Monday, August 10, 2009

5 Ways to Manage Your Online Reputation

Are you your own worst enemy?

If you don't think so, read this column I wrote for Gannett, and you may just change your mind:

Maybe you put countless hours into carefully crafting a resume and cover letter. Or you sweated buckets over the details regarding your meeting with a key client. Perhaps you had weeks of sleepless nights as you planned your new company.

But then it all came crashing down – all with the click of your computer mouse. It all came undone because you didn’t think about the fact that some of the “unprofessional” items you posted online were viewed – and judged – by the very people you wanted to impress.

“Your digital life is just like real life. It’s not outer space. That’s why you must be very conscious of what you put online,” says Larry Weber, a marketing and online reputation expert. “What’s online is a very important part of the way people are hired, the way people get things done.”

Weber, author of “Sticks and Stones,” (Wiley, $24.95), says that too many people are lazy about their online reputations, or think that what they post doesn’t really matter or won’t be seen by people other than friends or family.

The key, he says, is remembering that from the moment you go online, your reputation is being formed. For example, he says that at Harvard University they view a variety of records before admitting a student – and one of those involves a check of online activity.

“They take out their laptops and check out Facebook. If there are pictures of you drunk, you can probably forget about Harvard,” he says.

So how can you best manage you online reputation that aids you professionally? Weber advises you to:

  1. Lead separate lives. Use LinkedIn or Plaxo for your professional resume, accomplishments and business networking. Use Facebook to connect only with people you know well in your personal life, such as friends and family. At the same time, sever connections online with people who will drag down your professional image. In other words, don’t “friend” someone on Facebook or through your blog who posts obscene comments or has racy photos.
  2. Look for the right groups. The online community is becoming more segmented, and this can benefit your career. Search for groups to join that will connect you with industry leaders or others with similar goals. “You know how your mother told you to hang out with certain groups of people. This is the same thing,” Weber says.
  3. Build social equity. Sometimes it comes out the blue: Critical or derogatory comments about you online. In this case, your network can help you by coming to your defense and posting positive remarks that help thwart your attacker. But the only way this works is if you’ve been a good supporter of others and their work in the past. You must sincerely work to connect with people and help them when you can so they will return the favor.
  4. Remember that nobody likes manipulation. “The Web has been very good at policing itself,” Weber says. “It doesn’t like liars and manipulators, and they’ll be outed.” That means if you try and push people into supporting you or try to “spin” your story to get them to write positive commentary about you without earning it, it usually will backfire. “The more you try and spin it, the more you will hurt yourself,” he says. “The push is really for transparency.”
  5. Understand that bad can be good. No one is perfect, either online or in real life. Don’t worry if there are some less-than-stellar comments about you online, as long as the good outweigh the bad. Having flaws adds authenticity, and makes it easier for others to identify with you.


Christian DE NEEF said...

I guess I partly disagree with #1 - Lead separate lives. I explained so earlier this year -- What can you share? And to whom? -- I think that who we are socially is an integral part of who we are businesswise, and more and more so. There is only one "me"! But indeed, I try not to "friend" the wrong people...

Furthermore, I would like to add a few guidelines: (i) Be Human (hence imperfect!) - it's one of the Keys to Success. And (ii) be consistent and trustworthy! Over time, that's what people will recognize and what will make the difference. It is not the one exceptional/outstanding achievement, but consistent behavior over the longer term.


Anita said...

I still think you have to be cautious. I have personally spoken with people who say they have been turned down for jobs because of what they had posted online.
Personally, I am "judicious" about what I post online. Sure, it has some of my personality, but nothing that I think anyone would find embarrassing if they employed me. I guess it just depends on what you're comfortable doing, and I certainly am not comfortable exposing a lot of my personal life online as some people do.
You make some great suggestions...many thanks for your thoughts and your guidelines!

Christian DE NEEF said...

Thanks Anita! Certainly, we shouldn't post anything anyone would find embarrassing anyway, isn't it?


Unknown said...

These are great suggestions! Lots of people haven't made that connection between what's on their social media sites and their job searches. Employers (and recruiters) DO look to see the "real" person. You have to be careful about what they'll find. I wrote more about this issue in my post,

Unknown said...

I was recently looking to recruit a young graduate to join the team. I looked him up on facebook and discovered that he belonged to a group that in my view was dodgy. I'm no prude, but I felt it was stupid of him to have his membership of this group so obvious. Even though mentally I could try and distinguish between his social and work life, it's hard to do (once you ahve the information). If you're after career advice, please check out my blog on

Anita said...

I appreciate you sharing your story because it always helps to drive the point home when people can see how this can really impacts their lives. Also, thanks for the link -- always happy to give people more information.

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