1. Google Yourself
If you haven’t done it yet, take a moment to Google yourself and search through the images and results on the first few pages. Find what’s out there and possible for people to see. If you are able to find something about yourself, rest assured that others will also be able to dig up old links and whatever else appears about you online. Consider the mindset of someone who doesn’t know you and what they might think about what they find. Something which may seem innocent and innocuous to you or your friends can be damaging and unflattering in the eyes of a potential business partner or employer. Your search results should appear professional.
Just as you maintain your physical hygiene, you need to maintain your online reputation if you want to make a good first impression in today’s digitally-driven world. For an in-depth analysis on the history of reputation management check out our definitive guide here.
Your online reputation is not something you can afford to ignore if you are serious about doing business in the modern world. The stakes are high and just by following a few easy reputation management tips you can begin to take the first steps in controlling your reputation and putting your best foot forward online.
2. Consider Your Personal Brand and Goals
Now that you know what’s out there and you know how you look online, it’s time to start thinking about taking actions to influence what people find about you online. Who will be Googling you and what do you want them to see? This is your personal brand, and it’s important for anyone who wants to maintain a well-manicured online image.
Think about what you do before you make a purchase or enter any sort of professional transaction. If you are like the majority of other internet users, one of the first things you will do will be to do an online search to check online reviews or verify certain information before going through with a transaction. This is simply the norm in today’s world and keeping up with the times means doing what you can to ensure that you are leaving a positive digital footprint.
Make a list of positive traits and images you want your online portrait to show. For example, you might want to be seen as a thought leader in your respective field, a public speaker, family person, volunteer, successful business owner, or all of the above. Whatever your ideal image and brand is, first define it.
Work towards this list daily. Don’t squabble with others, or take critical feedback personally online. Often the most critical feedback is the hardest pill to swallow but also the most helpful when looked at objectively.
Also it would be helpful to identify the biggest influencer’s in your field. How are they using social media and interacting with their followers. What are they doing to engage their audiences? There is much to learn by taking cues from the most successful people in your respective business. Building your personal brand is something that takes time but by taking cues from popular influencers, many of the habits and techniques that have made others successful can be learned and applied to your unique brand.
3. Claim and Create Social Media Profiles
Changing your online reputation in 2019 requires attention to social media. A whopping 81% of the United States population, as of 2017, has a social media profile and that number is expected to continue rising in coming years. Open an account on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, and anywhere else that’s relevant to your personal and professional life.
If there is any question of how many people are using the internet, check out these eye-opening numbers from internet live stats
Build social media profiles out, post a recent positive photo of yourself and a bio that features elements of your ideal brand image. While you are claiming new social media sites, don’t forget to make your personal sites private and erase any unflattering photos that may be hanging around on old accounts. In addition, you may want to also change your settings to ensure all of your personal information and photos are private and that you disable tagging. Take a few hours and do a social media cleanup. Overlooking one old college photo that you are tagged in can mean the difference in making or breaking a deal.
Keep track of each profile, make a list of different social media accounts you have claimed and clean up old profiles to reflect the new online image you wish to present.
Even if you do not plan on using the sites right away, claiming these properties, will mean that no one else will be able to use them and they will still hold SEO value. You would be surprised at how often people with the same names are mistaken for one-another, in addition to protecting yourself against the possibility of someone pretending to be you or your business.
Claiming your social media sites is an easy way to take up valuable google page one real-estate in addition to safe-guarding against fraud and mistaken identity.
4. Start a Blog
Blogging does wonders for your online reputation. Frequent, useful blog posts with a good writing style will demonstrate your expertise in your chosen fields and begin to establish you as a thought leader. Remember: you’re trying to populate the first page of Google with as much content as possible. Content coming from the source (you) holds high SEO value especially regarding your name as a keyword. As you grow your audience, guest posting on other blogs relevant to your field is also excellent publicity and will also have a positive influence on your online reputation. You could even do a guest blog exchange where you could post on other people’s blogs in exchange for allowing them to be a guest writer on your blog. The secret is making sure the content is relevant to your field and something that your target audience would find interesting.
