By Tracey Dowdy
We’ve all heard anecdotal stories like the one about the woman who lost a promotion when her disparaging comments about her employer were seen on Twitter, or the guy who wasn’t hired because photos from Spring Break ’08 showed up in a Google search.
According to CareerBulider.com, 75 percent of employers utilize search engines like Google before hiring someone. The most common reasons for potential hires being rejected ranged from talking about drinking or drug habits to bad-mouthing previous employers.
To paraphrase Warren Buffet, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes (of Google searching) to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
The prospect of going back years or through hundreds of pages of a Google search to clean up your online reputation can be overwhelming. Companies like Outspoken Media and Firefly Digital Marketing have built their businesses on helping individuals and companies curate their online presence not only for optimization but for reputation as well. One start-up – BrandYourself.com – will clean things up for less than $100 a year.
The good news is that unless you have more complex issues, like past legal troubles or a negative review from a reputable source, you can do a lot of the work yourself. Here’s how:
- All roads lead to Rome and all searches start with Google. Well, all roads may not lead to Rome these days but Google is far and away the most commonly used search engine. Sign up for Google Alerts to be notified any time new content about you is published to make it easier to monitor what’s out there.
- Be mindful of where that content ranks. An average of 85 percent of people click on links on the first page of a Google search but the number drops exponentially to 10-12 percent for page two and all the way down to 3-5 percent for page three. If what’s posted on page one – regardless of whether it’s true – is negative, it won’t matter that the positive content is on page four or five. Anything past page three is pretty much the online reputation equivalent of the Sea of Tranquility.
- Create and control your own domain name. In other words, if you can’t remove it, bury it. Pete Kistler, co-founder of BrandYourself.com learned the importance of burying negative content when he discovered there was another Pete Kistler showing up in Goggle searches of his name. The problem? The other Pete Kistler was a convicted drug dealer. So, Kistler seized control of his name by creating positive, original content, as well as multiple websites which ultimately drove the other Pete Kistler further down in search results. You can buy domain names for as little as $12 a year from sites like GoDaddy. That’s money well spent if it’s putting you in the driver’s seat.
- Make the most of social media. Aggregate your accounts by utilizing a social media manager like HootSuite or TweetDeck. Social Media Management Systems (SMMS) consolidate your accounts into a single dashboard instead of having to log in to individual accounts. From here you can schedule content, monitor mentions, and track keywords.
- Be proactive and reactive. Seize and maintain control of your social media profiles like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Consider separate accounts for personal and professional use. No doubt you’ve put effort into developing your professional reputation and you don’t want it damaged because of content that has been posted without your consent. It can happen as simply as being tagged in a Facebook photo by a family member or friend. By keeping separate accounts you lessen the risk of the two world’s colliding. If it does happen, and you want the content removed, act quickly to mitigate the impact. Ask that the content be taken down and if that doesn’t work contact the site manager for assistance in resolving the issue.
- Blog Blog Blog. Fact: blogging attracts more traffic than static websites and is a great way to curate your brand and your reputation. What better way to demonstrate who you are than by creating the content yourself? Blogging forces you to be mindful of the content and that mindfulness will spill over into your other social media accounts. Seed the blog with keywords and tags to improve your search engine results and drive it to that coveted page one of Google.
Finally, remember this: The best kept secret is that nothing is secret. Don’t assume privacy settings will protect you – any wall can be breached. It’s a cliché but if in doubt, leave it out. The blowback could be as simple as hurt feelings or as complex as a libel suit.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.