When we present at a conference, participate on a panel, author an article, or be interviewed by the media, it is more than likely to be memorialized on the Interweb. A line in the movie, Social Network, said, ‘’The Internet is not written in pencil, it is written in ink.”
Many professionals are generally lassiez-faire with their online visibility, impression, and especially their reputations. This becomes problematic when we most need our professional and personal reputation to be to our benefit at critical junctures in our careers when we most need to rely on digital perceptions of us.
You can find companies that specialize in reputation management online. They do everything from proactive enhancement and protection to professional and personal damage control and triage. The latter is where reputation management is a critical challenge. But, we can all take some simple steps to neutralize problems, improve our reputations, and ultimately grow our professional brands.
Here are examples of real reputation pitfalls that can befall any of us on the interweb and how they were successfully resolved.
You are Tarnished by Association
A number of years ago a clients was aCFO for a high profile, growing technology company that was expanding business into foreign markets. Apparently, the CEO was bribing in-country connections in order to make that happen. My client resigned his role as CFO and left the company prior to the CEO’s activities. However, he was brought in to testify to the SEC. All the SEC records are public online. When my client Googled his name, the SEC records with his name came up first at the top of the search results. In fact they made up most of the first screen.
The challenge was to eliminate the offending links and posts in Google. The only way to do that is by leveraging Google’s algorithm by adding information about you in a format that will rank higher on a name search than what is already there.
To push down information in PDF formats and other legal documents, the easiest thing to do is to add social networking profiles, personal website, and a blog. In fact, add as many as your time and attention permits. Quora.com is a great site to start with after Linkedin.com as seem to pop up on a Google name search at the top page.
You Don’t Exist
A very successful technology sales executive in Europe wanted to raise his visibility, profile and image for a job search. The problem was that he simply did not exist on Google. No record came up with his name on it in a search.
In this case, we could be very selective in terms of what we added about him and focused on building a brand about his current accomplishments and achievements. We paid careful attention to writing eye-catching content that created a persona and image for this executive from scratch. These included not just profiles on social networking sites but his articles strategically placed on relevant sites, and quoted interviews in the online media.
Your Private Life Becomes Public
A high profile finance executive living in the Washington, DC, environs, was visible on Google with too much of private life. A name search on Google revealed information on his political donations, a property dispute with neighbors, and a real estate database listing the $5,000,000 he had paid for his home.
A professional website rises to the top of a Google search and holds down all other information better than social networks, media references, published articles, and podcasts. A website has multiple pages and each page can show up in a search on your name. Of course this implies that the site is not in a made-up business name but in your own name.
You have Mistaken Identity
Then there was the French business development vice president who could never get to the top of a Google search because his name was the same as a famous movie star. It was nearly impossible to beat both Wikipedia.com and IMDB.com who will be at the top of any name search. I say nearly because it is certainly not impossible as we got this VP at number three below the above mentioned mega sites.
If you don’t own your name as a URL you forfeit your visibility to others. In the case of this vice president, the famous movie star relied on other sites for his self-promotion and did not own his name in .com, .net, .info. My client bought the most common URLs for his name that were available at the time. By pointing 5 URLs to his professional website and blog, he was able to rank above Wikipedia and IMDB.
An executive mistakenly jumped into a short-term CEO assignment to turn around a fishing harvesting, processing and distribution company in South America. Though his prior career experience had been in the petro-chemical sector, all that showed up in a current Google search on him was fish, fish, and more fish.
The blog is a secret weapon in a reputation management arsenal. Every time a new posting is entered, it brings the blog up to the top of a Google search under your name. What did this savvy executive write about? He established brand reputation and reputation credibility in his original market sector. It was easy for anyone searching on his name in Google to read the postings from his blog at the top of the screen and scroll down past the fish entries to his petrochemical experience.
You are your reputation
The bottom-line about your online reputation is that if you don’t take control of it, somebody else will do that for you. You are viewed globally. Your presentation should match that audience.