Every tweet, comment, snapshot, and video posted by you on the Internet creates an image that contributes to your online reputation. Ditto every comment, Tweet, story, or photo posted ABOUT you. Truth is, most people (and most companies) don’t actively think about the perceptions created by their online activities.
How about you? Are you too busy to think about your online reputation, and how to manage it? If so, it’s time you take a page out of Apple’s playbook and “Think Different.”
Unlike information that exists on paper in “real life,” the data that’s stored about you online is searchable. Easily aggregated. Often permanent. And readily available to anyone with an Internet connection. Today’s online tools allow people to quickly compile their own idea of who you are based on your online persona – a persona that you build through your online actions. A persona others contribute to through other means – some naughty, and some nice. The following is a brief 4-Step Program for getting in touch with your digital self and managing your online reputation.
How does the online universe perceive you? The easiest way to find out is to do a Google search on your first and last name (or, for PR mavens, your company’s name). Remember to put quotation marks around your name and specify the city where you live, your employer, or other keywords that are unique to you. It’s also a good idea to search all variations of your name, as well as any personal domain names you might own.
To get the full picture, you’ll also want to search for images and videos of yourself. And review what comments, pictures, and videos others have posted of you on blogs and social media sites like Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. Since parts of these sites are inaccessible to search engines, you’ll want to visit the major social media sites (Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) as well as sites you frequent most often and search them individually.
Step 2: More Idol, Less Idle
To build the kind of online reputation you want, spend some time proactively polishing your image by creating or influencing the content you want others to see. There are lots of ways to do this. Here are a few suggestions:
Join professional networks.
Create a detailed profile for yourself on sites like LinkedIn and make connections with colleagues, especially those whose reputations will enhance your own. Optimize your bio with keywords and don’t be shy about asking for recommendations.
Share your views.
Comment on discussions in professional LinkedIn and Facebook groups, online forums, book reviews and professional blogs. This increases your exposure and, over time, extends your “Klout” (which is a topic for another column).
Start a blog.
Yeah, I know, there’s no time for this. But blogging doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking. Write once or twice a month on your areas of expertise. Blogs are as easy to create as Facebook Pages and YouTube channels…all of which are excellent tools for building your reputation online.
Twitter is the quickest and easiest way to create quality associations online. You don’t have to know the people you connect with in your industry, and you can use hashtags (#) to associate ideas, causes, etc. with your bio.
Speak at conferences.
The great presentations you give offline inevitably generate buzz online and also build your professional cred with an added degree of authenticity.
Spin some news.
In addition to sending your professional accolades to the business editor at local newspapers, websites, like prnewswire.com and prweb.com, allow you to distribute press releases that reach thousands of websites and news organizations at the speed of light. This will positively impact organic search results when someone Googles you.
Separate personal and professional profiles.
Many of the major social networks let you build separate lists or circles for family, friends, colleagues, etc. I highly recommend maintaining distinct profiles for personal and professional purposes on Facebook, Google+, etc. Even if you don’t post photos from that drunken New Year’s Eve party 12 years ago, someone else might. So use different email addresses and screen names for each profile, and don’t use the same photos for each to avoid overlap on image searches. Avoid cross-links to personal sites, and post personal information judiciously on your professional profile.
Any life that’s lived to the fullest probably includes a few incidents you’d just as soon forget. Unfortunately, as our lives become more digital, more of these regrets find their way online and take on lives of their own. What can you do about these weeds that crop up in your online profile garden?
If it’s an unflattering comment, photo or article that’s been posted about you, respectfully ask the publisher to remove or correct it. You’ll want to act quickly, because the longer something is public, the more likely it is to be copied, shared, or archived. If the publisher refuses to cooperate, your best bet is to continue generating positive content about yourself using methods outlined in Step 2 – eventually, the nasty stuff will fall to Page 2 or 3 in the search rankings (a.k.a. digital Siberia).
If it’s an unflattering review or comment of your company on a service like Yelp, Expedia, or Amazon, your best bet is to contact as many people as possible who will post flattering reviews…which pushes the negative comments further down the list. Anything short of obscenities will not be taken down by the services themselves, even if it’s unscrupulously posted by a competitor intent on bashing your reputation.
Step 4: Respect And Protect
When online, act in a manner that reflects the reputation you want. Before you file that piece of advice under “No Duh,” think about how many times you’ve ranted in social media, shared a funny but not P.C. photo, or sent a flaming email. No matter how secure you think these things are, remember that they’re digital and understand everything that implies.
Follow the Golden Rule your mom taught you when you were six. And think before you share something online – will you be comfortable if someone sees it ten years from now? A few parting nuggets for protecting your online reputation:
Protect your passwords.
Do everything you can to keep from getting hacked in the first place.
Set ground rules with your friends.
Let them know what you do and don’t want Tweeted or Facebooked. Periodically reassess who has access to your pages. Friends and associations change over time. Remove those who no longer belong.
Sign up for personal alerts.
Google and Bing can be set to automatically notify you any time your name is mentioned online. It’s also a good idea to link Google Analytics to everything you own online. It can help give you a head’s up when undesirable search terms associated with your name or company start trending.
Go back to Step 1 and Google yourself from time to time to see what new gems search engines have catalogued on you. Rinse and repeat.
Ann Nygren is President of Key Consulting Software. KCS is an IT consulting company focused on gaming and hospitality applications ranging from Agilysys (LMS/Stratton Warren/Infogenesis), Infinium (AM, AR, FA, GL, GT, HR, IR, PA, PL, PY, TR), Bally’s (CMS, CMP, ACSC & SDS), and interfaces with Aristocrat, IGT, & Micros, to Transitioning properties during purchase, sales, or merging of properties. KCS provides IT Departments with assistance in installation & upgrades, customization, interfacing and creation of unique client-specific software. Ann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.