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How to lift your personal online reputation

01 Jun, 2020 Careers, Reputation, trust, stakeholder relations, Social media

Traditional communication strategies will enable the organization to build its reputation with traditional audiences, but the internet brings the dimension of online reputation into play. The internet provides instant information about almost any organization, product, or service – and also about many individuals.

After several aspects of online reputation are covered below, you can gain vital insights into what you can do to thoroughly check and act to boost your own personal online reputation.

Social media now provide a platform to enable people to pass judgment about topics and other people without their views being filtered. They can instantly share their opinions with literally any one of the hundreds of millions of users around the world. It is a highly volatile environment.

Millennials

Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are people born in the years 1980 to 2000, ie they are young adults aged 20-40, approximately, in 2020. Millennials are the largest generation in the US population, having overtaken the Baby Boomers a few years ago. They are the first generation in history who have grown up immersed in a world of digital technology. They are also the most active generation in social media. Although they are the generation most aware of social media, Millennials may not be fully aware of all the steps they can take to strengthen their online image and to fend off criticism. The tips in this article will help Millennials and everyone else to strengthen and protect their social media presence.

Reputation influencers

Google is not just a search engine; it is a reputation influencer. Google sorts information about every site on the web so that the highest-quality hits reach the top of the list on search result pages. Google derives its estimates of a website’s quality from the number of other sites that link to it as well as algorithms that give greater weight to links from the more important and relevant sites. By publishing its search results pages, Google in effect runs a real-time measure of the reputation of any person or organization, as well as brand perceptions.

Ebay keeps reputation ratings on all the people who offer items for sale on its website. After buying an item, the buyer can return to the site and rate the seller on promptness of shipping and whether the item sold matched its description. The results are visible for anyone who wants to look.

Epinions collects user feedback, reviews and ratings for a wide range of products and services. People like this independent service in which any user can guide any other user to good products with candid advice and can warn them against problem suppliers. It is also highly successful.

These sites, and many others, enable all kinds of people to voice their views. Blogs are an obvious case, along with text and image-based social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit, and thousands of discussion boards.

The other thing about online reputations and stakeholder opinions is that once they are picked up by Google and other search engines they don’t disappear from the web – they haunt cyberspace!

Social media power in action

Social media participants need to tell the truth in their messages. Otherwise, they can be quickly exposed for falsehoods. Here are a couple of examples where people have made false claims and have been quickly ‘sprung’!

Example 1. below.

This customer claimed a bakery staff member “started yelling” at her toddler for misbehaving. In her social media message she said – “Will no longer support.” The bakery’s CCTV camera showed the toddler was misbehaving by kicking a display “about 8 times,” and the staff member had actually spoken politely. Great response from the bakery owner, which would have impressed other customers.

Source: Reddit.

Example 2. below.

The man with the sunglasses claimed he was “Stuck in traffic” as he was driving to work or perhaps to a meeting. What he didn’t realize was an enlargement of the reflection from his sunglasses clearly showed there was hardly traffic at all on the road. Didn’t help his reputation!

Source: Reddit.

How to boost your personal online reputation ranking

Your online reputation can impact every aspect of your life, both personal and professional. Employers, coworkers, romantic interests,  hiring managers, and prospective business partners will most likely search you online before making any decisions about you.

Potential employers probe through the internet for possible red flags about your career and skills. Three quarters of recruiters and HR professionals have rejected a candidate based on search engine results, and 93% of searchers never venture past the first page.

Tips for boosting your personal online reputation

Status Labs have written an excellent guide to online personal reputation management, containing more than 20 worthwhile tips. I have adapted their tips for this article, so you can read how to shape what people see about you online.

1. Google yourself

Every day, over one billion names are searched on Google and most job recruiters are required to Google the names of potential employees during the hiring process. When we want to learn more about another person, the first place we turn is the internet, and Google is the top search engine for this. If you have Googled yourself lately, you’re among the 75% of the population who wants to know what kind of online reputation you have. Be warned – nearly 50% of people don’t like what they find.

Check through the images and results on the first few pages. Find what’s out there that people can see. If you are able to find something about yourself, you can be certain that others will also be able to find old links and images about you. 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.

Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to ensure you make a good impression when someone Googles you. Go to the BrandYourself website, which shows you the clear, detailed steps below, which the consultancy has developed that enable you to assess your current online reputation and what you can do to lift your positive ranking. (It’s definitely a commercial website, but by clicking on the ‘Resources’ heading you can find their Online Reputation Management Guide, Personal Branding Guide plus blogs and other useful free pages.)

2. Review your personal brand and goals

Make a list of positive traits and images you want your online profile 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 frequently. Don’t squabble online with others, or take critical criticism personally. The most critical feedback can be the hardest to take, but useful for deciding what to do in future to reduce it.

