How to Manage Your Personal Online Reputation

I’ve been thinking about one’s online reputation lately.

There are a lot of tools for businesses to manage their online reputations, but how about individuals? How about small-time bloggers, web designers & developers, and general netizens who don’t have access to marketing budgets, yet are concerned about their personal brand?

These questions bubbled in my mind after reading this comment from George of Illuminati Karate:

I made a list of my random social accounts recently, and was surprised to come up with 15. Making a list can be a good check to make sure you’re effectively managing your online reputation.

That is certainly true. Here are some more free ways to manage your personal online reputation.

How to See What Others Are Seeing

First, you need to find out what other people are seeing about you. What are potential employers seeing? Or potential dates? Or your parents?

Google Search
Who hasn’t used Google (GOOG) to find themselves by now? It is so common that it’s even a verb – as in, “I Googled myself last night” (which kinda sounds dirty). Simply type your name, email address, user ID, or URL into Google and look at the results. If you have a common name (like me) or have very little published about yourself, you may not find yourself. If you have a fairly unique name and even a moderate online presence, it will all come pouring into your search results. Unfortunately, you can’t receive an RSS feed or email alert for these search results; you’ll have to perform a search every time you want to monitor your reputation.
Google Alerts
Every time the Google search engine indexes a new occurrence of a particular line of text (say, your name, email address, user ID, or URL), Google Alerts will email you. It’s like Googling your own name every day, except having a service do it for you. Utterly efficient vanity.
Technorati
This service will track what is written about you in the blogosphere. Google tends to cover some of the same info, but sometimes Technorati catches something that Google hasn’t gotten to yet. You can receive the search results as an RSS feed.
Twitter Search
If you have a Twitter account, this may be especially useful. You will be able to monitor what others are saying about you in near real-time. Instant vanity gratification at its best. You can receive the search results as an RSS feed.
Facebook
If you have a Facebook account, look through all of your photos. Your friends can tag you on their photos, which can sometimes lead to embarrassing snapshots that you may not want on your profile. Also look through your wall posts, fan pages, groups, apps, interests, and other profile info. This is what your potential dates, employers, and parents may see.
MySpace
If you have a MySpace (NWS) account, look through your entire profile. It’s the same drill as Facebook: check your photos, friends’ comments, blog entries, interests, and other info from your profile.
LinkedIn
If you have a LinkedIn account, look through your profile, recommendations to you, and recommendations you’ve written. Chances are, there isn’t much here that will be inappropriate, because of the nature of this social network. But it’s still a good place to check.
Flickr
Do a search for your name on Flickr. Sometimes people will tag or title a photo with your name, especially if you attend lots of public events or have friends with eager cameras. Similar to Google Search, common names can turn up lots of other people before you find yourself.
YouTube
YouTube is similar to Flickr in that other people can tag you if they’ve filmed you with their video camera. Hopefully it’s not some kind of scandalous video with night-vision and an interrupting phone call. Ahem.
MonitorThis
This new service scours a bunch of search engines, including Google, Yahoo! (YHOO), MSN (MSFT), Technorati, Twitter Search, and many others. I haven’t found its results to be that comprehensive yet, even though it claims to pull from all of those sources. But it’s still a young service and hopefully will improve over time. You can receive the search results as an RSS feed.
Other Social Media Sites
If you have an account on another social media site, such as Delicious, Digg.com, last.fm, etc, create a list of them. Go through each one with a mindful eye towards potentially inappropriate content, just like I mentioned with Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn.
Your Own Site
Lastly and perhaps most importantly: your own site. Look through your site with the same critical eye as you did for the aforementioned social networks. For many people, if they manage to find your site, they will consider this a goldmine of information about you. Everything you publish is subject to their interpretation.

How to Control What Others Are Seeing

Next, you need to control what others find about you. While you can’t control every little thing, there are ways to steer the overall findings, and thus, your online reputation.

Get Your Own Website
The best defense is a good offense. If you create your own website, you could potentially appear high in search engine results for yourself. This will give you a way to explicitly control your online reputation. You don’t need to go all out and start a blog; even a one-pager with basic info will do.
Get Your Own Name On Social Media
Create social media accounts and get your own name before somebody else does. Although the risk of someone pretending to be you is low, you will at least have these online appearances under your control. Even if you don’t actively use those sites, put up a basic profile.
SEO Your Content
If you optimize your site for search engines, then your actively-controlled content will rank higher than other potentially embarrassing or outdated content. Since most people only look at the first page of search results, the further back you can push the bad stuff, the better. Creating various social media accounts can also help here, because they will appear in search results and push undesired content away.
Facebook
As you go through your Facebook profile, remove any potentially inappropriate photos or info to clean up your profile. You can remove yourself from a photo by clicking the “Remove tag” link next to your name, though you cannot delete the image yourself – you will have to ask the owner of the photo to do it for you.
MySpace
Again, the the same drill as Facebook: remove any potentially inappropriate photos, friends’ comments, blog entries, interests, and other info from your profile. Social networking is all fun and games, until someone loses a date or job from it.
LinkedIn
Generally, you don’t have to worry too much about inappropriate content in LinkedIn, due to its professional nature. But a less-than-flattering recommendation could be bad. You can email the author and kindly ask for a rewrite if that’s the case.
Flickr
Unfortunately, you cannot remove someone else’s photo, nor can you remove their tag mentioning your name. All you can do is email the owner and appeal to their kindness, generosity, and discretion. If negotiations get rough, consider buying them a premium Flickr account as a gift.
YouTube
Similar to Flickr, you cannot remove someone else’s video or tag of your name on YouTube. You can try flagging the video, but that won’t remove it. The best way to do that is to email the owner directly.
Other Social Media Sites
If you have created a list of your accounts on other social media sites, go through each one and remove any potentially embarrassing content. Tedious but worth it.

Duct Tape Marketing also lists a ton of reputation management tools, though I didn’t find many of them to be worth the time needed to learn & use them. I know that the services I’ve listed here may already take the average person quite a while to do.

They are worth it though, especially in today’s connected world. You never know when a potential date, employer, friend, business partner, or family member might be doing some online snooping on you.

Photo by: Photo Mojo

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.

3 thoughts on “How to Manage Your Personal Online Reputation”

  1. I agree with the need to monitor your reputation with tools like Google Alerts, but I think you are hurting your own argument by describing it as “Utterly efficient vanity”. The term “vanity search,” or the even worse “ego search,” makes it seem like you are doing it purely to please yourself. On the contrary, it is essential to track your reputation online, because of how it can affect others who deal with you. I’m trying to convince people to refer to this as a “reputation report”, and to think of it as equivalent to a credit report. I’ve been writing a lot about this lately. Your readers might find this blog post useful:

    http://www.alertrank.com/mrgooglealerts/2009/04/19/its-a-reputation-report-not-a-vanity-search/

  2. @Adam, I guess you didn’t like my attempt at humor ;) But I must say I agree with you. There is definitely a utility in monitoring & managing one’s online reputation.

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