As we progress, the line between the online and offline world keeps getting increasingly blurry, making your online image, your reputation. Before you meet a potential employer, your new roommate or even before you pick up a date, chances are, they have already googled you, formed a “first” impression, seen your interests and the kind of person you are.
If you’re not careful about the content about you that is circulating online or the posts you create, your online reputation can end up disadvantaging you in all areas of your life.
What is online reputation?
Online reputation is the information people find about you or your brand on the internet. This is why we have Online Reputation Management Consultants – there is more and more information being shared, and not all of it is good!
In today’s digital era, more than ever, your online image is more important and permanent than ever before. As people begin putting more trust in search results, the importance of upholding and managing your online reputation keeps growing as well.
According to the Pew Research Centre, at least 91% of people trust the results on search engines, whereas the Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that 65% of people believe these results more than any other source.
This is why your online reputation defines you.
This means that whatever is out there matters – and will come to matter. Your digital footprints never disappear. This includes negative press reviews, comments, photos, posts and your social media profiles. With this in mind, it is important that you learn how to manage your reputation in the digital space.
Why is online reputation management so important?
Unlike before, when you and a few close friends would only hold memories of cringe-worthy and sometimes crazy moments, now, everything you do or say can become part of your permanent and public record.
So, the mistakes you made when you were just 19 can haunt you for the rest of your life. This is the sobering reality of living in the internet age.
Although you might think that people are not searching for you, there is a good chance they are. This is regardless of how under the radar, or low-tech your lifestyle is.
If someone writes something negative about you online, it can put you at a serious disadvantage over the long term – especially if you are not aware of it.
When you do not check on your online reputation, you might never know why a job offer never materialised after you outdid yourself at the interview or why you didn’t get an apartment you wanted. Therefore, it is important that you keep tabs on what is being said about you online.
Why your reputation is so important?
Today’s employers carry out pre-interview research
Checking up on an applicant’s social media profile is becoming increasingly popular amongst employers and admission offices around the world. According to various research studies, employers claim that social media helps them gain a more comprehensive picture of the candidate compared to a simple cover letter and resume. And depending on the information they find, your web presence can make or break an offer.
Your online reputation will follow you everywhere
These include Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Reddit, Quora, Trip Advisor, and LinkedIn. There are a ton of different social media platforms where your family, friends, employers, potential employers, teachers and more can find out information about you.
While websites, social media, and blogs give you a great platform to share positive feedback with your audience, the challenge is keeping up with everything people have to say about you.
So make sure you monitor your online presence at all times to ensure it stays clean.
What can you do to protect your online reputation?
Proactive online reputation management
Search for yourself on Google and any other search engine. Regularly do a google search on your name and a different one for your name in Google Images.
Also, set up a Google alert on your name so that you keep track of any new content on you that pops on the internet. If after your search for yourself things pop-up that you would rather not have associated with you, you can start to take action on them.
Buy your domain name(s)
Registering your official name as a domain is a reliable form of online insurance. First, this helps you to stop other internet users from taking this important piece of a virtual real estate from you or trying to use it against you in the future.
Some decide to try and register as many domains as are available – .com, .co.uk, .me, .org, .net, etc.
Nonetheless, it does not stop here.
Put all your content in one place
You need to build out a website which will be the central hub of facts about you. The site may include your experience, relevant press, honours, awards and any other blog content. By having your website on top of search results, you make sure whoever searches your name finds exactly what they want to find out about you.
You can never get a better opportunity to create a first impression than this.
Sites like WordPress and Tumblr let you put all your content in one area. What’s more, you even have the option of putting your domain name on these sites so that anyone who searches for your name, will be routed directly to your WordPress page or Tumblr page.
These sites offer attractive website design templates where you set up your profile to look like a professionally designed site without needing to hire a designer.
However… If you are trying to deal with negative search results about you, then there will be other steps you need to take. One site alone won’t be enough to bury a negative article that has appeared on the 1st page of Google.
Spread your Social Media presence
Even if you feel like you do not have the time to be active on social media, it is important that you get on these sites.
Today Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter are a bare minimum. There are many other social sites you need to join like Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube and any other social media sites. After that, take the time to fill out your profile.
Although you do not have to be active on all these sites, do not be completely dormant either. Taking the time to develop an audience and interact with them increases your influence over them and what they post. If you don’t do this, your presence may not be strong enough to outrank negative postings about you.