It can’t be stressed enough how valuable it is to provide high-value original content relating to your field. Are you an entrepreneur looking to make more connections online but have a weak online presence. Blogging about your experience; how you got started, what lessons you have learned, and any other insights you have learned along the way provides value to others in your field. The same goes for any other profession. Have you been an electrician for 50 years? You’d be surprised at the informational value you can provide to others just starting out in your field or others looking for that service. Never underestimate the value you can provide to others through your own experience.
Take time to think of a good name for your blog, define what the focus of your blog will be and list what you hope to gain from having a blog as goals. Draft a list of potential blog posts, read about how to create and run a blog and otherwise prepare yourself for the blogosphere by practicing transparency, humility and polite behavior at all times.
5. Register Your Name as a Domain
Registering your name protects you from someone else controlling your name online. Buy and develop the .com with your name on it and, if you want to be very safe, do so for common variations of your name. Using the .com with your name as your blog is an excellent place to begin.
Next, do the same for your business, if you have one.
The last thing that you want is someone else owning “YOURNAME.COM” or a social media site pretending to be you or even worse, posting defamatory comments on a site that carries your name but that you can’t control.
Although this may seem a little overwhelming. Relax! Don’t be pressured into immediately populating your domains with content. Although you will definitely want to do this in the future, the first order of business is simply owning them so you are in control of this valuable real-estate.
An easy way to curtail the possibility of this is simply to register as many online properties with your name as possible, especially your personal and business domains.
6. Create a Content Posting Schedule
Now that you have several social media accounts, at least one domain name, a plan for a blog and an idea of the work you have cut out, it’s time for a posting schedule. The ideal days, times and frequencies with which you should post will vary based on your target audience, field and platforms.
An important aspect regarding a posting schedule is to get into the routine of posting at certain times each day. Sporadic and infrequent posting is never good for retaining followers and engagement. You want your audience to know what to expect. Whether it’s once a day or once a week, a set posting routine will let your audience know the frequency that you will be posting and at what time. If you are posting without a set schedule, this will inevitably lead to trailing off from your posting as well as uncertainty from your audience to know when to engage with your posts. We’re all creatures of habits and having a set posting schedule will help you develop good practice with your blog.
Another important idea to grasp around social media is how each platform differs. For instance, what you post on Twitter should be different from Facebook. For instance, your Facebook audiences will expect longer form content and less posts, while Twitter audiences will engage better with shorter form posts more frequently. Finding the balance between what to post on each platform will come with familiarizing yourself with the various sites.
Research each account that you have for the ideal frequency of posts for SEO (search engine optimization) and pencil them into your schedule. With a complete list, make a positing schedule that keeps each account active with positive, useful information, specific to your field. This will help build a barrier around your name that protects you from negative information.
7. Moderate Comments
On your blog and social media posts, adjust the settings so you can screen comments whenever possible. If not, moderate any comments that you receive and respond to them in a positive manner. It may be worthwhile consulting with a specialist about addressing negative comments in public view.
Don’t get caught in the trap of deleting every comment you don’t necessarily agree with. If someone has taken the time to engage with your content, look at this as an opportunity to create a conversation, not a personal attack. The idea is to keep the conversation going, not to shut it down just because you don’t agree with a comment. This is the easiest way to lose followers. Unless the comments are personal attacks and/or contain profanity or inappropriate language or images, let it be and seize the opportunity to spark a conversation.
In addition, review comments you might have made on Facebook or other social media websites, and delete any that could damage your reputation. Just one comment on a weekend party picture or an ex-girlfriend/boyfriend, can paint the entirely wrong picture of who you are. Your personal social media accounts and comments online should never be in question. Separate your personal from your business social accounts if the two don’t align. Over and over again old tweets or other social media posts are dug up and used against people. This is easily avoidable and should never happen to you.
8. Never Argue Online
If you own a small business or otherwise receive reviews, or if you’re very active on social media, chances are high that you’ll have opportunities to argue online. Resist the urge to respond emotionally, angrily, defensively or in ways that aren’t positive, polite, and professional. There is simply no good that can ever come from arguing online. Always take the high-road and don’t let your emotions get the best of you. It’s only natural to want to come to defend yourself from negative reviews and online insults, but never do it in a way where you come across as argumentative or petty.
