(thanks to Mazy for his help on this article)
Just three or four years ago, a person could have successfully managed separate online and offline lives (and yes, separate reputations). There was general anonymity to what you did on the internet. You could do the things you wouldn’t normally do in the real world on message boards and internet communities.
I don’t care whether you’re a 40 year old business executive, a hot-shot entrepreneur, or a 16 year old power user on Digg; you need to control what’s being said about you on the internet or it will bite you in the ass.
You don’t need a high priced firm to help you do this. Hell, you can do a better job enhancing your image and putting out great content because, well, nobody else is you.
Without further ado, six ways to control and enhance your image on the Internet:
1) Search (and research) your name
It’s time to do your homework. You think you know everything about yourself, but you’re wrong. There are millions of people on the internet who have an opportunity to write about you, defame you, or even write about a person with the same name but could inadvertently damage your image. It’s time to do some searching.
- The first thing you must do is search yourself on Google. You’ve probably done it before out of curiosity, but now do it intelligently. Search your name, variations on your name, and all nicknames. For me, that would be “Ben Parr”, “Benjamin Parr”, and “Benjamin E. Parr”. When searching for your name, make sure you use quotation marks (” “) to make sure you aren’t getting results with only your first or your last name.
Now that you’re searching, take note of anything relating to you. Are there any news articles that pop up? Any blog posts? Are they about you, or are you just being quoted? Does anyone who shares your name come up? Could people searching for you confuse that person with you? Generally, only the first page of search results matter, but I would look at the first twenty to thirty results to get a full picture of your image on Google.
Repeat this every couple of weeks to track changes in search results.
- Second is to search for your name on Social Media Firehose. Social Media Firehose, built and hosted on Yahoo! pipes, searches specifically through social and networking websites. Kingsley Joseph’s tool will look through Twitter, Flickr, Digg, Technorati, and other social media websites for mentions of you. You can limit searches to exclude specific websites (I suggest removing Twitter if you’re a power Twitter user).
As you can see from the image on the right (click to see full size), results range from Twitters replies to Technorati results. Great way to know what’s being said about you. And about others with your name. Three of those results are for other “Ben Parrs”, one of them being a male supermodel who once played a stripper on T.V. This is not only very interesting (and strange) to know, but could be the key to explaining anything odd a future employer may find about you on Google.
- Remove or untag incriminating or very unprofessional pictures. It’s find to have fun, even drinking, just not stupid drinking. Unless you’re underage. Then you’re just playing with the law.
- Take out the clutter from your profiles. Incoherent lines of crap turn employers, customers, and even friends off. Getting to the point’s always a good thing. Make it the same for your profile.
- Update the info in your profiles. If you are no longer a goth rocker, change your MySpace to reflect that. Include any new jobs, internships, or projects you have been up to.
- Have plenty of contact info. Probably not a phone number, but an email and a website so people can learn more if they want.
- Put something on your domain. This is the best way to “talk” to others on the internet. Put up a blog if you think you have something interesting to say. Just talk about what you love and what you are good at. Tell your friends. You’d be surprised how many people will subscribe and how fast it’ll rise in the search rankings.
- Use those social web services often. If you have your name attached to your Digg, LinkedIn, Twitter, or FriendFeed account, it’ll eventually appear on search results. Use them and generate content. Having conversations on Twitter or promoting your public profile on LinkedIn will boost its search result.
- Comment on blogs and news websites. Use your real name and make some meaningful comments. Not only are you adding to the discussion, but they’ll come up in search results sometimes.
- Most of all, follow Step #6 below. You’ll see what I mean.
Now, what if your name is a common name? That’s a little tougher. I suggest using a variation on your name that is not as common for your emails and internet interaction. For example, add in your middle initial, use Freddie instead of Fred, or use a nickname. You WANT to be easily searchable. Friends, employers, and potential customers all will search for you, and that’s an incredible opportunity to give them a good “first” impression. More on that in step 5.
2) Register your name as an internet domain
Shel Israel is a respected tech entrepreneur figure in Silicon Valley. But you wouldn’t know that if you visit shelisrael.com. Loren Feldman registered the domain and uses it now as a parody of Israel’s interviewing techniques, causing headaches that could have been prevented.
Lesson? Register your name as a domain as soon as possible! If you have a less common name, there’s a great chance the domain it is still available. You don’t have to do anything with it (though I recommend it: see #6 on this list). You just need to own and control it so, at the very least, nobody else does. You want to have the option to use it later in life or the ability. Otherwise, you could be mocked by puppets. And nobody wants that. Just use GoDaddy or Dreamhost if you don’t have a preferred service.
Don’t let this happen to you!
What if my name is taken?
If your name is common, or if luck just wasn’t on your side, don’t fret. If you use any variations on your name, register those. Otherwise, keep tabs on the website. Who owns it? Is it good content, or could it reflect poorly on you? Does someone you know own it? I suggest using the ShowIP Firefox extension to check. You can see who owns it, and for how long their registration will last. If there’s nothing substantive on the domain, you can always see if you can buy it off the person.
3) Set up a Google Alert for your name
Google Alerts are a lesser known but incredibly useful tool of Google. PR personnel regularly use Google Alerts to keep tabs on candidates and to watch for mentions of the management of their company.
You, though, should use it to keep tabs on what’s being said about you. Type in your name (don’t forget to use quotation marks), select comprehensive and once-a-day, put in your email, and you’re good to go. Every day, Google will send you an email with any mentions of your name on the internet, whether they be blogs, news reports, or just junk web pages from abandoned family tree websites. Knowing if a news report has quoted you without permission could be the difference between a pay raise and being fired.
Once again, if you have a more common name, I suggest using a variation of your name or a nickname once again, if you have decided to adopt it.
4) Clean up, and then improve, all of your social networking and internet profiles
What the ridiculous amount of links in that last sentence should tell you is that now is the time to go through your social networking and all other internet profiles and make sure they are clean. This includes Digg, Twitter, and even your damn account at somethingawful. That means untagging any photos that are morally questionable or display that you have bad judgment. It does not matter how you set your privacy settings: smart companies always can get around the features. Otherwise, you could be like Kevin on the right and get fired from your banking job. Minus the fairy outfit.
Suggestions for cleaning up your profiles:
By the way, don’t be fearful of your internet profiles because they could be bad for your future. Quite the opposite: Facebook and other social networks could help you land a job or find a long lost friend years down the road.
5) Generate positive and meaningful content associated with your name
I’ve talked enough about protecting your image. Now it’s time to do some enhancing. Like I said before, you WANT your name to be easily Googled. It’d be nice to have your employer find nice, or at least interesting, things about you when they look you up. So how do you do that?
6) Take risks and be true to yourself
You may get yourself into a sticky situation if you don’t clean up your internet image, but you’re never going to make an impact or change the world if you don’t speak your mind and stay true to yourself. Do you think Michael Arrington of Techcrunch got to the pinnacle of blogging by playing it safe? Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV is well liked and well respected because he is engaging and “disarmingly honest.” And there are a slew of others who write brilliant content without shooting themselves in the foot (too often).
Really, just use common sense. Remember the internet is just as real as any part of your life and that it’s important to write about and promote your passions. The internet’s amazing for that sort of thing. Just keep these tips in mind so you don’t get burned.