None of them knew what I meant by “ego surfing” – checking your online reputation to see what shows up when someone Googles you.
Online media – social media – is a powerful indicator as to how you are perceived and noted by people you may or may not know. Most professionals never think to check their online reputation, and are stunned by what shows up when they finally do. Ego surfing is a great exercise and habit to get into so you are never caught unaware!
I recently interviewed a young woman for a position in my company. Her resume was amazing! She was referred to me by a business professional I respect greatly. However, when I put her name into Google, with quotes around her first and last name, and the word “Colorado” following, what showed up shocked me. Her MySpace page was unprotected and viewable. Here, I saw pictures of her partying in college, comments made by her as a self-proclaimed “party girl” and posts by friends of hers remarking on her ability to consume large quantities of alcohol and still manage to show up for class. This was not someone I wanted in my company.
Assume everyone will Google you
Whether you are in business, looking for a job, pursuing a degree, or networking in the community, assume the people you will meet will put your name into Google to learn more about you. What will they find? Does the information they find support the reputation you want to have?
Most people who search their online reputation find newspaper mentions, awards announcements and company promotions in the news. However, I’ve heard many horror stories from people who Google themselves (yes, Google is now a noun AND a verb!) and find:
- Someone with the same name is serving prison time for murder
- Someone with the same name – even middle initial – is the victim in a well-publicized murder trial
- A fellow namesake is a famous porn star
- Someone with his name is serving time for embezzlement (this was from a financial planner!)
Fixing your online reputation
If you happen to be one of the unfortunate ones, and your name appears next to the words “convicted” or “deceased” or “appearing nightly”, and it’s not you, there are several things you can do to correct the situation. Maybe worse, if someone Googles you and nothing appears – you are nowhere online – this could send the impression that you are irrelevant and uninteresting. Your goal is to utilize every available tool to proactively promote the reputation you desire, and distance yourself from the ones that do not represent you or your desired image.
1. Google indexes search results based on your frequency of posting, the consistency of your name (i.e. whether you post as John Bowden or J. Bowden or John P. Bowden) and the keywords in your messages. By proactively populating new content, you likely push the less favorable content down to later pages. To help make it easy for Google to find you online, set up several online profiles at popular social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Google Profiles, Yahoo Profiles, Twitter and Facebook. Then, populate the content with carefully crafted content that represents you in the light you desire.
2. Become active in social networking forums where your expertise and talent can be demonstrated. Yahoo and LinkedIn offer Groups and Answers forums allow you to share insights and information that you control.
3. Consider starting a blog. Blogs allow you to share more detailed content, along your expertise and/or interests, and are often indexed more aggressively if you post regularly. If you are not interested in starting your own blog, support other blogs with meaningful and relevant content. This helps your searchability, too.
4. Remove any posts you have made that you wish you hadn’t. Go to the blogs, articles, forums and features and remove your comments if you still can (some sites lock comments down after a period of time.)
5. Untag yourself from unflattering photos. The purpose of “tagging” a photo is to let you and others know you are in the picture. Many sites allow you to untag yourself, and/or contact the person who posted the image and request they remove it.
Ego surfing is a great way to know what others are finding about you online. You don’t want to walk into a meeting, interview or pitch and suddenly find yourself in the crosshairs of an unflattering reputation created online.
A proactive strategy for building your presence online is both rewarding and fun. Why leave your reputation to chance? Instead, manage and monitor what is being said about you and create a focused program to increase your value and relevancy to target audiences online.