Back in the 90’s before the great internet revolution, much of what we said and did was almost instantly forgotten. Our hobbies were only known by the people we did them with or told about them, not to mention job histories could not be found without references and CV’s. These days thanks to Google, social media and the internet in general, what we do is here to stay – without careful reputation management at least.
Although there are a plethora of companies who will help you clean, protect and build a professional online reputation for a price, in reality you can do it yourself for free, here’s how:
As with most things on the internet, reputation management starts with Google. The first thing you should do is search for yourself and not just on Google either, use every search engine out there as well as social networks and forums to find out everything there is (good and bad) about you on the internet.
Remember to search for your name, nicknames, maiden name, misspellings of your name – to be honest, it might even be a good idea to search for your first name coupled with some keywords. These should include things such as your hometown, current city, your employer, your university and your current occupation.
It is worth remembering that if a potential employer is going to search for you, they’d only have a limited about of information to go on. This would include your full name, email address, a phone number and possibly your social media handles. So it is important to focus your searches around these terms.
Finally, remember your online persona is not just what you have personally put on the internet. Your friends, family and significant others are likely to have posted about you at some point too and they might not have been so vigilant with your online reputation.
2) Reinforce your Privacy Settings
After you’ve spent the initial time hunting down all the things on the internet you don’t want anyone to see, you need to start the process of getting them removed. The next move is to try and get those links/photos/blog posts taken down, or at the very least made private.
On Facebook, make sure your privacy settings are tightened up, this can easily be done in a few seconds and is an essential step. Limit the audience for statuses and posts you’ve shared to Friends-only, also click where it says ‘Limit Past Posts’ so that your past post will also be friends-only. This action cannot be undone, so make sure you don’t have a need to do have any of the posts public, however this saves a lot of time over doing it one post at a time.
On Twitter, open up Setting and click Security and Privacy. Here you can make your tweets private and then they can only be viewable by your followers and people you approve to follow you.
A quick word of warning though, employers and other potential online stalkers are smart, so just making your social media accounts private may not be enough. The only way to guarantee no one will see the content you don’t want out there is to have it removed or ask the person who uploaded it to take it down. As much as untagging yourself removes it from your profile, the photo still remains visible unless the original uploader takes it down. It also worth noting, you can ask Google to remove personal information from its search results, but this doesn’t apply to content you or others have put on the internet.
3) Change your Name?
This isn’t as drastic as it sounds, we don’t mean legally changing it or anything that dramatic. But having a work name which is a variation of your full name for professional purposes may be advisable. In the same way people in entertainment have ‘stage names’, a work name can provide a useful buffer against your personal internet life leaking into your professional internet life.
The best way to have a clear distinction between your personal and professional accounts is to changing both the name of your personal accounts and professional accounts. This way they will never get confused, for your personal account you could use a nickname or your first and middle names. For the professional accounts try using your full name, initials of your middle name and surname. This way it is unlikely someone will come across either account by mistake.
4) Online Brand Building
One of the best ways to manage your online reputation is to be proactive with your brand. Suppressing embarrassing content will only get you so far, in a way it is best to concentrate on your future and build new content you would want people to see. By adding new content in the form of new social network accounts, blog posts, articles and forum post, you can improve your professional standing online and even position yourself as a leader in a particular field. This is particularly important because Google looks for new content and weights it as being far more relevant than your university photos.
Here are our top tips for branding yourself online:
– Start a blog or personal website. This doesn’t have to be a professional blog, although that’s preferable for your career, it could simply be a blog showing work safe posts about your life. Also consider purchasing the domain name for your name (although John Smith might be hard to aquire).
– Professional Social Media Accounts. Create a separate Facebook for your professional identity, you can then add your boss, co-workers and colleagues, but make sure to post (interesting and work safe) content to this account. It will seem very suspicious if you never post anything to this profile and not to mention they’ll think your quite boring. If you’re going to join social networks do so under your professional identity, LinkedIn is a good example, as well as review sites like Amazon and Trip Adviser; alumni sites like Friend Reunited; and blogging sites like Tumblr. This lets your potential employer know you’re a well rounded person.
– Be an Expert. As we said above, being an expert in your field can be very beneficial for not only your career but managing your online reputation. Getting placed in industry blogs or magazines can really help you out on both counts. It is particularly valuable to online reputation management as these publications are likely to have a much higher clout on Google and will show up first in search results. As well doing this, you can solidify your position as an expert by posting on industry specific forums, writing a blog as well as doing video blogs and through your social media interactions.
– A Word of Warning. Although you might think completely cleaning your online presence is the best thing to do, a completely blank or sterile presence is not ideal. It will make people suspect that you’re hiding something much worse than a few drunken uni pics. It will be obvious to anyone who does this sort of thing as a job that you’re cultivating it and they’re likely to search much harder. You want to reflect yourself in a way that shows your a professional, but you have a personality too.
Finally, it is worth remembering a great online reputation is priceless, but it doesn’t take much to fall to pieces. Be on your guard, Google Alerts let you track search terms (such as your name), and be notified immediately when a new search with that term pops up. The Google Alerts page even has a handy “Me on the web” widget, which lets you create alerts for your name and email address.
Have separate email addresses.If you decide to go the route of different names or personal and professional profiles, use two different email addresses. Many social networks let people search users by email address or find users in their contact list (by email address). In fact, if you can, use separate everything for personal and professional accounts: separate phone numbers, separate names etc…
Be diplomatic.This is especially important if you’re managing the online reputation of a business: words carry about 10x as much weight, and 5x less humor, especially when they’re written down and posted on the Internet. Think before you post, especially if you’re responding to someone, and try to err on the side of “overly diplomatic.” Think about it this way: you’re not going to get in trouble for not tweeting something controversial.