Also, identify the biggest influencers in your field. How are they using social media to interact with their followers? You can learn a lot by understanding what they do. Building your personal brand can take time but by observing popular influencers, you can learn and apply habits and techniques that have made others successful..

3. Claim and create social media profiles

Changing your online reputation means you must review social media because most of the population use it. For instance, 72% of the US population were actively using social media to connect with each other in 2019, according to the Pew Research Center – and there were 4.6 billion internet users in the world in 2020, according to internet live stats. Find out through Google searches what the best social media outlets best suit your purposes. You don’t have the resources to run many accounts simultaneously, so prioritize the ones most relevant to your personal and professional life.

Build social media profiles for yourself, post a recent positive photo of yourself and a develop a bio that contains elements of your personal brand you would like to highlight. While you are joining new social media sites, don’t forget to make your personal sites private and delete any unflattering photos that may still be in your old accounts. Keep track of each profile, make a list of different social media accounts you have joined and clean up old profiles to reflect the new online image you wish to present. Also, you may want to change your settings to ensure all 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 make the difference in getting a job.

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. This action will protect you against someone else possibly pretending to be you. This helps you to take up valuable page 1 Google real estate in addition to safe-guarding yourself against fraud and mistaken identity.

4. Start a blog

Blogging boosts your online reputation. Regular, useful blog posts written well will demonstrate your expertise in your chosen field. Remember: you’re trying to generate as much content as you can for the first page of Google. Content coming from you holds high SEO value, especially for your name as a keyword. As you increase your audience, guest posting on other relevant blogs provides great exposure and will strengthen your online reputation. You could offer to write guest blogs on other people’s blogs and vice versa. Just remember to keep your content relevant to your field and interesting for both audiences.

Writing good original content relating to your field is tremendously important. Writing about your experience; how you got started, 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. 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 one of your goals. Draft a list of potential topics for blog posts, read about how to create and run a blog and generally prepare yourself for launching into the social media world.

5. Register your name as a domain

Registering your name protects you from someone else controlling your name online. For instance, I was too late to claim the domain name of “Kim Harrison.” A female author got there first and has successfully used the name, which isn’t even hers. It’s a pseudonym! Grr! Her real name is Dawn Cook, and she writes ‘urban fantasy’ with titles like Dead Witch Walking!.

Buy and develop the .com with your name on it if you can, and also do this for common variations of your name, if you can. 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 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 filling your domains with content. Firstly, simply owning them is the most important thing at the start. An easy way to reduce the possibility 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 you have several social media accounts, at least one domain name, a plan for a blog and an idea of the work and a topic plan, you need to plan 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 about a posting schedule is to get into the routine of posting at certain times in a day. 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 when you will be posting. 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. Developing a set posting schedule will help you maintain good routine with your blog.

Another important idea is how each social media site varies from the others. For instance, what you post on Twitter should be different from Facebook. Your Facebook audiences will expect longer form content and fewer posts, while Twitter audiences will engage better with shorter form posts more frequently. You can also use Google to look up articles about the most effective posting frequencies. 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 posting 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

Adjust the settings on your blog and social media posts so you can screen comments whenever possible. If not, moderate any comments that you receive and respond positively to them. You could consider asking 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, view 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, just let them pass by and use 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 are very active on social media, you will probably have opportunities to debate online. Resist the urge to respond emotionally, angrily, defensively or in ways that aren’t positive, polite, and professional. You can never win from arguing online. Always take the high road and don’t let your emotions get away from you. Overall, never post anything that you could come back to haunt you. (Photo, right, by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash.)

9. Delete old, negative and irrelevant media

Track down old, negative and irrelevant items about you – and delete them. You may need to contact the websites hosting the material with a request to remove it or a requesting to access an old account. You don’t want old outrageous college photos or potentially insulting comments to come back to haunt you. Many aspiring politicians fall at the first hurdle when opponents identify such material and raise it against them.

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 it fast.

10. Inspect what you ‘like’

On profiles like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and any other website that allows you to ‘like’ or have 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, people only 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. It’s almost the same as publishing the post yourself. Always be sure that whatever you are ‘liking’ online is private and that you have read enough of a post to understand possible ways it could be misinterpreted. 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 wouldn’t want to be seen endorsing, don’t post anything online without fact checking it first. Posting an outdated or fake news story can easily tarnish your credibility which in turn will damage your reputation.

An entire industry generates ‘fake news,’ but at least websites like Snopes.com can give you a good idea about inaccurate, misleading, or false information being spread around the web and passed off as fact. When retweeting on Twitter or Tweet quoting, be sure that the sender is the actual person they claim to be. Often, fakers use fake accounts in the names of the most credible journalists and influencers to post misinformation, and pass it off as real.

