Your digital reputation is what’s known about you through the power of the internet. It pays to make sure that it’s the best it can be and doesn’t undermine you professionally or personally.
But what is out there and how can you control it?
The Reputation Economy
Michael Firtek’s book The Reputation Economy paints a bleak picture of how all the information you intentionally (or otherwise) put out there can be aggregated and used to build a reputation score. That’s every click, every tweet, every like or comment. And every transaction and picture of you.
Firtek is writing from a US perspective. If you live in Europe then there’s more protection and you have rights in how your personal data is held and used. So depending on where you live it might not be that bad or is it?
Managing what you can control
An anecdote from a friend shows us that whilst we can worry about what other’s our doing (according Edward Snowden the UK government can take over your smart-phone) it’s what we do ourselves that can be the most destructive. The story is a that a job offer to another party was withheld because of the publicly available content on Facebook.
Social media is being checked by hiring managers but don’t expect to be told that it’s the reason you didn’t get the job.
Indeed I’ve seen on-line job application processes that allow you to add your social media details. Before you volunteer that information you need to think if it’s an asset or a liability. And no social media might not present the right image either.
It’s too easy to be negative
Another story I came across is that of a local café that didn’t like the comments it received about how it was displaying it cakes. The online war of words that ensued made the national press. PR consultants were hired for something that should have been dealt with quickly and quietly. I’m not sure either side of the argument looked great. The café has since ceased trading at that site.
The irresistible rise of social media means we can all be famous for 15 minutes but that fame remains on the internet. So it’s vital to ensure that what you’re putting out there is good for you because getting it wrong can be bad for you business, bad for your career and even bad for your relationships.
There is some strong psychology at play in the arena of online comments. Negative events have a stronger potency so we’re more likely to react to them than positive ones. There’s also a perception that negative remarks are perceived as “clever” and that it just takes effort to focus on positive things.
You’re never really anonymous
It used to be that you could do you’re on-line sniping with anonymity. There are though two things to consider. Firstly, your activity is always traceable, though there are limits to who can do this. It’s best to assume that at least the government knows what you’re up to and that companies have a clear idea what you’re doing on their sites.
Secondly, the fact is that comments sections are rapidly disappearing on-line. Social media shares and comments, with in particular Facebook, are the new order. This means that they cease to be anonymous unless you have set up a Facebook account to disguise who you really are which is against Facebook’s rules.
7 Steps to manage your digital reputation
So what should you do? Firtek usefully talks about how you can bury the bad news if you can’t clean it up. The message is that a good volume of positivity diminishes and puts a smoke screen over what’s less desirable. So here are 7 steps you should take to enhance your digital reputation.
1. Assume traceability
It’s best to assume everything you do on-line can be traced back to you. If you’ve been trolling (posting nasty remarks basically) away on social media even under an assumed identity then it could come back to bite. Ask yourself if what you are about to do was to become public knowledge then would you still do it?
If you never do anything you wouldn’t be ashamed to admit to then there’s nothing to worry about.
2. Stay safe
Don’t go anywhere on line that’s less than kosher. This is also the best way to stop malicious malware attacks. The Ashley Maddison scandal shows how your data might not be safe so always think about the worst case and don’t visit sites you shouldn’t. To this end switch on add blockers like Ghostery or Adblock Plus to remove adds that might lead you to the wrong places.
And then change the settings with your ISP (often promoted as protecting your family) to block adult content sites.
3. Sort out your Facebook account.
Either have a professional only Facebook account or don’t bother is my advice. A heavily used Facebook account is a can of worms if it contains inappropriate activity or even updates during work time. And if your “friends” are posting compromising pictures of you that could be traced to you – the facial recognition technology exists it’s just not being used as yet according to Firtek – that’s another worry.
At the very least do an immediate cull of any of your content that on sober reflection could be a little embarrassing and harmful to your digital reputation.
Remember to choose your real and Facebook friends carefully as the wrong associations can be unhelpful or even harmful if they’re the ones doing the unhelpful posting.
4. Put out plenty of positive stuff.
Make sure all you comments and likes are useful and helpful. Use negative feedback sparingly. Ebay (and now Uber and AirBnB) have taught us a lot about the two way review process. Your Ebay rating is a precious commodity so sort any issues out via communicating sensibly. Directly and privately rather than going straight to bad review is best for both parties.
There’s a case for never putting negative feedback out there. People tend to be more motivated to leave negative comments so there’ll be plenty of others already pointing out defects with services or products anyway.
Instead save your energies for praising those doing a good job who might not always get the positive feedback that they deserve. Don’t put anything out there that doesn’t help and therefore enhance your digital reputation.
5. Build great content that you can control.
It’s inexpensive and easy to have your own web page where you can showcase your professional talents. Using WordPress on a well recommend hosting service like Bluehost is a good start point.
A solid Linkedin profile that matches and corroborates your CV is expected by many recruiters now. You’ll look odd without one and it’s a great place to pull together all you achievements. And put a professional photo on that profile; not something from a party, holiday or sporting event, unless that’s you’re professional role.
6. Be informed as to what’s out there about you.
This is a two step process whereby you do a set of google searches of your name (include previous names and nicknames as well) combined with places you’ve lived and organisations you’ve been part of. This should give you a footprint of what is out there to clean-up.
The second part is use those search terms to set up google alerts so that if new content about you appears you’ll know pretty quickly.
7. Get unhelpful content removed by asking nicely.
There may be stuff out there that you can’t delete (though if you can, remember that it’ll be still stored somewhere no doubt). Don’t ever draw anyone’s attention to the stuff – the Streisand Effect means that just creates more interest and publicity. Instead ask whoever put it there to remove it. You can go as far, in Europe, to have Google remove data from searches.
And once you’ve cleaned up and started to build a great digital reputation don’t stop, keep at it. You need to keep reminding yourself on how public the internet can be and how much of it you may be touching.
It’s quite easy to end up with a long list of places where you have a presence so make sure you keep a list. It’s not just Facebook and Twitter, think about forums you visit, reviews on Amazon and Goodreads you’ve posted, as well as your photo steam on Flickr or Instagram.
Remember a great digital reputation is something you build, maintain and carefully guard.