With the ever-increasing popularity of social networking, people are sharing more and more information about their personal lives via the Internet. While it can be great to connect with friends, family and business contacts online via social media websites, it's also important to consider the potential impact of putting so much information about your personal and work life "out there" on the World Wide Web.
Online Reputation Considerations
In the modern social world, people need to take their online reputation into consideration when making decisions about what to share via social media websites and how to monitor related online activity. Your reputation, online and otherwise, can impact every aspect of your life, impacting how personal contacts view you and whether or not employers - current or potential - see you as someone who can make a valuable contribution to their organizations. Scott Mitic, CEO of Trusted ID, states, "Employers are now utilizing social networks on a regular basis as a tool to evaluate applicants for their open positions. While what they view in a social profile may not be a deciding factor, candidates must recognize that information that can be found will be considered."
Social Media Participation
Mitic acknowledges, "The concept of sharing everything with everyone on the web is something that has become the norm on Facebook and Twitter." However, it's important to think about the long term implications of sharing information about yourself online before you do so. After all, once something has been made public, there's no way you can really "take it back" with 100 percent certainty. Someone may save, share or re-post information about you, often in a way that you don't have the ability to control. Such information will often stay up, and accessible to others, even if you take down the original statement or post.
Consider Long-Term Impact
It's important to consider the potential reach and long term impact of information that you decide to share online. Mitic illustrates, "One of the biggest mistakes I see is recent graduates displaying photo albums like "Spring Break in Cancun" or tweeting about hangovers and using foul language." While this might seem like a fun thing to do when you're a kid, things change when it's time to transition from school to work.
Mitic advises, "My biggest piece of advice to those graduates who are still in party mode is to update your Facebook or Twitter page. As a job seeker, you need to make the decision about what you want to keep private and what you want others- including potential employers- to see. This doesn't mean you have to change who you are, just what face you want to show to the world as you embark on your professional career."
Use Privacy Settings
Social media sites do offer some flexibility when it comes to controlling who can easily see information that you share. Mitic explains "While we may think that our social profile is our own, it is public information and as such others - including potential employers - may be viewing that information. If you want your social profile to be mores private, make sure you are utilizing the social media privacy tools and limit who can view your profile."
Mitic urges diligence when it comes to privacy settings. He urges, "Be aware of what is posted and set up your privacy settings such that you can control what is associated with your profile. When job seeking, for example, don't post or allow postings that you wouldn't want your employer to see. Even after you set your privacy settings, the risk of a photo or status getting exposed will still remain. If you don't want others to upload photos of you without your consent, you can allow only photos that you upload yourself to be present on your page. This allows you to control exactly what photos are available."
Disallow "Friends of Friends" Access
The fact that you keep your profiles from being viewable to the general public does not necessarily mean that you are preventing people outside your direct contact list from viewing your information. Mitic provides an example, stating, "The friends of friends" option on Facebook allows people who are not within your immediate network to see your information, so to minimize the connections with them, select "friends only" and you can completely control who accesses your information."
Carefully consider the potential impact of allowing "friends of friends" to view your information. A 2012 Time magazine article states that allowing access by "friends of friends" expands potential reach by more than 150,000 people outside of your own network.
Monitor Your Online Presence
Monitor Social Profiles
Establishing stringent privacy settings on your own profiles doesn't necessarily mean that you've limited the potential for your personal information to be shared beyond your immediate circle of online friends. Mitic explains, "Many people still don't understand the concept of leaving digital footprints on the web, and at the end of the day, what you say and do on the Internet is incredibly easy to track, even with the use of privacy settings. Check out TrustedID's Facebook Privacy Monitor which continuously checks your Facebook profile and privacy settings to monitor if your personal information is ever at risk."
Check Search Results
It's also important to realize that information that you share isn't the only content that can impact your online reputation. If other people are posting information about you online - whether via social networks or other websites - it can certainly show up in search results when anyone conducts a search engine search for your name. It's critical to be aware of what might be published online about you. Mitic advises, "Continuously run your name through Google or Bing and see what is showing up and don't forget to check Google images as well." Doing so will help you be aware of what others will see if they decide to look you up online.
Use Alert Services
It's also advisable to set up Google Alerts specific to your name so that you have an opportunity to be notified via email if information is posted that has the potential to impact your online reputation. Set up alerts for your full name, nicknames, and using other phrases that might lead you to posted information. For example, if you are a student, set up an alert for your name paired with the name of the school.
Request Removal of Problem Information
According to Google, if you find information posted about you on a website that you'd like to have removed, your best option in most cases is to contact the webmaster and ask to have it taken down. Once that has been done, you can contact Google directly to submit a removal request to have the outdated information stop showing up in search results, though not all requests are successful. Bing offers a similar options, though Yahoo! does not.
Create Positive Content You Control
Make sure that there is information likely to have a positive impact on your reputation published online.
One way to do this is to create a Google Profile for yourself. Include your bio statement and any contact details about yourself that you'd like to make available to the public - keeping in mind that anyone can see what is posted here. You can also include links to other websites with information about you, whether you have your own blog or if you were listed in a newspaper article as an award recipient or officer in a professional or civic organization.
Set Up Your Own Domain
A March 2013 Forbes article also recommends purchasing domain names with your name (such as yourname.com, yourname.net, yournameblog.com, etc.) and using at least one of them to create a website that is designed to highlight you in a positive way. If you create a site on one of the domains, you can re-direct the other domains you purchase to the active site.
Use a Single Site
The same Forbes article also suggests aggregating all of your content to a single site, ideally one like Tumblr or WordPress that makes easy-to-use site design templates available. If you purchase domain names as recommended above, you can route them to your Tumblr or WordPress presence.
These are a few options to consider when establishing a plan for managing your own online reputation. Important keys to keeping your reputation positive including being very careful about what you post and share about yourself, taking steps to limit access to personal details, monitoring online activity that can impact your reputation and being proactive in taking steps to make sure there is appropriate, positive information available when people do seek out information about you via the Internet.