Arguing online is an easy trap to fall into. We all know the illusion of anonymity that typing into a keyboard affords. Many of the worst things said online, would never be said in a real world, face-to-face scenario. Remember this, and don’t fall for troll-bait meant to trap you into an awkward circumstance. Always take the high-road.
It’s easy to go too far in an online discussion reacting to comments meant simply to provoke you. Take a deep breath. Go for a walk and ignore the trolls. You’re looking for meaningful engagement and discussion. Let trolling roll of your back. No need to engage.
Before every post, ask yourself how you would feel if asked to address what you said in front of a hiring manager. In short, never post anything that you don’t want coming back to haunt you.
9. Delete Old, Negative and Irrelevant Media
Track down old, negative and irrelevant media – everything from old Myspace profiles to possibly incriminating photos – and delete them. This may require contacting the websites hosting the material with a request to remove it or a requesting to access an old account.
While it’s not a bad idea to cultivate your existing profiles to your new brand image, you don’t want old drunken college photos or potentially insulting comments to come back to haunt you. Delete anything which could be perceived in the wrong light and make your personal accounts private unless they are completely aligned with your company or personal brand goals.
An easy way to locate content that you might not want to have online is to do an image search of your name. What comes up? If there is anything there that would make you think twice if you were a potential client; delete, delete, delete.
Sift through all your old social media profiles and photos to remove what you wouldn’t want to represent your current personal brand and avoid posting new content that doesn’t show you in a positive light.
10. Inspect What You “Like”
On profiles like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and any other website that allows you to “like” or publicly favorite posts, inspect what your name is associated with and unlike things that you don’t want to endorse under your personal brand. This is an easy mistake to make and even easier to overlook. Often times people half-read a post before liking it and then don’t think twice about their “like” history. Keep in mind that liking a post will always be viewed as an endorsement. In a way it’s the same as publishing the post yourself. Always be sure that whatever you are liking online is private and that you have read and understood the implications of the post.
Just as with other media cleanups, keep this in mind before clicking the ‘like’ button in the future. One mindless thumbs up could come back to tarnish your image in the future.
You want to engage with other meaningful content, but in a way that will never undermine your professionalism. Don’t ever hit the like button on any post or article that you could wind up regretting. Take the time to make a conscious decision about what you are supporting online.
11. Fact Check Everything
Just as you shouldn’t click the like button on things you don’t want to endorse, don’t post anything online without fact checking it first. Posting outdated or fake news story can easily tarnish your credibility which in turn serves to damage your reputation. When it comes to publishing fake facts online, people are often fooled and the internet doesn’t forgive until the next mistake comes along.
Fact checking sources will help you avoid tarnishing your reputation with a thoughtless post.
It’s amazing to thing that there is an entire industry dedicated to “fake news.” Remember. Everyone is out for a click and for some bloggers that’s all the matters. Be careful quoting material that hasn’t been verified. Websites like Snopes.com can give you a great idea about the amount of inaccurate, misleading, or simply false information being spread around the web and passed off as fact. When retweeting on Twitter or Tweet quoting, be sure that the account is the actual person that it claims to be. Often, the most credible journalists and influencers have dozens of fake accounts made by others just to post misinformation and pass it off as real. Don’t fall for one of the oldest tricks in the book.
12. Keep Your Privacy Settings High
Keeping your privacy settings restricted is probably one of the most important precautions that you can take online. Making sure you restrict your social media post visibility to friends only and disallowing tagging, is probably the easiest precaution to take, yet the most overlooked.
If you don’t have time to peruse every like, post, photo and comment about yourself, consider setting all your privacy settings across the board so no one who isn’t on your friends list can see your profile or interact with your comments or photots. Once your personal profiles are hidden (or deleted, if you’d like), make new profiles and be discriminating about what you put your name on.
Your personal social media profiles should have privacy settings to stay out of sight of your boss, coworkers and anyone who isn’t in your immediate circle. Even if your friends include coworkers, it’s playing with fire when professional and personal lives intersect online. Often, it’s simply not worth the risk.
