Managing Your Online Identity

I keep getting requests for this piece on issues related to online identity management so I’m posting here for ease of access.

In a July 2010 New York Times Magazine article entitled “The Web Means the End of Forgetting,” Jeffrey Rosen wrote that a major challenge of our age is “how best to live our lives in a world where the Internet records everything and forgets nothing—where every online photo, status update, Twitter post and blog entry by and about us can be stored forever.” The article focused on a series of examples detailing how students and professionals have been adversely affected by unflattering online material about them. The article reinforced a belief I’ve had for several years, to wit, managing one’s personal and professional profile is no longer a nice thing to do but a critical task.

The article also made me wonder about the audiences who might seek information about me: potential clients, employers, reporters, etc., to them, am I who I say I am or who my online profile says I am? Rosen noted that a Microsoft survey revealed that “75 percent of U.S. recruiters and human-resource professionals report that their companies require them to do online research about candidates, and many use a range of sites when scrutinizing applicants— including search engines, social-networking sites, photo- and videosharing sites, personal websites and blogs, Twitter and online gaming sites. Seventy percent of U.S. recruiters report that they have rejected candidates because of information found online, like photos and discussion-board conversations and membership in controversial groups.” With this as a cautionary backdrop I want to share some strategies for managing your online identity or profile. We normally think (or used to think) of the adage “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” as relating to a first in-person meeting. But the Web has dramatically changed the rules. Inquiries can be made about us long before a meeting—and opinions/impressions formed before we ever get face to face. There are several points to recognize about our online identity:
* Content is not totally under our control;
* We may have inadvertently contributed “digital dirt” or derogatory information about ourselves;
* Someone else may have contributed derogatory information about us;
* There are remedies to clarifying or cleansing an online identity.

I recommend a three-step process, PAM, to manage your online persona:
* policeCompass Ad
* analyze
* manage

Policing means actively monitoring your identity online so you know what is being said about you. It is essential to recognize that online content is not solely under your control. I use the term content to include written information, pictures and video. The “Tagging” tool, so useful in helping to index information for more efficient retrieval, can also be deadly for your online identity.

Imagine your name or picture being attached to a “tag” such as “most embarrassing moments.” (Think: LOL Facebook Moments). Are you sure you remember every picture you ever posted? How about pictures your friends may have posted pictures that include you in the background? What can you do? Knowing is the first step. I strongly recommend “Googling” (also “Yahooing, “Binging” etc.) yourself periodically to see what your online identity reveals. This practice, often called “ego-surfing,” can be quite revealing. If you have a significant online “footprint’’ there should be several pages of citations to explore. Citations may include articles you have written or that include your name, comments you’ve posted, pictures (with your name or tags you are attached to), directory listings of organizations you belong to, every profile you’ve ever posted, etc. While a bit time consuming it is well worth examining every reference link to make sure you know what is on it and how it reflects on you.

If you come across derogatory material or “digital dirt,” identify the source – if you posted it, delete it if possible. Cleanse your Facebook profile, especially your “Wall.” If your friends have posted something objectionable ask them to delete it. If derogatory material appears in an article or comments section of a third-party website, contact the webmaster or owner of the site to discuss deleting the objectionable material. For additional strategies on cleansing your profile, see the full white paper version of this article, available at http://www.luisportiansky.com.

The next step is to analyze what the references say about you. Do they reflect the image and content you want? For example, if the primary references to you are comments you’ve made on political sites, or other personal type content, do they support the professional image you may be trying to cultivate? If they do not, initiate the Management phase by implementing a campaign of adding relevant posts, articles and other content that portrays the image you want.

Manage your profile by creating a series of new entries that reflect your expertise, industry focus or thought leadership. This strategy enables you to push older less flattering citations further back in your search results. Generally most researchers only look at the first two or three pages so make those your objective to sanitize.
These basic steps will enable you to see what your online profile contains, assess the message it gives about you and identify items for deletion, correction or updating. Managing your online identity is critical to your professional success. Your online profile speaks more powerfully and immediately to potential employers, clients and others you may be interested in impressing. By the way, although the focus of this article relates to personal profiles, the same dynamics (and then some) affect companies of all sizes.

Contact me for more information and resources on corporate reputation management.
Do not ignore your online profile – act today.

There are several reputable vendors in this space you can also consult for specific reputation management services. One very well reviewed vendor is Reputation Defender – http://www.reputation.com/

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About marketingoutsourcers

I am an experienced marketing pro with proven track record of achieving business objectives. Areas of expertise include strategic market planning, Hispanic Marketing, professional services, branding, public relations, market research, technology marketing and advertising. I have implemented marketing programs that have grown revenue by accurately targeting niche markets; increased market share by effectively qualifying and converting leads and increased brand recognition using public relations.
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