5 Tips for Protecting Your Online Persona
Once upon a time, getting ready for a job or promotion interview meant picking out a special outfit, getting properly groomed, doing your research, and preparing a spiel. After all, according to the popular adage, you never get a second chance at a first impression. Today, however, you don’t even get a chance at a first impression. At least not an impression you directly control. The content on your social networks and the results of online search engines makes an initial impression for you, whether you like it to or not.
Thanks to the popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram and Tumblr, every one of their hundreds of millions of users now has a digital brand. Whether or not you have participated in the creation of your online brand, the real question is - are you consciously managing it? Remember, your online reputation is determined not just by what you post online; but also by how, where and when you post. It is also affected by what others say, infer or depict about you online – with or without your knowledge or consent.
Just think about it – Applying to a university? Looking for a job? Or curious about a new colleague? We increasingly turn to online search engines to get answers to these questions. The digital information dredged up in search results now translates into how people and businesses are known, perceived, and even treated. In fact, if unprofessional content is linked to your name, you may be crossed off of a list of interviewees, without even being given an opportunity to explain yourself. So now, beyond who you may have worked for, the people you associate with online may affect whether or not you get the job you are looking for.
According to an ExecuNet survey, some 90% of executive recruiters say they conduct online research of potential candidates prior to interviewing them. Up to 70% of employers who have used LinkedIn say they’ve chosen not to hire a person based on what they’ve found out about them online. However, only 27% of employers give job seekers the opportunity to discuss the online content that is associated with their name, such as social media profiles, blog posts and photos.
Online Reputation Management
But managing online reputations is not just for job seekers. Increasingly, digital behaviour is followed by employers. Online indiscretions can have very negative real world ramifications. For example, 8% of companies have reported firing someone for abusing social media.
It is not uncommon for things that you say in a closed, private setting, to be shared with an audience well beyond your immediate context. For example, an off-color comment can quickly find itself indiscreetly quoted on Facebook. You can easily be painted in the wrong light, and your reputation damaged.
A burgeoning Online Reputation Management (ORM) industry is positioning itself to deal with this reality. For years, private sector companies have employed special handlers to manage their online reputation — often as part of the array of services offered by a large public relations firm or image consultants. Now new companies are doing the same for individuals. Sites like ReputationAdvocate.com, About.Me and Reputation.biz are providing advice as well as professional services.
Almost everyone can benefit from ORM, whether for or addressing negative content, establishing your personal online brand or maintaining positive information on the Internet. It is a wide open market with tremendous opportunities for local HR and brand management practices to evolve to serve new needs.
Tips for Positive Digital Presence
The good news is you can cultivate a positive digital presence. You can tailor your digital life to fit your professional image. Here are five pointers to protect your online reputation and avoid ending up in a potential employer’s pile of rejected candidates.
- Take Control of Your Own Identity. Do not leave your online identity to chance or to others. Be proactive and deliberately define your own digital identity.
- Keep On Top of Your Online Identity. Do frequent online searches for your name on the popular search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing. Take a note of where you appear online and in what context. Also check the social networks like Facebook and Twitter to be sure you catch everything that you say and that’s being said about you.
- More Good Than Bad. Post your own information on a regular basis, highlighting positive aspects of yourself. Also invest in a search engine optimization (SEO) tool or service to ensure that preferred posts and references make it to the top of the search results for your name.
- Secure Everything. Make sure your email and social networks are secure by using strong passwords and that privacy controls are properly configured across all online profiles. Learn the privacy features on your online sites. Protecting your accounts and posts mitigates against information being inappropriately shared. It also keeps you safe from hacker attacks.
- Don’t Be Stupid. What’s cool on Friday night can quickly turn into embarrassing on Monday morning, and inerasable thereafter. Think carefully about everything you post. Also monitor postings and tags of your image on social media. In addition to regularly pruning your posts and pictures, ask others to remove unflattering posts or mentions of you from social sites. When necessary, remove people who tend to post things that are compromising or who do not comply with requests for removing compromising material.
Keep these pointers in mind when next you feel like ranting, cursing, flirting, flaunting, or anything else that can negatively affect how others perceive you. Just as in real life situations, applying discretion, personal restraint and sanctified common sense are the best safeguards to protecting your online reputation.