People change. But the internet never forgets.
Google can keep sensitive content on the front page every time someone searches your name. Those Facebook photos that impressed your friends years ago might not make the same impression on a prospective employer. And those bad Yelp reviews might have said more about their posters’ bitterness than about your business, but they’re still up, and they’re still damaging your reputation.
When so much information (and disinformation) is scattered around the internet, how do you regain control over how you’re represented?
You hire an online reputation manager. By supplanting negative information with higher-ranking, more visible content that portrays you in a positive light, reputation managers combine technical savvy with extensive PR skills to shape the way you’re portrayed online.
Online reputation managers routinely help individuals, small businesses, and large corporations change their current online presences and exert more control over their reputations down the line. Here we’ll take a brief look at what online reputation managers do, and what the rest of us can do to regain control over our online personae.
Reputation Management is for Everyone
It’s easy to see why businesses have such an interest in reputation management: when they protect and promote their brands, their bottom line thrives; when they don’t, they’re in trouble.
As individuals, our online presence also forms a brand. When our personal brand is well cared for, our careers and personal lives benefit. When our brand is compromised by embarrassing or downright damaging information, people notice, and we stand to suffer.
For example, say you were fired without cause from a job four years ago. On your resume, where you control the message, you might be able to spin your dismissal as a positive: your department was poorly managed and led to a round of layoffs, but you quickly rebounded and got your career on track.
The internet, though, isn’t interested in promoting your career. When prospective employers search your name, they may well find a record of your dismissal that makes it look more important in the grand scheme of things than you know it to be, or that causes your department’s mismanagement to reflect on your own performance.
Online reputation management gives you some of the same control over your online brand that you enjoy when you’re the one writing the message. It’s brand management for everyone.
Think You Don’t Need Reputation Management? Think Again
Even if you’re careful not to share your personal information too widely, you might still be suffering from a shaky online brand. The uncomfortable truth is that no one can completely control the way they’re portrayed online.
Once you post a photo online, even to a carefully chosen group of people, it’s fair game for sharing, copying, and in many cases for reuse by the platform you posted to. Even well-intentioned friends can leak compromising information to the world. And let’s be honest: we tend to be a little less careful about what we share when we’re younger. Which is also when we’re likeliest to post material that we’ll regret later.
Of course, negative information needn’t start with you. We’ve all been on the wrong end of negative remarks online, and too many people find themselves targeted by coordinated efforts to damage their online brands. One ex-partner or former employee can cause your personal brand terrific harm.
Our brands can even be damaged for reasons having nothing at all to do with us. As the internet’s population grows, so does the risk that your name will be confused with someone else’s. Say you’re in sales and are applying for a job that requires a lot of independent work and personal initiative. If you share a name with a teenager with a lot of time to post over summer break, a quick search might suggest to potential employers that you don’t make great use of unsupervised time.
The bottom line: most of us could use at least a review of their personal online brands.
Accentuate the Positive
Online reputation management isn’t just about finding negative information and putting it in its place. An important element of reputation management is coming up with a vision for your brand and taking steps to fulfil it.
For example, a contractor who likes to fish has the makings of a successful personal brand. A contractor whose only online details revolve around fishing, though, might not be putting his best foot forward. When diligent customers shop around for contracting services, they want to see some passion for the business; a business owner whose entire online presence has to do with his hobbies might cause customers to think “Well, I don’t want to make this guy’s next boat payment”, and move on.
How’s it Done?
Reputation management usually begins by combatting negative material. Online reputation managers have several technical tricks up their sleeves, but they can’t simply erase unwanted information. The sites on which such information appears reserve the right to use and reuse such information at their discretion; there’s seldom any legal remedy, and a lawsuit would of course only add to the online record of the material in question.
The good news is that once unwanted information is pushed down past the first page of Google results, it is effectively removed from the attention of most searchers.
The next step focuses on building a positive online brand. Most reputation managers begin with a brief outline describing a client’s ideal brand, then identify existing online material that supports that brand. In cases where the existing online record needs some support, reputation managers can arrange for new material to be created that rounds out a client’s online presence exactly the way they choose. This positive, brand-supporting material is then promoted in such a way that it dominates search results related to the client’s personal information.
An Ounce of Prevention or a Pound of Cure?
Staying ahead of potential problems can pay off in more ways that just an enhanced reputation. It can cost thousands of dollars to fix a full-on brand crisis. For a fraction of that cost, individuals can take steps to promote their personal brands and keep negative information safely out of view of most searchers.
Individuals who haven’t scheduled a quick chat with an established online reputation manager would be wise do so. In the meantime, here are some easy ways to keep your brand’s positive news out in front of any negative information.
- Create a Google alert or two for yourself.
- If you haven’t yet, create a few social media accounts and post brand-relevant information to them every few days.
- On all your social media accounts, set your privacy settings to maximum security.
- Don’t overshare.