There are more people online than ever. As of April 2023, there were 5.19 billion - roughly 65% of the global population. Nearly 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine, and search engines account for over 50% of search traffic.
I’m throwing a lot of numbers at you, but there’s a reason for it: when people want to learn more about you, they’re going to go online. If you don’t show up in search results - or, worse, look bad in search - there could be very tangible consequences.
In this article, I’m going to talk about personal reputation management, why it is vital for everyone in 2023, and how you can put your best foot forward online.
What is personal reputation management?
Your personal reputation is the way people perceive you. In 2023, much of this can be determined by how you appear online.
To manage your personal reputation, you will need to establish a strong online presence, which can involve building a personal website, maintaining a social media presence, securing earned media features, publishing press releases, etc. If you are already established online, managing your personal reputation can also include monitoring relevant online conversations.
Personal reputation management refers specifically to reputation management strategies geared towards individuals. Unlike corporate reputation management, personal reputation management doesn’t generally overlap with digital marketing, and instead focuses on personal branding, privacy, and establishing a professional online presence.
Why do individuals need to manage their personal reputations?
How you appear in Google search results functions as your business card in 2023. Nearly all employers look prospective employees up online. 90% of employers look at the social media presence of prospective employees, and roughly 80% have rejected a candidate based on what they found.
Unlike a business card, your Google search results can be comprehensive and go beyond your professional background. Nearly 50% of people will Google a person before going on a date, meaning a poor online image could harm your personal life as well as your professional life.
Approximately 50% of people don’t like what they find when they Google themselves, and if you don’t like what you see in your results, it’s likely that whoever else is searching you won’t either. Due to Google’s guidelines, unless negative content shares too much private information or violates privacy or defamation laws, it is unlikely that you can remove negative results, meaning lawsuits, mugshots, or that one picture from that one bachelor party may be one of the first things people see when they’re trying to learn more about you.
It doesn’t take a PR crisis to harm your reputation. With over 200 ranking factors, what Google decides to have rank for you won’t always be the most relevant, or positive, results. A mistake made years ago can have lasting and immediate effects on your reputation - if something is ranking on page one of search results, it is relevant, even if it doesn’t feel relevant to you.
It’s worth noting that, while it may be tempting to stay offline, no online presence can still have an impact on your reputation. If you do not have a reputation management strategy in place, your reputation will completely be defined by what others say about you. With a strategy, you can have an impact on how you are viewed online.
One off-color tweet, unprofessional photo, or lacking online presence can have a negative impact on how you’re seen; however, by implementing a personal reputation management strategy, you can have a say in how you’re seen online. While you may not be able to control everything that is published about you online, establishing and maintaining a solid online presence can protect you from threats to your reputation and ensure that you are making the best first impression.
A strong online reputation can lead to more opportunities, greater exposure, and professional credibility.
Considerations for Public Figures
While everyone should be concerned about how their personal online reputation, public figures have a certain urgency when it comes to reputation management. Public figures will experience more news coverage, higher monthly search volume (how many people search your name in a month), and greater media scrutiny than the average person.
Negative results for public figures can not only harm your own reputation and prospects, but can harm the reputation of your company, projects, or other affiliations. A study conducted by Weber Shandwick found that nearly 50% of a company’s reputation can be attributed to the owner or CEO’s individual reputation.
Assessing Your Online Reputation
The first step in addressing your personal reputation is to understand how you appear online.
If you don’t know how you appear in Google search results, you won’t know where to start. Open an incognito browser and search your name. What do you see?
Consider the following:
- Are these results all about you, or do other people with your name show up as well? Do you show up at all?
- If the results are about you, what is the nature of the results? Are they generally positive, negative, or neutral?
- How many of the results are owned assets (such as a personal website, company subpage, blog, social media profiles, etc.)?
- Does any news coverage, such as article features or interviews, populate for your name?
- Do images populate? Are they professional or personal?
- What is the nature of the negative results (if there are any)? Are they from publications, personal blogs, social media posts, etc.?
Answering these questions can help you understand where your current reputation's weak points are and give you guidance on where to start. A personal reputation management strategy for someone who does not appear in search results for their own name is very different from a strategy for someone who has negative news articles populating for their name.
Once you have completed your initial audit, make a list of short- and long-term goals to improve your reputation. Short-term goals can be quick wins, such as securing relevant social media profiles or claiming your Google Knowledge Panel. Long-term goals can be building a website, starting a blog, or securing media opportunities such as article or podcast features.
How to Manage Your Personal Reputation
If you are ready to control your online reputation, here are 10 steps you can take to begin establishing your online presence.
1. Define Your Personal Brand
To build an online presence that best represents you, you will need to define how you want to be seen. Your personal brand should be both aspirational and authentic, a true representation of who you are, your accomplishments, and where you hope to go.
If you don’t know where to start, Google major players in your industry. What profiles do they have? What do they choose to share? Do they have a blog or a YouTube channel? Understanding how others in your industry present themselves can not only help you identify how you want to present yourself, but can also give you insight into the pieces you need to include to stand out online.
2. Claim and Maintain Your Social Media Profiles
There are nearly 5 billion people on social media worldwide in 2023, and this number is growing. Social media can be a valuable tool for building an online presence, as the sites themselves are strong and tend to be what we call “page one properties,” meaning they are likely to rank, and people expect to see you on social media, meaning your absence can be a hindrance.
