Managing Your Online Reputation

Like millions of other people, I periodically Google myself to see what comes up. Back in the early days of Google, a Paul O’Reilly search would invariably return a singer/songwriter of that name from Co. Wexford, Ireland, who was often described a ‘champion lilter,’ a wonderful phrase that could only have been coined by the Irish!

As the Internet became more popular, Paul O’Reilly the singer was pushed further down the first page of Google results, replaced by an investment banker Paul O’Reilly, a photographer Paul O’Reilly, and, more recently, a YouTube video of a televised debate between Ron Paul and Bill O’Reilly. At no point was I ever disappointed that I didn’t make the first page. Like most people, I figured that as far as the Internet was concerned, the less notoriety the better.

As social networks have proliferated and more and more individuals turn to the Internet for information on everyone from job candidates to potential dating partners, those Google self-searches have gone from being an amusing distraction to an almost mandatory requirement. In the digital age, our online reputations are assets to be watched over carefully. As many unfortunate celebrities will tell you, reputations can take years to cultivate but mere seconds to destroy.

As the value of our online reputations have increased, so have the number of organizations that offer to manage those reputations. However, most of these organizations – companies such as Reputation.com, Reputation Changer, Internet Reputation – are designed for corporate damage control. They help a company overcome negative comments or reviews by flooding the Internet with positive content. This has the effect of driving the negative commentary further down the Google search page, hopefully to page two or three where it is out of sight and out of mind.

But where does that leave the rest of us – those of us that don’t have the money for professional help or just want to avoid getting in a negative situation in the first place? Well, there are some obvious steps we can take to safeguard our online reputations:

  • Optimize your presence on popular web sites. These days, social media is almost synonymous with search. That means you need to have a presence on the popular social networks and make sure your profile is positive and up-to-date. Join LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. If you have the time, also establish a presence on Pinterest and Google+. Make sure your online presence is consistent, so it’s easier for people to find you.
  • Establish your own web site. Nothing will help shape Internet opinion like establishing your own web site and taking control of the content. If your web site is active and generating comment and inbound links, it can dominate search queries and give you significant control over how others see you on the Internet.
  • Assume nothing is private. If you want something to remain private, keep it off the Internet. This is especially true for photos and videos, which can send a very different message when taken out of context. The same rules apply to our kids. It’s never too early to start building a positive online presence.
  • Continue to search yourself. Keep up those Google searches. In fact, you can set up alerts and daily notifications, so you can see what is being said or written about you. The key is to remain vigilant and jealously guard that reputation; it’s the only one you have!

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