Sunday, April 11, 2010

Managing Your Online Reputation

Doug Beckstead and Jeff Dunetz are trying this to combat their exposures. - EOPC

by Antony Mayfield

The measure of your reputation is what you do plus what others say about you. That was one of the first things I learned in PR. A reputation can be managed, and can be influenced by the things we do, but it can never be designed or decided upon by its holder. Reputation is earned.

As the social web has distributed the power and influence formerly held by the mainstream media, it has created the need for personal reputation awareness. And despite being a long-time user of social media, I found I learned some new things as I navigated these waters for myself. Below are three tips that I found useful.

1. You Are Your Network
I had a call from a BBC researcher asking for background on social networks. The breaking story that day was that personal details and embarrassing photos of the newly appointed head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service, MI6, were splashed all over one newspaper. The source? His family’s Facebook profiles.

It made me think about my own family’s personal details and images. What if I became a story? What would a journalist find? My profile’s privacy settings were locked down, but sure enough, a few clicks showed that my wife’s was wide open.

It was a clear lesson: If you want to manage privacy, reputation, and your security to any extent, you have to think about those around you — especially those who are not as tech-savvy.

2. If You Can’t Delete, Compete
Although it’s a good idea to ask people to remove embarrassing content about you, in the majority of cases the best course is to make sure that you are the first and best source of information about yourself appearing on Google (Google) and other major search engines. “Crowding out,” or pushing that embarrassing party photo down in the search rank can be achieved over time. This approach is best combined with an ethos of developing a thicker skin.

The time may soon come when so much content about our lives is online that we get suspicious if we find no unpolished or slightly embarrassing bits about someone when we look. Why are they so perfect? What are they hiding?

Reputation is a messy and uneven business. Playing the content game is often preferable to an all out war — a battle you will most likely lose.

3. There’s a Cottage Industry Around “Reputation Protection”
In discussing online reputation with friends and colleagues, they predicted that there would be services that offer “the digital equivalent of tattoo removal.” While I didn’t doubt that there would be demand for this kind of thing, I wondered about how it would be realistically implemented.

There is, in fact, a small industry growing up to help people manage how their privacy is affected by the web. At the high end, rich and powerful celebrities now hire digital security specialists to help them lock down everything from their voicemail inbox, to their e-mail and Facebook accounts, and to look for the weak points where stalkers or prying journalists might try to get some juicy information.

For the rest of us, a host of services promise to safeguard your identity and reputation online — I even get one service free with my credit card. It tells me less than my Google Alerts, though, so I’m broadly skeptical about the effectiveness of services like this. At best, they should be combined with an effort to develop personal web literacy and an understanding of how to manage online reputation responsibly.


It is incredibly important that we help our friends, colleagues and families understand the social web. They make up our most valuable social networks. And when you understand networks, you understand that their success and well-being is intrinsically linked to your own.

As Howard Rheingold says, “What you know or don’t know about networks can influence how much freedom, wealth and participation you and your children will have in the rest of this century.”

It should be the goal of every web-savvy professional to have their online reputation precede them.


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