The Importance of Maintaining Your Online Reputation

The Importance of Protecting Your Online ReputationBy Chris Martin

Has this ever happened to you?

You stumble upon a rumor that has been circulating about you among your school classmates/work colleagues/peers in an organization you belong to. You come to the realization that for an indeterminate amount of time, people have been assuming things about you that were simply not true (or at least taken far out of context). Maybe this discovery affected you intensely… or maybe you were able to just laugh it off.

Now imagine this same scenario multiplied by a thousand. Or a million. Or perhaps… infinity. That’s what the Internet can do to a “silly” rumor.

And if you’re running a business, or you rely on your reputation to attract and keep clients, then this kind of gossip can take a bite out of your bottom line – regardless of whether it is true or accurate. Why? Because today, companies and individuals conduct a great deal of research using the Internet and its search engines. And since some of these “web sleuths” may be potential clients or employers, what they find can and does influence whether they will enter into a business relationship with you.

The data set that is comprised of information about you found on the Internet is known as your online reputation. As you can see, your online reputation may or may not reflect your personal or business reputation that you have carefully nurtured using non-virtual interpersonal communication. Nevertheless, a single black mark on your online reputation may be enough for organizations or decision-makers to disqualify you as a potential business partner.

Here are some of the bits of data that can float around cyberspace, just waiting to harm your online reputation:

  • An embarrassing or unflattering photo of you taken at a wild party, in an altered state, or by an ex-lover
  • An inappropriate comment you made on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media site
  • A comment or group of comments made by you on an incendiary or divisive blog or website
  • A disparaging political or religious comment made in any online context
  • A photo tag inserted by a “friend” of you at a unlawful or controversial location and/or engaging in illegal activity
  • A provocative or angry comment you made on one of your own websites or blogs in response to a commenter
  • A large number of spelling or grammatical errors on professional websites (like LinkedIn)

So how can you protect your online reputation from being damaged by any of this information?

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Type your name into a few search engines periodically to see if anything negative pops up.
  2. Set up a Google Alert or similar notification so you can be made aware of anything new that appears on the Internet that involves your name.
  3. If you find an inappropriate picture of yourself, ask the site on which it appears to have it removed.
  4. Move negative information about you off the first few pages of search engines by posting additional web content (on blogs, social media sites, professional portals, etc.) about you and your activities that paint you in a positive light.
  5. Change your social media settings so that someone else needs to get your permission before tagging you in a photo or reporting on your location.
  6. Never respond to criticism or other negative comments harshly or angrily; it will only make you look bad. Either ignore them altogether or take the high road when replying to these posts.
  7. Get professional help from firms that are highly skilled at improving your online reputation for a fee.

While the old “sticks and stones” mantra may be true when it comes to traditionally-spread rumors, a blemished online reputation can have substantial effects on your business and professional standing. So it’s vital that you are proactive in maintaining your online reputation if you want to keep growing your business and maximizing your job prospects.

Chris Martin is a freelance writer who writes about topics ranging from information technology to consumer finance to home improvement – and he knows first-hand the importance of maintaining a solid online business reputation.

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