13. Separate the Personal and the Professional
If you don’t have separate personal and professional profiles by now, it’s time to make them. Networking with professional associates is a positive thing for your career and it shouldn’t be avoided in the name of privacy.
With the growing trend of social recruiting (recruitment based on social media profiles), a professional profile could be the key to your career success. It’ll also let you worry less about what you post on your high-privacy personal account and selectively choose what you want on your professional profiles.
Keeping your personal and professional online footprint separate is never a bad idea.
14. Become an Expert
Becoming an expert or a thought leader in whatever field you focus on professionally will help improve your image and push down existing negative content. Attend seminars, take courses, and otherwise continue educating yourself in your field. Share your thoughts, look for speaking opportunities and establish a voice in your professional community. Remember, it’s all about content and first page online real-estate. The more high-quality content you are producing, the higher the chances are that you will begin to control the first page of your Google results with sites that you control.
When you become an expert, your recent posts and presentations will rank higher on Google, helping polish your front-page image while also boosting your career prospects, in many cases, helping you get ahead in your respective field.
15. Seek Positive Publicity
Not so sure about giving presentations and putting yourself in the spotlight? If you have negative content about you online, seeking positive publicity is an excellent way to reshape your online reputation. What you need to do will vary according to what field you’re in, but a bit of solid research should give you a heading.
Talking with an ORM specialist can be one of the first positive steps you take towards controlling your reputation. Even if the idea of working with an online reputation management company in 2018 is not something that you are ready to commit to, speaking with a professional can help you get an idea of what lies ahead and help motivate you to begin taking the steps that you can control to start managing your own reputation.
An ORM specialist can help you decide whether positive publicity is critical for your campaign and give you a better idea of how to approach it. From volunteering with local organizations and supporting community causes to offering training seminars, you’ll likely have an array of options.
16. Monitor Your Name
Set up a Google alert to monitor your name – you’ll get notifications whenever something about you appears online and you’ll be able to address it quickly. This is especially useful for business owners who are monitoring for new reviews and customer comments. Also this is a great way to get industry news relevant to your field. Setting up alerts is a great way to let Google do the leg-work for you if you don’t think you’ll have the time to manually search relevant news.
Business owners should also monitor the name of their company and any products or services they provide. This is an easy way to keep in the loop and never miss out on important information relevant to you or your industry.
17. Address Criticism When Necessary
Facing criticism, especially for individual online reputation management, can feel intimidating. If handled correctly, though, a positive response to a negative comment or post can make you look better. Be objective and consider who/where you are professionally to help you better assess when criticism needs to be addressed or as a professional for their opinion.
According to a recent study, 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. Analysts also forecast that by 2020 a purchaser’s customer experience will overtake price points and product as the key brand differentiator.
If you’re not letting an ORM specialist handle responding to criticism, research any potential legal or privacy issues that might relate to your career before responding.
18. Be Transparent
Transparency is more important today than ever. The modern world places information about everyone and everything just a click away, and people who aren’t transparent are usually found out. In the past it was enough to bury your head in the sand or let a bad press cycle blow over. The world would move on. With the internet bad links and press are often permanent, for better or worse. In addition, everyone has an immediate voice to be broadcasted across social media. There is not room or tolerance for being anything less than honest in a press landscape driven by the near immediate speed of the internet. Accepting responsibility and being transparent in your actions is the correct course of action.
Though being transparent is difficult, avoiding transparency places you at an even greater risk if you’re in any sort of professional role.
Again, if you’re not trusting your media to a professional, research the legality and privacy acts related to your field and manage your content accordingly – in short, familiarize yourself with what should and shouldn’t be shared.
19. Set Realistic Goals
Even when handled by a trained team of experts, online reputation management takes time. Google updates every few weeks, not every few days, and it uses complex algorithms to decide what to keep on the front page. One or two days of hard work and posting will not be enough to push down negative media and fix your image. Realistically, one or two months might not be enough.
Evaluate where you are and where you would like to be, and then set a realistic timeframe.