That said, starting from scratch on social media can be daunting. It doesn’t have to be done all at once. To start, create a LinkedIn profile if you don’t have one already. LinkedIn ranks well in search results, and is a great way to connect with recruiters and others in your industry.
For any other profiles, from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, secure your username. Your username should include your name, or an iteration if your name is not available as a username. If you’re not ready to execute a social media strategy, set the profiles to private until you are, as an inactive account can actually harm how you are perceived.
Social media may not be your thing, but it is one of the best ways to take control of your page one and establish yourself online. To learn more about leveraging social media, read our guide here.
3. Create a Personal Website
A personal website can be a great first impression for people who are looking you up online. Personal websites give you the opportunity to highlight your background, accomplishments, any media coverage, or hobbies and other interests.
When choosing a domain name, keep it simple and logical. Ideally, you can secure a domain name that is just [yourname].com. If you can’t, find a domain name that still contains your name and makes it clear that it is your website.
Remember that your website can be whatever you need it to be, whether that is simple or complicated. A simpler website can just include an About page and your resume and social links, while a more complicated website can include a portfolio, media features, a blog, and more.
4. Delete Irrelevant Content
Is there a reason you haven’t deleted your old Tumblr? If your name is attached to old profiles and properties, it is possible that it will show up in search results.
Maybe you aren’t bothered by your high school poetry showing up in search engines, but if you are, it’s an easy fix. Getting into those accounts and deleting pictures, content, or the accounts entirely will remove the issue, and ensure that you have a cleaner, more up-to-date online image.
If you aren’t ready to let go, set these accounts to private. Even if they rank, people will not be able to access the content.
5. Separate the Personal and Professional
Nowadays, it can look like everyone is putting everything online. Depending on your industry, what is considered professional can vary. An entertainer may be expected to be more personable online than a venture capitalist.
That said, every individual can benefit from knowing what to keep private. What you want to share with your friends is likely different from what you would want to share with your boss, your employees, a potential investor, or a reporter.
To maintain a professional online presence, set boundaries. Make private the profiles you use to interact with friends, such as Instagram, Facebook, etc. If you use those profiles professionally - perhaps you are an artist sharing your work online, or you use these platforms to reach a wider audience with your blogs - consider separating your personal accounts and your professional accounts. Use discretion when sharing online and consider how you could come off to a wider audience - not only those who know you.
6. Maintain Your Privacy
As I said earlier, it can feel like everyone is sharing everything online. Especially when we talk about online reputation management, it seems that the more you put out there about yourself online, the better!
While there is some truth to this, you do not have to share everything. More and more, people are becoming concerned about their online privacy, and rightly so.
Sharing things relevant to your work can be valuable online, but don’t feel obligated to share everything, or even very much. Consider if you would be comfortable with a complete stranger knowing something about you - if the answer is no, it is better kept to yourself.
What’s more, privacy is difficult to secure once you have overshared online. While there are ways to remove information and limit access, you never know who has a screenshot or download stashed away somewhere.
7. And Your Image
A few good pictures can go a long way online. Particularly if you’re dealing with less-than-ideal images of yourself, posting new images can help push the older images down and literally give you a better online image.
To make images work for you, take a handful to several high-quality images. It is important that these images are different, as Google is less likely to populate the same image over and over in the image bar or image tab. Use different images on different platforms - one as a Twitter profile picture, one on your website, one on LinkedIn. Google vastly prefers recent, high-quality images, so having a few of those on-hand to use can help you redefine your online image.
8. Seek Out Content Opportunities
I don’t think you can get me to stop saying it: content is king in SEO, and SEO is vital to personal reputation management.
Generally, when people think about online content, they think about blogs and videos. If you are open to implementing a blog or video strategy, this can be very valuable for your online presence. Blogs and videos relevant to you and your expertise can help increase your audience reach, build your credibility, and establish you as a thought leader in your industry.
Understandably, not everyone has the time or the interest in creating and maintaining a blog or YouTube channel. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make content work for you. Seeking out opportunities for earned media, such as interviews, article features, and podcast guest spots, can also increase your reach and visibility online, though they may initially be more difficult to secure. Engage in conversations with creators that are relevant to your industry and utilize resources such as HARO to find opportunities to create more positive content about yourself online.
9. Stay Up-To-Date on Relevant Conversations
One of the best ways to work on your reputation is to know the conversations that are happening about you. Monitoring conversations online that are relevant to you can help you best determine how to respond and avoid reputation pitfalls.
But those aren’t the only conversations you should be paying attention to. Any trends or conversations relevant to your industry should also be on your radar. Staying aware of these conversations can not only make you aware of opportunities, but can help you avoid appearing tone-deaf in certain circumstances.
To stay aware of these conversations, you can set up Google Alerts and utilize other monitoring tools to ensure you don’t miss any of the conversations.
10. Know When to Ask for Help
Managing your personal reputation is not always easy. If you are building it from scratch, overextended as is, or experiencing a reputation crisis, setting aside time for your online presence may be near impossible.
In these cases, reaching out to a reputation management firm is your best option. Status Labs will help you assess your reputation needs and create a customized strategy to help you improve your personal reputation and ensure that you are putting your best foot forward online.