Oct 17

Managing Your Online Reputation: Addressing Digital Dirt

Your online reputation may be the most important business tool you have.  It’s your personal brand.

It takes hard work and patience to develop a positive online reputation, but, unfortunately, it takes only one or two negative items to ruin it.  If you own a business, a single bad review can cost you customers.  If you have ongoing personal disputes with someone, (ex-spouse?) they might start an online smear campaign to destroy your good name. Sometimes, your reputation can turn negative merely due to incorrect information.  What makes this tricky is that information on the internet can be difficult to remove, though it’s not impossible.

It’s a good idea to regularly check your online reputation. Make sure that the information in all of your online profiles (Facebook, LinkedIn) is accurate and complete.  Google/Bing your name/business and see what shows up. If you have a business, check with sites that provide user reviews, like Yelp.com, the BBB or Angie’s List.

I have a client who was involved in an internet “spat” with an online acquaintance. Their relationship soured.  Some months later, my client Googled herself and was shocked at what she found.  Someone (who, no doubt, was this internet “enemy”) had posted on a forum my client had never heard of using her identity.  This person pretended to be my client and made up a story about how she was deeply in debt, couldn’t pay her bills and would “probably be filing bankruptcy again.” (My client had never filed bankruptcy and this person knew nothing of her finances).  Fortunately, when my client contacted the site administrator, he removed the libelous posting immediately.  However, had he not been so cooperative, my client might have had to resort to legal action.

What do you do when you find derogatory information/reviews? There are a few steps you can take to minimize the damage:

If the information is true, but unflattering, don’t run from it.  Take ownership and inform a potential employer or client about it before they stumble on it themselves. This gives you a chance to explain what you are doing to resolve the problem.  It’s better to be proactive about it than have them uncover it and think you were hiding something.

If you posted or tweeted something you regret, delete it. If you are unable to delete it yourself, contact the site administrator and request that it be removed.  Some will cooperate.  Others may not be so helpful.  If it becomes necessary, seek legal advice.

If you find a bad review or negative comment about your business, don’t ignore it or try to hide it. Respond politely, quickly and publicly. Apologize, don’t make excuses. If appropriate, work to make things right with your customer and make sure you include those details in your online response so that future customers will see how you handled it. We’ve seen that even the largest companies can find themselves on the receiving end of negative social media, and the way the company handles it can make a huge difference in public opinion.  A genuine “mea culpa” and swift resolution can actually earn you customer loyalty if they feel your response was handled well.

If there is anything that cannot be removed, the next step is to minimize its visibility. You can do this by creating enough content that it pushes the bad stuff to page 2 or 3 of the search results.  Most people don’t get beyond the first page of search results. Optimize your search results with positive content.  Blog. Tweet. Complete your profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn and participate there frequently. Comment on other blogs or forums, making sure you are using your professional name.  Publish trade articles online. Eventually, you’ll have a clean first page of search results.

There are many services that claim they can improve your online reputation.  They will, for a fee, perform these same steps for you.  But why not do it yourself and save some money? It may take a little time, and effort, but you can build an online reputation that you are proud to share.

The Importance Of Having A Solid Digital Footprint

What is a digital footprint?
Your digital footprint consists of everything recorded in your online life. It’s your online reputation, your personal brand. This includes profiles on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, personal blogs and websites, technical/professional articles you have published, tweets you have sent, and so on.

Why is it important?
A recent study by Microsoft found that 70% of employers check a candidate’s digital footprint during the recruitment process. Not only does your digital footprint give a potential employer an idea of who you are, it shows them how other people see you. It demonstrates your communication skills. On the other hand, a lack of a digital footprint could lead an employer to view you as “out of touch” or lacking digital savvy.

Does your profile or blog have a wide reach among professional contacts and/or does it demonstrate your professional expertise?  Or does it show pictures of you enjoying yourself a little too much at that St. Patrick’s Day party?  Your goal is to be able to show an employer that you have a fully developed online presence that supports what you claim on your resume, and to eliminate anything that portrays you in a negative light.

What can I do?
First, attempt to view yourself the way an HR Manager would.  Google and Bing your own name, for a start.  Are there many people with your same name, which can cause confusion? Is there less-than-complimentary information displayed? Do you use proper spelling and grammar, or is your profile peppered with slang or profanity? These are all issues that are solvable.

Second, if you don’t find much information about yourself, get to work putting yourself out there.  Make sure you have a full profile filled out on websites such as LinkedIn, and take the time to make connections there.  Tweet in a professional way. Participate in online discussions.  Connect with people who can vouch for your qualifications, and ask them to do so. Publish articles on a personal blog or professional association website. And so on.

Third, clean up errors or negative information. Make your Facebook profile private. (Though, some employers are starting to demand access to those.) Get rid of unflattering photos or connections to people/organizations that would reflect poorly on you. Make sure you don’t convey derogatory comments about former employers or co-workers, and don’t share confidential information about them either.  In a nutshell, don’t put anything on the internet that you wouldn’t want an employer to see.

Lastly, consider using an email address that is a variation of your name, or at least one that sounds professional. An email address of “vampirekiss@bloodsuckers.com” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

A solid digital footprint can make the difference between landing that interview and being tossed in the “thanks, but no” pile. Make sure that your digital footprint portrays you in the best possible light and demonstrates your skills, education and professionalism. It takes a bit of effort, but will be very much worth your while.