I’ve got a bit of a reputation. Whether you know it or not, you probably have too.
I’m talking, of course, about our online reputation – the image we create of ourselves on the internet. Everything we post – blogs, tweets, photos and videos, likes, links, comments and shares – contributes to our online reputation. So, too, does whatever other people post about us. And anyone who discovers this information will form judgements about you and me, based on what they see – and may even use it against us.
Everyone from potential employers to clients, college heads, landlords, health insurers, mortgage lenders and romantic partners can check us out by searching for those telltale digital traces we’ve left behind.
But don’t worry if your digital footprints are a little muddy. Below, in six easy steps, we’ll show you how to regain control of your online reputation, mop up those digital spills, create and manage a strong, positive digital profile.
1. Research yourself online
Find out what’s already out there about you in cyberspace.
- First, clear your browsing history. Then put your name into several different search engines, and see what comes up. Try nicknames, initials and different variations of your name.
- Type in other things about you – your school or college, clubs you are or were a member of, places you’ve lived, the company you work for and previous employers.
- Look for images, photos and videos as well as words.
- Search sites you visit often, such as online directories, online grocery stores, public record sites, shopping sites and ancestry services.
- Don’t forget to search social media sites and blogs – both personal and professional. Explore what other people have said about you, photos they’ve tagged you in or comments they’ve made. Look at your friends’ personal pages as well as your own.
- If you have a business site, look at the reviews given and comments made.
2. Assess your digital reputation
Consider what all the online information you’ve found says about you. You may not like everything you see. Ask yourself:
- Is it accurate? Is it positive? Does it reflect the image I want to give? Is there something left out?
- Would I be happy for anyone else to see it – my spouse, my employer, a health insurer, or a customer?
- Does something need to be edited or removed altogether?
- Are my personal and professional profiles combined? If so, should I create separate profiles for my work and personal lives?
- How public or private are my profiles?
3. Practise mindfulness
Be mindful of how your online activities affect your digital profile – and that of others. Think about the long-term effects of what you post. Aim to do and say things that benefit your online reputation, and don’t do anything that might damage anyone else’s.
- Before you share, think about the consequences. You may be happy to post that picture now, but what about in a few years’ time? What does it say about you? And how will other people perceive it? What would your grandmother or your boss think? Could it be misinterpreted?
- If you’re feeling angry, hurt or upset, don’t post. You may well later regret it. Don’t be drawn into online arguments or make controversial or inflammatory comments. Definitely don’t post when intoxicated.
- Regularly monitor your digital profile. Check back often to see what new information has been added about you. Set up an alert with Google’s Me on the Web tool. It will tell you when information such as your name or email address is posted online, or you’re tagged in a photo. Every now and again, re-evaluate your social networks circle, pages you like, people and groups you follow and newsletters you subscribe to. Friendships change, so be selective about who has access to your information. Remove people from your online circle if necessary.
4. Think privacy
- Keep personal information private. Ask permission before posting personal details and photos of other people. Keep passwords, user names and account numbers to yourself.
- Use privacy tools to set appropriate levels of access for friends, family and the general public, particularly on social media.
- Before you download an app, check what information it will gather about you and why, and who it will share this data with.
- Discuss with family and friends what you are happy for them to share, and what should stay private. Respect their wishes too. Don’t overshare. Help your kids to understand the consequences of sharing too much information. Remind them – and yourself – that nothing is ever really private if it’s online. This site has great advice on helping teens manage their digital profiles.
- Be careful not to share too much about your working life, or you might accidentally give away confidential information. And don’t be negative about your boss, your colleagues or your workplace.
5. Fix what you can
Retrace your digital steps and take action fast to restore your online reputation. The sooner it’s gone, the less damage it will do.
- Delete old, inactive accounts.
- Ask Google to remove unwanted information from search results.
- Hide or delete embarrassing, controversial or offensive posts. References to drugs, discriminatory comments, dishonesty about your qualifications, or derogatory remarks about former employers or work mates – they all have to go.
- If you can’t remove content posted by others, ask the person who posted it to take it down or correct it. If you can’t contact or get a response from that person, ask the site administrator for help in getting the unwanted content removed.
- If you feel it’s necessary, use a professional service to clean up your image. Just Google ‘online reputation’ and you’ll find a long list of them.
6. Publicise the positive
Cultivate a great online image by putting your best self forward. This should help push negative information off the first page of any search engine results.
- Create positive, up to date, quality content. Start your own blog or website under your own name, and write regularly about things you know well and are passionate about. Liven it up with attractive images and contemporary design. Ask your readers to leave feedback.
- Keep up with current affairs so that you can comment constructively and knowledgeably. Join online forums.
- Promote all the good things you do – like charity work, helping with community meals on wheels or managing your local kids’ football team.
- Build a profile on a professional networking site like LinkedIn, make connections and ask for recommendations from people who know your skills and career achievements. Write recommendations for your contacts, and comment on their posts. Keep your profile up to date with new accomplishments. Be honest.
- Consider buying your domain name, and using it to write a biography of yourself and share authoritative articles and insights, and interesting (not too personal) information about you.
Keep it up
Now that you’ve kicked off those muddy digital boots, had your online makeover and created a strong and positive profile, don’t let it slip. Stay alert and make sure you protect and maintain your digital reputation so that it continues to reflect the person you want to be seen as and gives a lasting impression.
Be proud of that reputation. Look after it.