How to Save Your Online Reputation

Keep Track of Your Online Reputation

Goal: Make tracking part of your everyday routine.

Start by identifying the most likely places online for your name to come up. Google dominates the search engine market, and it’s also where the media looks first, according to ad firm Universal McCann.

Identify blogs and forums within your professional circle, as well as popular social networking sites that you, colleagues, or competitors use. Then there are networking sites ― LinkedIn and Facebook are frequently used to check character references, and Facebook tends to rank high on Google, too.

Emerging social sites such as Twitter are increasingly important because of their viral potential. Twitter “makes it easy for people to quickly express their inner monologue. And it is very easy for others to spread it around,” says Andy Beal, co-author of Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online.

Last, ensure the biography on your corporate Web site is accurate and fair. Check corporate sites of places you’ve worked; it’s unhelpful to have outdated information online.

Once you’ve identified the sites you want to monitor, set up alerts. You can set up a Google alert at google.com/alerts for your full name. Subscribe with your full name to Technorati.com, a blog search engine, and BackType, a blog comment search engine, to reach blogs that Google alerts may not cover. Twitter tools abound: Tweetdeck, Thwirl, or TweetGrid are a few. Most have — or are building — clients that work on smartphones such as the Apple iPhone and the BlackBerry, and all let you tailor your searches so you can follow mentions of you in real time.

Another tool worth considering is Twinbox, which lets you track what’s being said on Twitter via Microsoft Outlook. Dan Schawbel, a personal brand specialist and author of Me 2.0:Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success, recommends Tweetbeat.com, which gives you notifications through e-mail when people talk about you on Twitter.

Checklist

What to Track

  • Search engines: Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft’s
  • Bing Blogosphere: Known blogs in your professional arena, or use blog search engines such as Technorati or Google Blog Search
  • Forums: Known discussion threads in your professional arena
  • Social networking sites: Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn
  • Microblogging sites: Twitter, Jaikuand Plurk, Social Mention
  • Personal rating sites: PersonRatings.com
  • Corporate Web sites: Your company, former places of work

Repair Your Online Reputation

Goal: Identify the nature of the attack and act accordingly.

Monitoring the Web won’t prevent an online attack. If you fall victim, don’t panic: Think before you respond. “If it’s an isolated incident, and no one has replied, you might consider letting sleeping dogs lie,” says Andy Beal. Likewise, Schawbel cautions against rising to the bait: “If someone is deliberately attacking you for fun, or ‘trolling,’ then leave it alone. They only want the attention,” he says.

Analyze what’s been said about you. If a blogger has their facts wrong, correct them ― most will quickly amend their post. If the criticism’s true, apologize using the same medium as the message. Give people a platform to complain to you where the original complaint was posted or on your own blog. Your willingness to engage is likely to win over the sceptics. It also reflects well on your own management style.

If the attack on you is a calculated campaign ― a post on a blog with a follow-up on Twitter ― then take action. If you’re being attacked professionally, you should alert the following:corporate stakeholders, including your boss; the company press officer; and the legal department.

Deal with the matter informally first. If you know the identity of your detractor, approach directly, offline. “You don’t want to do this in the public domain,” advises Beal.

In most cases people will remove the offending item from the blog or forum, but if they don’t, you can consider a more public approach. Be open, constructive, conciliatory, and willing to engage.Try something along these lines: Jim, I’ve already spoken to you about this, and as you know, what you are saying about me is inaccurate. I would like you to remove it. Meanwhile, if anyone out there reading this has any questions, this is how to reach me.

If this approach fails and comments against you are defamatory, you may need to speak to a lawyer.

One more thing: think before you fire off a salvo to a co-worker online. If you need an example, consider this fairly innocuous Facebook exchange between “Yvonne” and her manager, “Cheryl.” It takes on a new and unflattering life on Lamebook, a site that highlights “lame and funny” extracts from social networking sites for others to comment on.

Hot Tip

Don’t Mix Business and Leisure Online

Use separate social networking options for work and play ― Facebook for your friends and LinkedIn for professional contacts, for example. That way, a personal spat is less likely to spill over into your professional life. “Post a short explanation, saying: ‘I use this site for X or Y,’” suggests Tiger Two’s Nancy Williams. And, obvious as it may sound, you don’t have to accept everyone’s invitation to join your network.

Protect Your Online Reputation

Goal: Insulate yourself against attacks and build a brand that reflects the professional you.

So we’ve discussed the cure, what about prevention? The answer lies in building and maintaining your online brand. That way, any negative commentary is not the only news about you. “If those negative associations occur,” says John Purkiss, co-author of Brand You. “You want people to think, “‘Well, that’s absolutely out of character.’” You’ll put the burden of proof on your attackers.

The first step is to effectively “buy up” all the online property in your name. Whether or not you’re active on Twitter, LinkedIn, or have plans to set up a WordPress or Typepad blog, it is worth setting up accounts in each.

It is a defensive maneuver that, at the very least, stops someone else owning and abusing linkedin.com/joepublic, twitter.com/joepublic, joepublic.wordpress.com, and so on.

Next, identify advocates and encourage them to point to you online. That may mean writing a LinkedIn recommendation, a mention on their blog, or simply a link.

The more relevant the people with whom you’re linked, the stronger your “link equity” ― and the more likely you’ll appear on the first page of a Google search. Plus “it’s a lot easier to respond if you have a community to rally around you,” says Nancy Williams, founder of U.K.-based online reputation specialists Tiger Two.

Be proactive. Offer to blog and write articles about your specialist subjects for online publications that hit your current and future business associates. Earn a reputation as a “player” in your field. Get your name out there.

Essential Ingredients

Getting to Grips with SEO

If you want the positive to push out the negative on page one of Google, learn about search engine optimisation (SEO), the art of increasing the search engine traffic to your site or profile.

Purkiss has one last suggestion. If you are the author of your own downfall, try copying scandal-hit 1960s politician John Profumo, whose humiliating exit from politics was followed by a lifetime of philanthropy. Applying a 21st century twist to the Profumo Principle, Purkiss says: “Do lots of good stuff until the bad stuff is pushed to page six of Google.”

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