As the Facebook generation grows up and once rowdy college kids morph into successful professionals, it becomes absolutely vital to maintain a positive online image. The last thing a successful entrepreneur needs is those crazy high-school pictures or embarrassing videos ranking at the top of Google for his or her name.
Though it can be difficult to completely remove some material from the Internet, there are ways to hide incriminatory facts and prevent negative information from taking center stage. Here are five tips to get you started on analyzing and protecting your online reputation.
1. Be Aware of What is Out There
You can’t protect your image if you don’t know how you’re being portrayed on the Internet. Think back to any blogs, forums, or online publications that you might have contributed to in the past. Delete any inactive accounts and erase all immature or offensive comments. If you can’t figure out how to remove an outdated profile, contact the administrators for additional help.
You’ll also want to search your name in Google, Bing, Yahoo, and YouTube and see what comes up. Go 7-8 pages deep into the results to get a full understanding of what might be lurking out there. Again, remove anything you can, and take note of anything you can’t remove at the moment.
2. Set Up Google Alerts
Stay ahead of the curve and set up a Google notification for your name using the tool Google Alerts. Just as it is important to be aware of past online behavior, you also want to stay on top of current news as well. Google Alerts will notify you immediately if anything is written about you online. It doesn’t matter if you’re quoted in a local newspaper, or if your name is cited in a blog post or academic journal. If your name is attached to it, you will be alerted by Google right away so you can take action if necessary.
3. Monitor Social Media Accounts Closely
Either clean up your current social media profiles or set up new accounts in your name. It’s a good idea to have a presence on LinkedIn so potential employers can find you easily and you’re searchable in a professional sphere. Everyone these days seems to have a Facebook account so it’s fine if you’re on the network, but set strict privacy settings and make pictures and wall posts private. Accept friend requests cautiously and don’t post any photos at any time that don’t pass the “grandma test”. If there’s an online photo of you that’s too embarrassing for your grandmother to see, take it down. Your social profiles will generally rank very well in Google for your name, so make sure you have them in check.
4. Acquire A Personal URL (or a few)
Depending on your goals in life, it might be a good idea to snatch a domain with your name in it. If www.yourname.com is available, jump on it right away. But, domain names are becoming more and more scarce, so you may need to add a middle name, initial, or some other word to find something that is available.
Once you have the domain, you can set up a simple site for yourself using WordPress or even a hosted service like Flavors.me. Since it is your personal brand, the site should live forever, even if you move on from a job or sell your company. Thus, put some effort into it to make it a great selling tool for yourself.
5. Be Proactive
More and more CEOs are the public face of their companies. Lead by example and demonstrate your passion and expertise for your brand and industry by actively participating on Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn. No matter how busy you are, your clients, employees, vendors, and prospects will appreciate your input and be reminded of your expertise. These accounts will rank on the top of Google search results and push down any negative, old, or outdated content.
There might be circumstances where even the most hidden photo or most obscure article comes to light, because secrets rarely stay secrets when you’re in the public spotlight. But when it comes to the professional space, it’s just smart to clean up your online image.
By taking these steps to protect and improve your personal brand, you help set yourself on the path to success.
Do you have any stories or experiences with managing an online reputation? We’d love to hear them in the comments.
This is a guest post by Brian Patterson, an under-30 partner at digital branding firm Go Fish Digital based out of Washington, DC. Brian is passionate about all things digital branding, from online reputation management to search engine optimization.
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