5 Tips on How to Manage Your Online Reputation
Generally, most people passively spend their time consuming online content rather than creating or contributing to such content. However, as social media and the Internet become a greater part of our daily lives, so will our propensity to become active participants of this growing trend. As with everything, participation comes with a risk.
Whether you’ve been tagged in a photo, commented on a blog, or participated in a web forum, there are traces of you everywhere throughout the Internet. As our online personal presence grows, more and more of our personal information is released into the public abyss of the ever-expanding Internet. Free to float around the web, for all to see and use however they see fit.
At the click of a button you can tweet something seemingly harmless that ends up offending a friend or colleague. Or you can post a picture on Facebook perceived as unprofessional and inappropriate by a current or potential employer. Or a “friend” can post an embarrassing or unflattering photo of you on Facebook – and without your initial permission – to be viewed by hundreds or thousands of people in your network. Mishaps such as these happen everyday, and as social media becomes a larger part of our daily lives, so will the need to consider the reputational risks.
Below are 5 tips on how to manage your online reputation.
Tip #1: Practice Smart Sharing
I’m going share with you something that my mom said – after she caught 6-year-old me in her science classroom filling condoms with water to be used as water balloons. “Never do anything that you wouldn’t want on the front page of a newspaper.” In this case, I would alter that to say, “Never share anything that you wouldn’t want on the front page of a newspaper (and with your name on it!).”
I cringe at some of the things that I see online these days. The comments that people make and the photos that people post would make Madonna look like the Virgin Mary!
I recommend visiting the SMB’s Page of Shame for examples of what NOT to do when using the Internet and social media. They’re amusing, yes – but would you want to be associated with them?
When it comes to sharing information (comments, photos, etc.), I try to follow these general guidelines:
- Don’t make it too personal – e.g. don’t post addresses or credit card numbers on a web forum.
- Don’t make it hurtful – e.g. don’t break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend on Facebook.
- Don’t reflect poorly on yourself (both professionally and personally) – e.g. don’t post a photo of yourself in your boxers partying with strippers or let everyone on Facebook know that you’re on a date with someone who is NOT your current spouse.
If the information that you currently share violates any of these suggestions, I would recommend removing it immediately. These may seem simple and obvious now, but when you and a group of your friends are drunk at 2 o’clock in the morning and think it’s funny to dress your dog in your wife’s bra and paint its face with lipstick, you may quickly find that even the most innocent of intentions can go awry.
At the end of the day, you have to use your judgment. Think before you type (and post)!
Tip #2: Maintain Strict Privacy Settings
I live by this on Facebook! The idea that someone – or anyone – can tag me in a photo for all of my friends (and theirs) to see is outrageous. Unfortunately, for me, I learned the hard way after a college friend posted a less-than-flattering photo for all of my thousands of friends to see. When did I see it? Almost an entire week later! I was both mortified and livid.
Over the years, I have come to learn that investing a little time in managing your privacy settings can really go a long way in protecting you from unintended consequences. Below, I have outlined several suggestions for adjusting your privacy settings. (Note: these are general suggestions and may not be applicable to every social media platform.)
- Narrow the range of people who can see your profile (e.g. from friends of friends to simply friends).
- Restrict what your network of friends can see (everything, most things except for wall posts, only activity after a certain date, etc.).
- Decide whether or not your profile will come up in Google search results.
- Decide whether or not others can comment on your comments or photos.
- Limit use of websites, apps, software, games, or anything else that can access your information. Feel free to remove anyone that you believe no longer needs to access your information.
- Keep your location services turned “off” until you need to use the location feature. Location-based apps track and record your every footprint; whenever you take a photo, your location at that moment is embedded in that photo.
Tip #3: Keep Your Personal and Professional Lives Separate
As the use of social media becomes more prevalent, so does the risk of revealing inappropriate personal details. While some may not consider this to be a viable threat, consider that it is becoming increasingly commonplace for employers to search Facebook profiles and anything else floating on the web that might give them insight into your character – and professionalism.
As such, I highly advise keeping your online professional and personal personas separate. There are different schools of thought on how to separate the multiple online identities that we invariably amass as we spend more time online. I try to keep things simple; in my opinion, the best way to achieve an appropriate level of separation is to establish a dual identity of sorts. I recommend taking the following precautions:
- Keep your professional and personal emails separate. Many of us have several email accounts, and we often use them interchangeably. I recommend dedicating one of those emails strictly for the use of professional matters. If you have an email account through your work, don’t use it for personal means.
- Keep your professional and personal profiles and screen names separate.
- Limit your use of cross-referencing personal and professional accounts. For example, I keep my work Twitter account separate from my personal Facebook and Google+ accounts by not linking them or referencing between posts or tweets.
- Do not commingle personal and professional details. When it comes to revealing information about your professional self, it’s better to err on the side of safety by ensuring that every detail revealed is professionally relevant.
Think of your online life as divided between two buckets – the professional and the personal. Everything in the professional bucket should only include professionally relevant information; everything else, for the most part, can be included in the personal bucket.
Tip #4: Google Yourself (occasionally)
I’m not encouraging narcissistic tendencies; I’m recommending that you stay aware of how you’re perceived on the Internet. When someone Googles you – and trust me, it happens ALL OF THE TIME – a list of “relevant” information is aggregated by Google. Some information in that list may relate directly to you, and some may not (it’s quite likely that there are other people who share your name). Whatever the case, it’s important that you ensure that the Google search results relating to you reflect the reputation that you want to cultivate.
Tip #5: Be A Good Person (online, too)
At the end of the day, we should all try to make the Internet a better place. You’ll find that when you’re a decent human being online, it tends to have a good effect on your personal life (offline) – and, in the event that they ever cross paths, the risk of one reflecting poorly on the other is minimal. So if you don’t want to come off looking like a douchebag and you really want people to like you (or at least not hate you) – both online and offline – then be a good person. It’s really as simple as that.