When was the last time you used a search engine to look yourself up? Why would you want to do so? There’s a good chance others are, so it’s prudent for you to know what they’re seeing.
“People should be concerned about their online reputation because once something negative about you is posted online, it is very, very difficult to have it removed,” says search engine optimization expert Andrew Hazen. “You never know when someone will perform a Google search on you and perhaps uncover an unfavorable review, a nasty comment or a rant about how evil a person you are. This clearly can have a negative impact when either applying for a job, looking for credit, entering into a new relationship, or want to coach your child's sports team.”
And what you share online certainly matters as well. In recent weeks a media brouhaha has erupted over the fact that some organizations have actually asked prospective employees to hand over their Facebook account username and password so as to see how they behave online. While doing so is undoubtedly an invasion of privacy, it underscores the point that people are interested in your online reputation, and you should be too.
Here are some tools that can help you curate your online reputation so you come off in the very best light possible.
Search Engine Optimization
The first thing you need to do is use a search engine to look up your name. What shows on the first page or two of search results is important. Ideally, the links you see there will point to pages that mention you in positive light, social media profiles that you have groomed to bolster your image and any web site you own and want people to see, not innapropriate photos.
Getting those kinds of sites higher up on the search results list is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and anyone who cares about her online image uses it to her advantage.
Loads of companies offer help with this, but I recently played around with two free services that seem to work well.
BrandYourself was co-founded by a Syracuse University graduate who couldn’t get an internship in college because employers mistook him for a drug dealer whose information surfaced with an online search. The vibe of the site is straightforward and comes off as reputable and trustworthy.
The other service I tried was Vizibility, which like BrandYourself, works to move positive links higher up in your search results but also offers ways to proactively promote yourself, such as a partnership the company has with Vistaprint whereby you can get business cards printed with QR codes on them. When people scan the code, they’ll get your contact information on their smartphones, which they can email to themselves, others or quickly import into their email contacts.
From there, the next thing you need to do is set up a Google Alert for your name so that Google will send you an email when there are a new results—such as web pages, newspaper articles, or blogs—that include your name. For instructions on how to set it up, visit the Google Alerts Getting Started Guide.
Are you Oversharing on Facebook?
Secure.me is a free app that works on the premise that people tend to share too much online. It goes into your Facebook, scans all the activity in your account and warns you about when you’ve been too open with others. Here are some things that will trip its alerts: posting to Facebook using a third-party app, sharing personal information such as religion, political affiliation and relationship status, and questionable posts made by you or your friends.
Managing Negative Search Results
What if unflattering (albeit true) information shows up when someone is vetting you online? TrueRep is an online reputation management service from a company called Intelius, which is a pretty big gun in case you’re not familiar with the name. Intelius is an Internet data gathering powerhouse that provides background checks to anyone willing to shell out about $40. If there’s public information about you available, you can bet Intelius knows it.
TrueRep lets people add information to an Intelius online background check or people search report about themselves. For instance, TrueRep Remarks give you the ability explain why the trespassing arrest on your record was actually the result of you jumping the fence to see Metallica back when you were a freshman in college.
TrueRep comes in a free version with which you can get a reputation score and see public information the company has on file, such as name, date of birth, relatives and address history. It also lets you set access controls for your current contact information including two addresses and one phone number.
The paid version ($9.95 a month) is the one you’ll need if you want to annotate the history Intelius has on file. It gives you the same access to publicly available information included in the free version, but also includes professional listings, criminal records and civil judgments. It also includes an assessment of your online exposure as a second dimension of the reputation score as well as some reputation management tools.
Don’t Get Phished
If you’ve fallen victim to a phishing scam you know how humiliating it can be. It happens when you visit a fake site that tricks you into giving it your login credentials for your email or social media network. Once it has the keys to your online kingdom it takes over and spams all your contacts with messages intended to get personal information or money from them.
It’s embarrassing when this happens but there’s a slick and free tool you can use by Barracuda Networks and Barracuda Labs called Profile Protector. It’s an app you use with Facebook and Twitter that will alert you if there’s some kind of suspicious activity going on in your account. The idea is to warn you before you click on a message that might get you in trouble.
Someone tagged me in a Facebook photo recently and before adding the tag, Facebook asked my permission. That’s a big improvement over former Facebook practices that let people tag you whenever they wanted. Then it was up to you to remove the tags manually if you didn’t like them.
Regardless of how Facebook is handling tags these days (since it’s incessantly changing its practices anyway), iPhone users might check out PhotoBox!, a free app that lets you find, manage, add effects, share photos, browse tagged photos and remove unwanted tags of themselves. The process is more streamlined than manually untagging photos, which can involve several clicks for each photo.
What About Your Kids?
uKnowKids does more than show parents the messages their kids are sending and receiving; the service takes the social data available online about a child and on a mobile phone and translates it so a parent can understand and act on it. With it, you can monitor a child’s social network, get activity reports, monitor text messaging (the platform has a text lingo and slang translation engine), and access a contact and message search engine. The platform is available for free and also as a premium version ($9.95 a month) that offers additional functions such as GPS tracking.
You May Need Legal Help
As Andrew Hazen noted at the beginning of this story, it can be difficult to remove yourself from links that don’t show you in a positive light.
If you find a link online that is particularly bothersome and potentially damaging to your career or reputation, you may need help from an attorney. Hazen says law firms can not only bring action for libel, slander or defamation of character, they can work on removing negative comments from the Web, as well.