Before the Internet came, information traveled much more slowly. But with the rise of search engines like Google, 24/7 Internet access, and social media websites, information can now travel as fast as the click of a mouse. While technology has made the world much smaller and more accessible, it has also created a world where positive and negative information can spread rapidly.
These days, anyone with access to a smartphone or computer and the World Wide Web can view positive or negative information about you. There are even websites that collect and publish personal information about you, your loved ones, and your colleagues. Clearly, while it’s convenient to have the world’s information at one’s fingertips, there’s a serious downside to such ease of accessibility.
The Power and Influence of Social Media
Since the early 2000s, major social media sites have exploded in popularity. Facebook, the world’s largest social network, now boasts an astonishing 1.55 billion monthly active users. Twitter, meanwhile, has 320 million monthly active users; Instagram has 400 million monthly active users; and LinkedIn has 400 million registered members.
Social media sites aren’t just huge in terms of registered users, as they also have the power to influence the decisions and thoughts of users. Case in point: social media played a huge role in the launch of the Arab Spring, which toppled numerous repressive governments in the Middle East and North Africa. Protesters used Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter not only to communicate with other protesters but also to spread media that led to even more social mobilization and calls for political change.
Social media blunders have also tarnished the reputations of major companies and public figures. Microsoft found itself embroiled in a huge controversy in 2013 when an employee from its Twitter team accidentally used Microsoft’s official handle (rather than a personal one) to post offensive comments about conservative pundit Ann Coulter.
Fortunately, social media isn’t just great at stirring the pot; it can also be used as a platform to build and maintain one’s professional or brand image. Brands like Tylenol and Martha Stewart have rapidly improved their public image, thanks in part to strong social media and reputation management savvy campaigns.
How Your Online Reputation Can Affect Your Professional Identity
Have you ever tried to do a Google search for your name? If only positive results show up, then you can breathe a sigh of relief and carry on. However, other less fortunate individuals may find negative and false posts, forum comments, articles, and even full-blown hate sites about them.
If negative content about you can be found on the first page of Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs), it could receive more clicks and traffic than it would have had it appeared on page two or lower on the SERPs. Hence, many companies that specialize in online reputation management can hide negative content by pushing it further down the SERPs where it’s less likely to get clicks and traffic.
To offset such negative content, reputation management companies will create and post more positive content about their clients, and use various tactics to ensure that these positive posts feature prominently on the SERPs when online searches are made about the client.
Positive content can take various forms: blog posts, press releases, articles, as well as forum and social media comments, just to name a few. Links to this positive content can also be shared on the client’s social media accounts. The client’s followers and the larger social media community could also be encouraged to read, share, and comment on this positive content. This, in turn, builds greater social signals and pushes the positive content further up the SERPs.
Other reputation management tactics include asking websites and forums to take down slanderous content, and responding to allegations in a professional manner before they become harder to control.
Tips to Help You Build and Manage Your Professional Identity
Below are some steps you can take to maintain a positive and professional online identity:
Monitor the content that is posted about you online.
Set up a Google Alert on your name to keep track of new content about you that shows up online. You may opt to have notifications sent to your inbox once a day to avoid overwhelming your inbox.
Create a strong professional online identity.
You may opt to buy your own domain name so that you can control the image about yourself that you want the public to see. Fill this site with a short bio, highlight some of your accomplishments, and include your CV.
Create social media profiles on the relevant sites.
Some of the most popular sites include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Instagram. Fortunately, you don’t have to create social media profiles on all of the popular sites, just the most relevant ones. For example, if you’re a lawyer, dentist, or cosmetic surgeon, a clear presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter will be more valuable than a presence on Instagram. In contrast, if you’re a creative or visual arts professional, Instagram is ideal, while YouTube is a must for comedians and performers.
Ensure content that should be kept private stays private.
You’re a working professional—which means that it’s unwise for you to post too many rowdy pictures of spring break, or share links and commentary that many will find offensive. If you insist on sharing such content on your social networks, Susan Adams of Forbes magazine suggests creating two versions of your social networking profiles: a public one for your professional content, and a private one that is restricted to friends and family. Even within your private profile, you can control who gets to see what, and request that tags be removed from unsavory pictures others post of you.
Ask your contacts for recommendations.
Getting a strong and honest recommendation from a manager, co-worker, or client on your LinkedIn profile is worth its weight in gold. However, before asking someone for a recommendation, make sure that the person you ask can say concrete things about your work and professionalism. While praise from a manager may seem great, it won’t add much value to your brand if it’s vague praise. Hence, you should seek LinkedIn recommendations from those who know your skills best and aren’t afraid to sing praises about them.
Safeguard Your Private Data Using Online Reputation Management Sites
If protecting your personal information is your main concern, you can access online reputation management sites that collect personal data about individuals from all over the Web. Some of these sites present the gathered data in easy-to-understand Wikipedia-style entries, making it easier for you to see the data and its sources. These sites allow their users or subscribers to remove private information from the source sites, as well as request positive reviews and recommendations from others.