You’re now part of a small percentage of people who not only are aware of their online reputations, but who know how to improve it. With a better understanding of the potential impact of just one post, you’ll be able to navigate the online world with more security than before, thus keeping your image better maintained. That doesn’t mean it has to be all up to you, though.
20. Take a Deep Breath
Having a negative article or bad press published about you or your business can be enough to induce a full on a panic attack. Don’t worry! It gets better. Keep in mind that other people just like you go through this everyday. There’s always negative news cycles popping up and replacing the last one to come before it. It’s the same thing with negative reviews. Once you recognize this is just an everyday aspect of the internet, the easier it will be to have some perspective on your unique situation.
Although you may feel like the world is crashing down and have the immediate feeling that you need negative reviews or press to go away now, don’t get caught up in the emotions surrounding negative search results. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed or don’t know where to get started, we’re here to help.
21. Flood Social Media Accounts with Positive Photos
Earlier we mentioned to keep your personal social media accounts private as a surefire way to ensure that negative content from old posts or embarrassing photographs don’t come back to haunt you. In some cases the damage may already be done and even if you retroactively make your accounts private and delete any potentially embarrassing material, the content may still exists on other sites that you have no control over. One way to counterbalance the existence of negative photos or video is to create new public social media accounts and flood them with positive pictures and media.
I have a friend who is a very successful real estate agent in a small community where people talk as soon as someone walks by. This friend, let’s just say, has calmed down a lot since his high-school and college days but his old friends seem to not let a day go by to remind him of his wilder times on Facebook. For this reason, he created two pages, one which is public and client facing where all comments are moderated and the photos are professional and groomed, and the other with his high-school and college friends where “anything goes” so to speak.
Remember, if you have negative photos appearing in search results online, the idea is to push these down in search results with positive content. That means new photos to push down the old ones. You don’t have to hire a professional photographer, this can all be done on any recent smart phone. Spend a day and capture new, good looking photos. Have a great one already from last year where you look amazing at a formal event? That’s perfect. Upload. Upload. Upload. For every one negative image that appears online, post ten more positive ones to public social media sites. Since social media accounts have strong relevancy in search algorithms, the chances are that if you post enough public images these will dilute the negative ones which already exist.
22. Don’t Shy Away From Online Conversation
With all of this talk about protecting your reputation and NOT engaging in practices that damage all the hard work that you have done, it’s easy to forget that as much as it’s about not doing things, online reputation management is also about engagement. While you don’t want to feed the trolls and get baited into a sticky online discussion, you shouldn’t shy away from online discourse. If someone has a disagreement with you, responding in a professional, positive way is never a bad thing. While there is a lot of negative sentiment online, there exists also the opportunity to engage with an endless number of like-minded individuals. You can and should be doing this. It’s ok to show personality online, you don’t want to come across as cold and apathetic. A positive reputation is built by showing others what kind of person you are.
23. Apologize When Wrong
The internet can be one of the most brutal places in existence in terms of what people say to one another. Things which would be completely out-of-bounds in even the most heated social arguments are fair game online under the anonymity and safety of behind a computer screen. It’s easy to cross the line and say hurtful and inappropriate things. If the internet gets the best of you and you have found yourself on the wrong side of an argument, it’s best to simply swallow the bitter pill and apologize. Nobody likes being wrong. More so, nobody likes admitting that they were wrong. It’s amazing how many public apologies are botched for this reason. Apologies, that don’t accept responsibility, shift the blame on others, marginalize those affected, or don’t accept a complete admittance to having made a mistake, doesn’t qualify as an apology.
24. No Online Presence is NOT a Positive Reputation
A common misunderstanding in reputation management is that no online information equals a positive reputation. On the contrary, if your name is not showing up prominently in search results, this can either lead to confusion or raise a red flag to online searchers. Often, clients reach out to us because when someone searches their name, another person shows up who in turn has negative search results. This is obviously not ideal for someone looking for a job, doing prospective business, or any other situation where a person may be searched online.
Remember: building a positive online presence is the goal. If a person can’t find anything about you online, this in turn raises a red flag. Either this person is insignificant or has something to hide. Work towards populating the front page of Google with relevant positive material and don’t be satisfied with neutral or no relevant content concerning your search results.