12. Keep your privacy settings high

Keeping your privacy settings restricted is one of the most important precautions that you can take online. Restricting your social media post visibility to friends only and disallowing tagging, is probably the best precaution to take, yet often overlooked. If you are pressed for time, consider setting all your privacy settings so only people on your friends list can see your profile or interact with your comments or photos.

13. Separate the personal from 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, especially on LinkedIn, could lead to your career success. And you will worry less about your posts on your high-privacy personal account, and can selectively choose what you want on your professional profiles.

14. Seek positive publicity

If there is some negative content about you online, seeking positive publicity is an excellent way to reshape your online reputation. Promoting yourself online and offline can be a major step forward. What you need to do will vary according to the field you’re in, but some research should give you a lead. Talking with an online reputation management specialist can be one of the first positive steps you take towards controlling your reputation. At the least, you can discuss with a professional who can help you get a better idea of what would be involved in strengthening your reputation.

15. Monitor your name

Set up a Google Alert (example opposite), and/or a Talkwalker Alert to monitor your name online and offline. It’s easy and simple, as you can see in the example. You can receive notifications daily whenever something about you appears online, which you can respond to quickly. I have set up both free services. Although they are not 100% comprehensive, they give you are good indication of what is being said online. This is also a great way to get industry news relevant to your field. This is an easy way to keep in the loop and not miss out on information relevant to you or your industry.

Recent court cases prove you should monitor your name

Recent court cases in Australia underline the importance of tracking your own name and the name of your business if you are a small business owner. An accountant took up his case in July 2020 against Google, fighting to pit his small business against the anonymity of the internet. He tried to get Google to remove a brief anonymous review of his business, as well as two wordless one-star reviews from internet users he does not believe have been clients of his firm. “I’m trying to build a business, but with literally a keystroke they can destroy you,” he said. “It’s not fair.” A justice in the federal Australian court agreed the court could and should hear the case.

This follows other cases where plaintiffs have taken their cases to court, and won. In February, a lawyer won a $500,000 defamation payout against a woman who had never been a client but gave his firm a bad review on Google. Then, in April, Google was ordered to pay $30,000 in damages for defaming a lawyer, who successfully sued over web searches that brought up his name in relation to associations with gangland figures. The Justice ruled Google was a publisher, despite denials by the company.

16. Respond to criticism when necessary

Facing criticism, especially to protect your own online reputation, can feel intimidating. However, a positive response to a negative comment or post can make you look better. Be objective and consider who you can contact to give you more perspective on assessing when criticism needs to be addressed. Or you can ask an online reputation management professional for their opinion.

According to a recent study, 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. Analysts also forecast a purchaser’s customer experience will overtake price points and product as the key brand differentiator of the future.

17. 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, you could usually let a bad press cycle blow over. The world would move on. In the internet world, bad links and bad press can stay permanently in view. In addition, everyone has an immediate voice on social media. Accepting responsibility and being transparent in your actions is the correct course of action.

18. Set realistic goals

Establishing and repairing online reputation takes time, even when handled by experts. Evaluate where you are and what your goals are – and where you would like to be – and then set a realistic timeframe. Only a few people are aware of their online reputation, and even fewer 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 in better shape.

19. Distribute positive photos to social media accounts

 I mentioned earlier to keep your personal social media accounts private to ensure negative content from old posts or embarrassing photos don’t come back to haunt you. In some cases, old posts or such photos still exist on other accounts that you can’t control. One way to counter the existence of negative photos or video is to create new public social media accounts and flood them with positive pictures and media.

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 using new, flattering 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. Since social media accounts are strongly relevant in search algorithms, new positive images will outweigh any existing negative ones and will push them back in the online pages.

20. Apologize when wrong

Since social media channels are immediate and impersonal ways of communicating, people can say things that would be completely out-of-bounds in person, but we all are fair game online behind the anonymity and safety of a computer screen. If you say something online that you regret, it’s best to swallow hard and apologize. Nobody likes admitting they were wrong, and they tend to botch their public apologies are botched. When you make an ‘apology’ in which you don’t accept responsibility, try to shift the blame on others, marginalize those affected, or don’t completely admit to making a mistake, then you haven’t actually apologized, and other parties’ respect for you will drop even further.

Quick YouTube video responses are effective

YouTube is a huge search engine, and popular YouTube videos show up within Google’s search results. So it makes sense to produce a video response to any online claims against you, and publish your response on YouTube. In preparing a YouTube response video, keep these points in mind:

  • Use targeted keywords and phrases within your video’s content.
  • Title the video response the same name as the attack, adding “brand name responds” to the title.
  • Publish the video to YouTube as well as to your corporate website and/or blog with good, keyword-rich text to support it.
  • Share it as much as possible on social media.
  • Ask your fans and followers to share it as well.

Photo at top by Austin Distel on Unsplash.

About the author Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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