Commit to adding new content at least once a month, whether it is attaching an article or writing a short comment about why something interests you.
Optimise your presence on these sites
To optimize these websites, start by filling out as much as you can on your profile, repeating your name a few times where appropriate and customising the URL where you can.
Some sites like LinkedIn allow users to customise their URLs by scrolling down to the “public profile” section on their profile page and editing their URL so that instead of seeing ‘http://www.linkedin.com/view?id=30283&locale=en_UK&trk=tyah,’ it can read something like ‘http://www.linkedin.com/in/yourname.’ Also, make sure always to use your full name and not a slogan or nickname that you think is catchy.
Another great trick to optimise your presence on social media is by linking to other social media site. Make sure to do this as it will make our online presence even stronger than before.
While you can control what you post about yourself online, you have no control over what other people post about you. Ensure your privacy setting is set to custom on all your content so that you only share certain things with a selected group of people.
However, you should note that Facebook and other social media sites are always changing the rules on privacy and a friend can post an embarrassing picture of you without your consent. Therefore, experts advise you to avoid posting pictures of yourself that you do not want the world to see.
Alternatively, you can open two different accounts on Facebook so that one is for your intimate circle and the other is for outsiders that emphasize your professional and educational accomplishments. Still, if a friend posts a video or a picture of you that you find disconcerting, remove the tag that points the image to you. Also, do not hesitate to ask them to take it down if you think it could compromise your reputation.
How to clean up your Online Reputation
We all make mistakes, that’s a fact of life. But when this happens online, the best way to resolve things is to deal with the situation head-on before it reaches a point where it tarnishes your online reputation to the point of no return.
But what can you do when it’s too late, and all have already gone wrong? Here are a few tips to help you undo the damage.
Scope out the damage
First, start by combing what damage already exists by searching for yourself on various search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing to see what comes up in the first 4 or 5 result pages. If anything troubling comes up, delete it if you can or bookmark it for action. Remember to sign up for alerts so that when new material about you is updated or added, you get an email notification.
If you did something imprudent about a decade ago, and now you don’t want it associated with your online record, we highly recommend that you bury it.
How? You can conceal the old content by creating new and better material about yourself, either through a blog or website. While you cannot make the stuff you posted disappear, you can create much more valuable content that can easily conceal the negative.
Just make sure to create relevant and worthwhile content. If possible, consider publishing your content on respected sources like industry publications. This is because broadcasting your own material can only go so far, and since it obviously came from you, it may not do much to rebuild your reputation.
Although you may be successful at getting the material removed, it is important to know that most of the content that appears online can be stored in the Internet Archive – a non-profit enterprise that is designed to be a source for researchers and historians.
If you think that your case is strong enough to have the content removed permanently, do not come out swinging as it may only cause more bad image for you.
In its place, take a soft standpoint and explain why you want the content removed and hope that the owner of the website is reasonable enough to listen. If the material you found is defamatory, slanderous or inaccurate, make sure to point that out.
Just take the time to find out as much as you can about the site before making a move.
If you are dealing with an aggressive blogger, sending them an email to request them to remove something they have written about you, can backfire.
Such bloggers are known to post content and emails for the public to see. So note that your request may end up casting more negative attention on you.
Also worth remembering, is that Google offer a ‘Right to be forgotten‘, but there are rules around this. The first one is that this only applies if you are within the EU – outside of the EU, this is almost an impossibility.
Secondly, just because someone has said something bad, won’t be enough. There has to be a very good reason for it to be removed. Google will look at every reason so make sure your case it compelling and as detailed as possible. Explain to them why you think this should be removed from the search results.
If there is a legal reason why it should be removed, do show all of this while completing the form.
There are also companies that specialise in doing this for you.
Lock down your pages
Even though you may not be able to remove everything, you can lock out some content. This can be done by changing your privacy settings on the problematic sites so that only a few friends can see what you posted.
You can also limit what others post about you. For instance, you can block some people from tagging you without your consent. And while they can still tag you, it will not be visible to the public until you approve it.
Hire a professional
You also have the option to hire an expert to help clean up and manage your online reputation. However, these services do not come cheap. Under such plans, the company uses various tactics to mend your online reputation and make sure the positive information about you ranks high on SERPs whenever someone searches for your name online.
Your online reputation matters. If you are not diligent about it, you might end up paying a higher price for it.