By Kate Zabriskie
“Why would I hire someone who chooses a middle finger shot as his Twitter profile picture? Goodness knows I made some bad choices early in my career, but clearly, he’s not ready to work for an organization like ours. It’s too bad. I liked his presentation.”
"I couldn’t believe it when I came across what I did. She works for a great nonprofit and I liked what she had to say, but that’s not her only career. The boudoir shots and escort activities are an interesting sideline. Call me judgmental, but I just don’t want to work with her. I can’t be associated with people involved in those kinds of activities.”
A little digging on the Internet can reveal of wealth of information. Some of it’s true, some of it isn’t, and all of it is out there for the world to see. Fair? Probably not, but it is what it is. Our digital doppelgangers have tremendous power, and as long as finding information online is easy, it will be found.
So, what’s a person to do to get control of his or her online image without spending a fortune? By following seven simple steps, you can take charge of your digital reputation.
Step One: Understand Your Digital DNA
The first step in managing the cyber you is understanding who creates him or her. If you use social media, you’re contributing to your footprint. If you have ever owned property, had a land line, donated to charity, sat on a board, or participated in any activity where information is published in an online newsletter, that information is part of the digital you.
You need to understand your digital twin has lots of parents, and some of them are more concerned about presenting him or her in a positive light than others. Google yourself, and make a list of from where information is coming.
Step Two: Choose a Strategy
The key to an effective online presence (or absence) is planning. Without a strategy, you have no plan. To manage the online you, you must decide what you want people to find. You might choose to present yourself as a well-rounded candidate for a job, define yourself as an expert on a particular topic, or align yourself with a cause that means something to you. Whatever the choice, have a goal for presenting an online picture that matches your offline objectives.
Step Three: Remember, It’s Not All Bad
In most cases, a well-managed digital presence is better than no presence at all. Think about it; if you were in a hiring manager’s chair and could find nothing in cyberspace about a candidate you were considering for an important job, would it concern you? Maybe.
What most likely wouldn’t concern you, however, would be the discovery of a professional LinkedIn page. In fact, the existence of such a page would probably serve as additional evidence of the candidate’s qualifications and suitability for a job.
Step Four: Put the Best You Out There
A picture is worth a thousand words, and a lot of what people say about themselves when choosing a profile photo isn’t too good. The photos are blurry, old, or just inappropriate. Get a professional photo taken and use it.
Your virtual you should be congruent with the real you. In other words, don’t promise one thing and deliver something else. Update your photo every five years or after you’ve had any significant physical transformation.
Next, check your privacy settings on all social sites into which you opt in. Do you really want people knowing what you’ve “liked” online, what your following, and so forth? If your brand strategy isn’t to be political or provoking, think before you comment on anything controversial.
Also, don’t forget that privacy settings change, people share comments, and so forth. In short, what you say among friends may at some point be seen by people you wouldn’t expect to have access to your conversations. When it comes to social media, be disciplined, and make choices that fit with your strategy.
Step Five: Manage Unflattering Information
If you’ve got information out in cyberspace you wish weren’t there, and you are blessed with a common name, your dark data is probably buried pretty far down in the search results—especially if you actively publish other information about yourself.
If you have a rather unusual name coupled with a bad PR problem, you’ll need to be more proactive. Make site-by-site requests for information removal, and start publishing. Comment on reputable blogs using your real name, leave product reviews also using your real name, publish articles, and so forth. Your goal is to create noise and push negative information to the bottom of the pile. The stronger the sites where you post “good” data, the more likely those items will appear at the top of the results.
For most people, a do-it-yourself approach is sufficient, but if you’ve tried and are still struggling, you can always hire an expert. Prices vary widely, so shop around.
Step Six: Set Up an Auditing System
Online reputation management isn’t a one-and-done activity. It’s ongoing because the internet is fluid. What’s there today could be gone tomorrow and vice versa.
As your own reputation manager, this means you must be on your toes and aware of what’s being said about you. An easy way to stay in the know is to set up a Google alert for your name. Then, as that search engine finds new mentions of you, it will let you know.
Next, search the top engines for your name once a month. Check the first two pages of results for anything troubling. Finally, once a year, do a deep dive and look at every result. It’s time consuming but worth the effort—especially if you’ve encountered problems in the past.
Step Seven: Remember Why You Care
When you work hard to make the real you great, your digital twin shouldn’t be allowed to ruin your reputation. In other words, the online you should be your advocate, not your adversary, and if you don’t manage him or her, you roll the dice and take your chances.
Kate Zabriskie is president, Business Training Works, Inc., Port Tobacco, Maryland (www.businesstrainingworks.com).