into the next phase of your life!
1. SET YOUR PURPOSE PER PLATFORM
To build a solid digital presence, first decide the purpose of each platform you’re on, and which ones you need to be on. For me, my Twitter feed is where you’re going to get more of an unfiltered me. That’s for what’s important in my life, what I’m reading, what I find interesting. On LinkedIn, you’re going to see everything regarding my broadcasting and speaking career as well as key issues like financial literacy and real estate investing.
My father likes to use Facebook so he can see what everybody’s up to. He doesn’t post, but I know he’s there so I post my activities. That’s my family and friends channel. These are examples of identifying the purpose behind each piece of your digital presence.
To do this, look at your interests, your personality, and what you are interested in doing in the future. Then use these components to decide what core digital presence you need and how you will use each platform. Set a purpose and style for each digital platform you have, too. Businessy or chatty? Funny or clever or serious? Try to be clever when you can. Create a bond with your audience that encourages discussion and engagement.
2. EMBRACE THE LEARNING CURVE
After my NFL career, the biggest lesson I learned with digital media was that I needed a LinkedIn page. What? I thought that was crazy. I thought LinkedIn was for corporate folks with jobs. But yes, today you have to have a LinkedIn page to be successful in this world.
That may change tomorrow. Don’t fear the learning.
Digital media is always changing. I remember discovering Snapchat on a Broncos bus trip the year we won the Super Bowl, going from the hotel in Pittsburgh to Heinz Field. Our younger players were sending us photos with all this cool stuff on it—a hat there, a microphone here. “What is this?” I wondered. So, the younger players started teaching me Snapchat on the way to the stadium.
Do not fear the learning curve (in any area of life). It could’ve been easy to feel like I was going to embarrass myself and refuse to try it. My first Snapchat posts were ridiculous. My mother’s still are! There was a time, believe it or not, when I did not know how to take a selfie. It seems common sense, but we must learn if we are going to grow.
Recently, I encouraged a fitness instructor I work with to shoot videos for their practice. They were, and I think still are, a bit terrified of everything about it. Creating videos changed the interaction with their current, new, and prospective clients. They are educating those they know about what they are doing at their studio. Best of all, it gave the instructor the accomplishment of overcoming their fears.
Learning can be uncomfortable, but it gives you opportunities and takes you where you want to be. (If you don’t believe me, just pick up your rotary phone, dial your friend and talk to them for an hour long distance.)
We are all digital communicators. If you’re a parent and your kid laughs because you’re learning Snapchat, what a great moment to remember. A broadcaster I know says the number-one way he connects with his daughter while he’s at work is through her favorite platform, which makes short music videos that they both dance and laugh at. That app creates moments and conversations he otherwise would not have.
Learn what’s at your disposal. Take an online course or ask a young person. Embrace the learning curve and try something goofy.
3. BE YOURSELF, BE BOLD, AND EXPERIMENT
No matter what your purpose, no matter how you’re learning, no matter how goofy you feel, be yourself. Be who you are and say what you think, because at the end of the day that’s what people want. They want to see you. They want to know you. They haven’t called you and chatted recently. Everyone has things in their life that keep them busy. Life seems less able to bring us together in person the way it once did. Be yourself so those you care about can see you doing what you want to do, the way they would if you were there in person.
When I was in the NFL, I also used digital media to test out different ideas, to teach people about the things I cared about and the interests I had beyond football. When I wanted to talk about financial literacy, I tested that to see what response I got. I’ve had some coaches with great attributes and some with weaknesses that damaged team play, so I tested out talking about leadership skills. I spoke out about the speakers I heard and other events I attended. I was able to reach into new areas and test ideas, and see what connections I could make, and community I could form with the people that followed me.
Have fun experimenting!
4. NETWORK AND THEN REACH OUT IN PERSON LATER
Your digital presence can also be a great opportunity to build networks now, especially connections that can benefit you later on. On digital media, you can reach people you could not reach before. In the NFL we were practicing all day, so I didn’t have time to meet with entrepreneurs and thought leaders to prepare for my post-NFL career. When I could follow and tweet at and interact with entrepreneurs via social media, I could create valuable contacts.
For instance, I remember playing in Oakland and getting there a day early; I had an opening for dinner and a lot of social media contacts in that area. I reached out, “Hey, I’m in town, do you want to grab a dinner at the hotel?”
By doing this I’ve been able to meet with Silicon Valley executives, thought leaders and politicians. It’s been amazing. All because while I traveled with the NFL I engaged on social media in areas that were of interest to me, and then reached out later. I was just on the ‘young money’ podcast with Dasarte Yarnway, a visionary who I connected with over our shared commitment to increasing financial literacy.
Connect and build your platform now, while people are interested in you for your current expertise. Build a bridge to the future.
Your digital presence opens a two-way road for interest. If someone on a platform looks interesting, reach out. “Hey, I see that you love the Broncos and follow me and you do a financial literacy podcast. I’m way into financial literacy too. I’m going to be in town. Why don’t we connect?” Lend your expertise to others, too, and help We The People out.
5. IF YOU REACT TO SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING
Communication has gone digital. This IS how we talk. Engage, engage, engage. If you see a post that moves you, say so. Write a comment or message the person. “Hey, this was powerful. Hey, I disagree. Great job there; I see what you’re doing.” Just because it’s digital media does not mean you should pass up the opportunity for a heartfelt interaction.
In this digital age make a commitment to your digital presence. Decide how you will use each channel. Open up and engage. Do this well and your digital media can build you a great base for the next phase of your life.