Online reputation management: five essential best practices

By Barry Lee Cummings

Social media has become an integral part of our personal and business lives. Some are – there’s no other way to say it – addicted to their social channels. Up to 37% of teens in the UK are spending 10 hours a day on Snapchat, while the UAE has a mobile phone penetration rate of 236%. And yet, day after day the headlines that dominate are about people suffering the consequences of not thinking about or looking after their online reputation.

Today you are judged by what people find or read about you online. You only have to think about your own personal use of Google to confirm this. How many of you have ever Googled someone you are going to meet with? If for no other reason than to recognise them in the public place you’ve arranged to meet. Well guess what, recruiters do the same thing, employers too, university applications departments, and us, the general public, are going online to check, research and verify. The saying goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression. This remains true. The difference in 2015 is that you probably won’t be physically there to make it. What people think of you, how they judge you, will be determined in the blink of an eye on a screen between 4 and 7 inches in size.

So what can you do to keep your online reputation in shape?

#1 – Google yourself

It sounds odd, especially when you say it out loud. But you should really get in the habit of doing this, at least once a month. Social media is already making people narcissistic so don’t do this in a needy way. Do it to understand what is actually out there about you online. You might be quite surprised at what shows up for your name, across images and videos too. It’s the first step in taking control of your online reputation. Know what is out there about you. It might not be negative as such, but a student of mine at New York University Abu Dhabi Googled herself and found out that the information was irrelevant. She is a degree student now, but her online presence only talked about her as a high schooler.

We highly recommend you create a Google Alerts for your name – if you are a business, then set one up for your own name, your business name and any keywords associated with both, that way you’ll be notified as soon as something hits the net about you or your business.

#2 Privacy is key

There is far too much information being put onto our online channels that shouldn’t be available to all. The default settings for many social networks are open to the world – Facebook has over 1.4 billion users at the moment and 25% have never touched their privacy settings. We need to change this. Keep private things private; think about who you want to see the content you are posting. Ultimately the Internet and your social media channels are public property, you don’t own them. You are effectively borrowing the space from the providers so it’s their rules. If you don’t want to take the risk, a novel idea would be to “not post it”!!

#3 Check what you are tagged in

Once you start taking control of your online reputation you will start to realise it’s hard enough managing your own content let alone that of others. We all have those friends that upload and tag you in everything. Keep an eye on what images they are tagging you in, as well as comments. Whilst they may seem innocent or funny at that point in time, take a moment to think about how it might be interpreted when taken out of context. It might not be quite so “funny” when it’s brought up in an interview for your dream job.

#4 Be careful about what you share

Some us are guilty of over-sharing. You don’t have to share every detail of your life online. You don’t have to share, repost or re-tweet every piece of content you come across. Be strategic about what you share – keep religion and politics off your feeds. Think twice about who might see your channels and be wary of sharing inappropriate content. Don’t forget, you will be judged.

#5 Generate positive content

The Internet and social media channels are tools. As with all tools, they can be used for good and for bad. Make a conscious decision to use yours for good. Don’t use it as a personal soapbox to broadcast your rants from. Start generating content about what you are passionate about; show potential employers, universities or customers who you really are. Differentiate yourself from the crowd, connect with and follow people who inspire you and use these amazing channels and platforms to boost your reputation rather than tarnish it.

If more of us start thinking about our online reputation and how valuable it is then perhaps more of us would not engage in things like cyberbullying, trolling or harassment online. Why? Because they all become part of our online reputation. They form part of our digital tattoo that follows us everywhere. It’s time to start consciously thinking about our online actions, and the subsequent consequences of them.

Find out more

This article draws on the knowledge base from ISOC courses on social media and crisis communication. 

For more information on online reputation and cyberbullying, check out Barry Lee Cumming’s initiative Beat The Cyberbully or check them out on Twitter and Facebook to see what they’re doing to help educate the generation of digital natives, in the UAE, UK & Ireland about the importance of online reputation and the negative impact of cyberbullying.