How My Digital Presence Creates an Advantage in Real Life

Zach Hughes
3 min readMay 5


Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

About seven years ago, I started intentionally developing my online presence as a tech leadership figure. There are a whole lot of factors that motivated me to do that, but I’ll cover just a few. Back in 2014, I wrote my Master’s thesis on the opportunity to leverage social media as an organizational leadership tool.

Also, as a tech-savvy introverted leader, I figured I could probably do better and make a bigger impact online than in real life. Back in 2008, in the early days of social media, Pete Cashmore, founder of Mashable, made a very interesting point:

Wouldn’t it be a great irony if the leading proponents of the ‘it’s about people’ mantra weren’t so enamored with meeting large groups of people in real life? Or, perhaps…fitting. Perhaps social media affords us the control we lack in real life socializing: the screen as a barrier between us and the world.

That’s some background, now let’s fast-forward to the present. 2023 is the year when in-person networking and events are officially and fully back.

Here are some of the interesting things I’ve experienced in real life (or as the younger folks say, IRL).


People read my content and then invite me to speak at their event. The funny thing is, they have no idea if I’m a decent speaker or not. Writing and speaking are two different skills. People give me the benefit of the doubt and give me a chance. The good news is, I am a decent speaker, and I’ve been actively working on developing that skill further.

Then after the event, I get to post pictures of it and generate a bunch of impressions, which leads to further speaking opportunities.

I’ve attended a few in-person networking events recently and have noticed a trend. People I don’t know in real life recognize me, walk up to me, and start talking to me about a piece of content I’ve recently published.

It’s hard to articulate how powerful that is for me.

I walk into networking events feeling like a kid walking into a Jr. High School dance. Now that I’m an adult, I know how to strike up conversations, but it’s exponentially easier for me when others initiate and bring up a subject that’s both important to them, and something I’m knowledgeable about. How amazing is that? Because of my online activity, in-person networking is much less draining, and not scary at all.

Celebrity status

Some like to tease me and say that I have celebrity status now. I think that’s a massive overstatement. What I have is a status that was earned through non-traditional methods. Other tech executives raised their profile through traditional media (newspapers, magazines), and earned awards. Tech leaders with a CIO/CTO/CISO title get extra attention.

My investment in my online presence has earned me credibility that would have been difficult for me to attain at this point in my career through traditional means.


Some still think that developing an online professional presence is a waste of time. Others know it is important, but they haven’t developed the skills. I’m declaring that I’m living proof that online investment pays dividends in the real world.

I started networking in the digital space because it seemed easier to me, and I figured I could be more effective there. In the end, I got the surprise of easier and more effective networking in the real world as a result. That was an unexpected, but very welcomed advantage. Go and do likewise.

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Zach Hughes

Technology Leader at CHS. Passionate about leadership and innovation. Posts are my own.