Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Are You Being Naive -- and Just Plain Stupid -- About Your Online Reputation?


If you do nothing else today, Google yourself.

I do not say this so that you can stroke your own ego by seeing how many "hits" you get. I say this to save your ass.

There's enough instability right now in the economy that everyone -- and I mean everyone -- needs to be in active job-hunting mode. That means in addition to ramping up your networking efforts, you need to immediately take steps to clean up your online footprint.

Last week I sent out a HARO request for my Gannett News Service/USAToday.com column asking for input on how to manage your online reputation. I received so much good stuff that I couldn't use it all. I also learned some disturbing information during my research: Most people only check out what's online about them several times a year.

Yikes.

That means anyone could be writing snarky comments about you, posting photos of you in a Borak-inspired swimsuit from your last drunken vacation or even making erroneous statements linking you to unethical or illegal activities and -- if you're rarely checking online -- it might be months before you discovered it. By that time, a lot of damage could be done to you professionally.

And that, my friends, could be disastrous at a time like this when we should all be actively promoting ourselves in the marketplace.

So, I'm going to share some really good advice and comments from online reputation management folks that I couldn't fit in my column:

* "Search for your name in Google, Yahoo! and MSN right away. (Google covers most of the Web, but MSN and Yahoo! may pick up web pages that Google missed or ignored.) Learn how to manage your privacy settings within each social network you use. (This is usually hidden away under "profile" or "preferences" tabs.)
-- Nestor G. Trillo, SEO expert, Avaniu Communications

* "Google offers a great service. You can subscribe to alerts, which will provide you with daily notices if your name is used on the Internet. The service is free and worth doing if you have a reputation to protect." --Chris Reich, business advisor,Teachu.com

* "Be transparent - this doesn't mean allow yourself to be trashed. It means fight back with facts. It also means telling the whole story; of using social media as a 'bright light' when dealing with false statements. Have lots of friends - they will come to your rescue and defend you. Don't be something online that you aren't offline. In short, your brand is your brand regardless of the medium." -- Justin Foster, founder/partner, Tricycle

* "We recently interviewed an individual for a C-level position with our company. He interviewed extremely well and the final check we did was his reputation in Google. What we found was alarming, not the least of which was a class action lawsuit against his old company." --Fionn Downhill,CEO, elixirinteractive.com

* "I had a client, Josh Deming (not his real name) who had a reputation as a hard- nosed manager. After losing his position after an acquisition, he found himself in a job search for the first time in a number of years. Because he was highly respected, he thought the search would go quickly. On several occasions, he would get to the final stages prior to hiring with a company showing great enthusiasm, only to suddenly be dropped from consideration.
At this point Josh came to see me. We did a Google search and found that when we searched "Josh Deming", No. 5 in the Google search results was a link to an industry forum page where Josh was being trashed anonymously by some people that had worked for him calling him an unfit manager.
Here's what we did.
1) We changed everything (resume, cover letters, online profiles, etc.) to "Joshua P. Deming", his full name. People will typically Google what is on the resume. When "Joshua P. Deming" was Googled, nothing negative showed up.
2) We took advantage of a few key online profiles. Everyone should take advantage of LinkedIn. Google loves it and for most people, if they have a LinkedIn profile, it will show up first if you Google them. Professionals, executives and managers should also take advantage of VisualCV.com and ZoomInfo. All of these are relatively simple, don't require a lot of maintenance, and will boost online visibility.
3) We had Joshua write a book review on his favorite management book and post it on Amazon. This gave the opportunity to show a little thought leadership and demonstrate his management knowledge to help counter the negatives should a potential employer stumble upon the comments in the industry forum.
The result was that within weeks Joshua was hired." -- Don Huse, president/CEO, Venturion

* "...People have to realize that anything you put online stays there and can be used against you. It's all well and fine believing that your Facebook profile can only be viewed by your friends, but what's to stop one of those friends from copying what you write and posting it elsewhere? This recently happened on Twitter. A friend of mine had comments that were made privately, to a closed group of friends, posted on a blog, as part of an post attacking someone else in the marketing field." -- Simon Heseltine, director of search, Serengeti Communications Inc.

What else should someone do to manage their online reputation?


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12 comments:

Rick said...

Your article provides great points for keeping your online reputation relatively pristine. I'd add that people should strive to maintain an online presence through blogging. There are also plenty of web forums on which one can propagate your name. Submitting comments to other blogs is helpful for linking back to your preferred website (ideally your own domain, or perhaps a LinkedIn profile page).

Anita said...

Rick,
Very good point. And, along those lines, you should also make sure that your blog is a positive reflection on you -- professional, sincere, well-written and thoughtful. You comments to other blogs should be the same, and never get in a flame war with anyone!
Thanks for your thoughts.

Kathryn Hall said...

Hi, Anita, this is the perfect post. I just spent the morning talking to a new client about the importance of protecting his brand. So part of the responsibility is hiring the right people you trust to be representing you in the world to the media. This means knowing who is doing what and how.

Anita said...

Kathryn,
Very true. You have to make sure that the people who represent you understand your brand -- because if they don't, they can really screw things up. In the online world, it's that one mistake that can really cost you.
Thanks for posting.

Erika with Qvisory said...

Wow, the techniques listed here are very smart. I am particularly impressed by how that company was able to turn around Josh's job search.

It seems that people with a generic name have a harder time with this than most, because it can be ridiculous to sift through all the Internet detritus out there!

Anita said...

Erika,
I had never thought of the problems with a generic name (mine is more unusual than most!), but I can see the problems -- people might even confuse you with someone else, and then you've got even more trouble if that person has a bad online reputation.
I just hope people really take this to heart -- they need to understand that even current bosses will look for workers online.

Marcia Robinson said...

Great points Anita! Some people still are not listening and so the more often we talk about this the more we can help.

I did a post about maintaining a positive online persona recently.

Some in the audience for a recent career session said they were surprised that employers would be looking at their "private" information on the internet.

Once we dispelled the myth of "internet privacy", I think we made some progress.

Anita said...

Marcia,
What many people fail to realize is that what is "private" to them is not necessarily "private" to someone else. Just like your bratty sibling could steal your diary when you were a teen and read it to all his/her friends, someone can share your private online info. with millions of others.
Thanks for posting.

Karen Putz said...

Another smart thing to do is to sign up with your name under every social media tool that's out there. This will prevent someone else from snatching up your name and pretending to be you.

Jacob from JobMob said...

What else can people do? A LOT:

160+ Resources and Tips To Help Manage Your Reputation Online

My favorite advice is to get people blogging. There are so many potential benefits not the least of which is filling search results with positive content about yourself.

I really enjoyed the story about Josh Deming and how Venturion resolved his problem neatly.

Stumbled this for you, Anita

Anita said...

Jacob,
Thanks for the suggestion. I would add a caveat: Be careful about your blog content. You want to make sure it's a positive reflection on your professional capabilities.
Thanks for the link.

Robyn McMaster said...

Anita, that is the funniest picture ever and it sure gives the spirit of your article. Really nice way to express your thoughts. The tips here are good. Will Google my name - something I don't do often.