Bonus Section: Online Privacy & Security Tips
It’s unfathomable in 2019 with the amount of high-profile security hacks that otherwise savvy internet users still prone bad habits when it comes to protecting their online accounts and personal data. In a recent survey, 55% of IT employees were guilty of using the same passwords at work as in their personal lives. It seems when it comes to cyber-security, we don’t always practice what we preach. According to Verizon, 81% of data breaches used either stolen and/or weak passwords. Use the simple tips below to protect your information.
Set Strong Passwords
The first and most important precaution may sound familiar but it cannot be stressed enough how essential it is to use strong and varying passwords for each site which requiring a login. Use more than eight characters in a non-traditional sequence and never use the same password across sites. Register for a password manager like LastPass to keep your passwords organized.
Don’t Use Predictable Security Answers
It’s often a natural reaction when setting up security questions to tell the truth. Unfortunately, this leads to a surplus of predictable responses which effectively rolls out the red carpet for would be hackers and data thieves. As it turns out a lot of other people’s very first girlfriend’s name was “Jenny.” You get the drift. Don’t answer security questions in predictable ways. The first step in bolstering your security question strength is to pick harder questions. Choose something where the answer may not be readily available in data aggregator sites like White Pages or Radaris. Skip questions like “What was the name of the street where you grew up?” or “What is your father’s middle name?” Remember, you don’t have to be truthful here, you are protecting your privacy and talking to a machine. Once you settle on a strong response, keep this information private and inaccessible to everyone except you.
HTTP vs HTTPS
You may have already guessed what the “S” in HTTPS stands for. Yes! That’s right. Secure. When you are navigating the internet it’s easy to lose track of the URL you are visiting. Fortunately, browsers like Google Chrome will let you know when you are visiting an unsecure site. If a site is HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) then the language from your computer to the website’s server is uncrypted and prone to hacks. Never enter any information like credit cards or personal data on an HTTP site. On the contrary, the communications between your computer and website with HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) is encrypted. Stick to sites that are HTTPS.
Be Wary of Public Wi-Fi
While the idea of free public wi-fi is convenient and useful, the reality of it’s security concerns often outweigh the benefits. The unsecure nature of an open wi-fi network is a breeding ground for would-be hackers and data thieves. If you have to use public wi-fi with your cinnamon latte, disable file sharing and automatic log-ins to open networks. Since unsecured wi-fi networks require no authentication to create a network connection, this creates a distinct opportunity for hackers to identify and take advantage unsecure devices on the same network. In the most popular forms of free wi-fi hacking, the culprit will establish themselves as a sort of middleman between your computer and the server, and all of your login information that is transmitted will first go to the hacker.
Enable Two-Factor Authentication Where You Can
One of the safest ways to protect your accounts is to enroll in two-factor authentication, where once you enter your credentials on the site you are visiting, you will then be prompted to to verify the login through your phone or by other means. Although this is sometimes a real pain, (especially when you want to check to see if you have enough money to buy tacos but your phone is dead) it’s a solid idea to enable two-factor authentication for your most important login details, such as your bank account and main email account.
Don’t Open Suspicious Email Attachments
While your personal inbox may feel like home, it’s important to stay vigilant against potential attacks. Gmail does a great job of filtering spam and suspicious emails but what happens when one of your contacts gets hacked? We’ve all gotten the messages on Facebook or follow-up emails from the unsuspecting victims who have fallen prey to an email hack. “Hey if you get an email from me asking for money please ignore it, my email was hacked. I’m safe and sound in Kennebunkport, Maine.” One of the reason’s why this method of hacking and phishing is so successful is that people have built up trust within their contacts. When you see a familiar email address, more often than not, you assume it is from that person– up until the point where they are stranded in a foreign country and need financial assistance.
A good smell check is enough to weed out most phishing emails. If something seems off, it probably is. If you are unsure, message the person on social media or send them a quick text asking them if they in fact are somewhere stranded in Southeast Asia. They may thank you for this later. In any case, do not download attachments that you 100% cannot verify the sender. You may find yourself opening a Malware attachment and waking up to a massive hacking headache.