How to Protect Your Reputation with Social Media
How often have you heard about someone who doesn’t have a Facebook account? There are still people like that, but not many. There are even fewer who avoid the Internet entirely: people who never make a purchase on Amazon, never look something up on Wikipedia, never seek opinions about a local business from Yelp, or never make any Facebook friends.
But in today’s ultra-connected world, such people are rare. Most of us use the Internet, and more than three-quarters of all Internet users also use social media, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. It has reached the point where social media is virtually synonymous with “Internet.” This is especially true of younger users.
These younger users helped Instagram become one of the Internet’s most popular social media sites, while LinkedIn is firmly established as the most important among professionals. But that same social media that we use to interact with friends and build professional networks has a downside. The pressure to share on social media is strong, and it doesn’t take much digging to find personal and business information on just about anyone. And the personal information we provide to one site can quickly spread to other sites, often without our knowledge.
Page One Hits
Which brings us to page one: not of the daily newspaper, but of those coveted Google search engine results. For most Google searches there is room for about ten page one results, or hits, not counting the ads that show up. The competition among businesses to get on page one is intense. The reason is simple: studies show that ninety-one percent of Google users don’t go beyond the first page of the results they get.
How does that figure in to protecting your personal information on social media sites? Well, you may not want to land on the first page of search engine results. But like it or not your personal information is out there. If you happen to have a unique name, then reaching the first page can actually be rather easy. What you need to do is make sure that the content that shows up when your name is searched puts you in a positive light, or at least a neutral one.
Put Your Best (Digital) Foot Forward
The first step toward creating a positive online image is to never post sensitive or potentially damaging information online. For a lot of us, it’s too late for that, so go through your main profiles on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Carefully review all of the pictures, friend relationships and posts you see. That will give you an idea of what a search of your name could turn up. This is your opportunity to delete the data that could prove embarrassing or harmful at some point in the future.
Do what you can to manage your online reputation. You can hire a professional company like InternetReputation.com, or can do it yourself. Google’s Advanced Search is the most comprehensive search you can do. Tools like Boardtracker, Omgili and Boardreader are useful, too. Social Mention can help you root out potential trouble from social media sites.
Consider your online identity as you would your public persona, the one that you want everyone to see. Remember that your online reputation is not necessarily the same as your real self. A good rule of thumb is that if there is anything that could embarrass you, you should not put it online.
Segment Your Life
A good strategy is to keep your personal life separate from your work life. Make a list of the most obvious combinations of your name, and set up social media and email accounts in each one. Use one for friends and family, another for financial matters, and another for your work and business contacts. You can use a fourth variant for responding to anyone who isn’t in one of those first three categories. Make sure each one of these accounts has its own passwords and security questions. In this way, if you ever experience an online attack, they are much easier to trace.
This strategy can be used for social media accounts and email accounts.
Online Reputation Damage Control
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to be honest with yourself. What are the worst things that you’ve ever done, that could be used against you if made public? There might be damaging information in, say, divorce documents that have made it online. Think long and hard about this. Then develop a reputation damage control plan – a worst-case scenario strategy, so that if the worst does come to pass, you’ll be ready to respond immediately.