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.

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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/ 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.


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,

* "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,

* "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 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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