“We live in a world where digital presence comes before physical presence”


Photo by Sheila Barabad

Most modern consumers say social media impacts purchasing decisions, and many people admit online reviews and friends’ opinions also play a factor. Customers want connectivity, and markets are spending more than ever before to build genuine interactions.

But there seems to be a gap in the C-Suite. Adweek reports that in 2013, only 30 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs used at least one social network, while more than 80 percent of employees surveyed said CEOs would be better equipped to lead if they would participate online. 82 percent of customers said they would be more likely to trust a company with leaders who engaged on social media outlets.

Ileana Rivera is responsible for the technology and computing needs of more than 70,000 worldwide employees at Cisco, where she manages a $70-million budget and a team of 125 associates as the company’s senior director of computing and client productivity services. She says that leaders should harness the potential of online media to elevate their own brand. “For better or worse, leaders today are more in the public eye, and we should take the chance to influence our brand by choosing what information to put out there,” she explains.

In her 2014 Cisco Connect keynote speech on the “Internet of Everything,” Rivera said, “I’m all in for anything that makes my life easier, more effective, and more productive,” referring to the items she uses in her daily life that keep her connected. She says she has five devices on her at any given time: two cell phones, a laptop, an iPad Mini, and a FitBit. Rivera insists that each device has a function in her life that makes her life easier.  When it comes to social media, she maintains social presences on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and Instagram, through which (especially through Facebook) she says she finds out what’s going on in her world faster than she would through any other medium. “It’s another job,” Rivera says, “but I also can’t live without it.”

The effort can pay off in tangible ways. In 2013, Rivera committed to getting active on Twitter after maintaining Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram accounts. After following her on Twitter, a journalist nominated Rivera for a Silicon Valley Business Journal Women of Influence award, which she went on to win.

In business, first impressions are critical—and these days, first impressions happen online. “We used to meet other people face-to-face, but now we Google each other and search LinkedIn to get a sense of who someone is,” Rivera says, adding that executives need to have current and correct information on each profile. For someone just starting to dabble in the online space, she offers a bit of advice: “Post often, and don’t be afraid of including a few personal details. Younger people want to feel a strong connection.”

In the chat room with Ileana Rivera

Q: I would like you to Google your name. How do you feel about your online image?

A: Pretty good, very proud. I see pictures of various important stages of my professional career like awards, speaking engagements, and HITEC events. The first video is my keynote on IoE (Internet of Everything) at Cisco Connect Madrid. I see myself winning the Working Mother of the Year award, a picture with my kids, and a HITEC Board of Directors mention.

Q: Why is it important to maintain this online image as an executive or aspiring executive?

A: Because this is your brand, the way people perceive you before they meet you. It is their first impression. Just like I Google executives, I know others will do the same with me. Nowadays, we live in a world where digital presence comes before physical presence. It becomes someone’s first impression, and you always want to leave a great first impression. Digital presence is your opportunity to leave a long-lasting first impression.

Q: How do you manage to stand apart?

A: Every day I strive to be myself. I love technology, I love fashion, and I love fitness—CrossFit to be exact. I want young Latinas to know they don’t have to change how they look or who they are to be an engineer. Whether you prefer jeans and tennis shoes or dresses and heels, your skin color, your accent—these are all part of your presence. They are an expression of different perspectives and styles needed in the workplace. By staying true to yourself, you stand apart.

Q: What are some of the most effective ways that a young or aspiring executive can get their name out there today?

A: Smart social networking. Everyone has access to the same tools; what differentiates you is how smartly you are using them. Yes, you should show your professional side, but you should and must expose your personal side, show your human side. Let your profile speak for itself on what you’re passionate about. That’s what becomes your brand. It is important to show your community that you are a well-rounded professional and aspiring executive.


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