Another day, another invitation to connect with someone on LinkedIn.
You click over, ready to accept the connection … and stop. Is he lying on a bed shirtless in that photo? You’ll probably shake your head and keep your digital distance.
But what about your own online presence, and the personal content that’s been building up since the dawn of the Internet age? The web has a long memory, and your online reputation could take a permanent hit if you don’t manage it actively.
Here’s a four-step guide to effectively controlling your online reputation:
1. Get online and be aware of what’s out there
Staying off Facebook won’t keep you safe. “Stop denying that the Internet has you in its grips,” says Joshua Waldman, author of Job Searching with Social Media For Dummies. He describes one executive who avoided using computers to prevent research firms from finding information about him. But within seconds, Waldman and a colleague accessed the executive’s income, political affiliation and even a complaint he had made about his company.
“You might want to run away, shut off all devices and ignore the Internet,” says Waldman. “But you will quickly lose control. Rather, walk into the lion’s mouth. Getting more involved with your online reputation means you control the stream of information available.”
2. Show up in the right places with the right message
Get on LinkedIn and make sure your headline, picture and summary address the problems and concerns of your target audience.
“Are you congruent with the message? Do you make a good first impression?” asks Waldman.
Create profiles under your real name at other sites — like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, Google+ and others — to add content that will be indexed by search engines and show up when people search your name. This can help counteract the occasional bad posting.
Think of it this way: If the only thing people know about you is what others tell them, no one’s hearing your side of the story. Maintain an active, positive online presence to ensure a steady stream of good information and control your online reputation.
3. Create your own website
In less than 10 minutes, you can purchase your own domain name — YourFirstNameYourLastName.com — and point it to some basic content. Services such as About.me, Flavors.me, Chi.mp, UnHub and Card.lymake it simple to establish an online presence and give others a way to contact you.
The beauty of owning your own domain is that it travels with you wherever your career takes you.You can point that domain to your Twitter page, your Blogger profile or whatever service you like. Plus, people only have to remember your name to find information about you. You can find a domain name registrar and get signed up for less than $10.
4. See what others say about you
Check for mentions of your name on Twitter, see what photos and comments are tagged with your name on Facebook and search your name on Google regularly. It’s not vanity; it’s good business sense. If you see content that you don’t want associated with your name, you may be able to remove it via the site, ask the poster to remove it or bury the content by offsetting it with content you create and promote yourself.
Also be aware of your privacy settings on various social networking sites. For example, do you allow strangers to post on your Facebook wall, or friends only? Adjusting those settings can help you ward off unwanted posters.
Managing your online reputation doesn’t have to be a time-consuming proposition. If you’re online enough to be reading this article, you can take the proactive steps necessary to ensure that your digital domain presents the real you to the world.