You have spent your entire working career carefully crafting and protecting your reputation. You're honest with suppliers and work exceptionally hard to exceed your clients' expectations. You are transparent, operate with integrity, and treat everyone with respect. Your references rave about what a great person you are.
And then you created a Facebook account.
From any mobile device, anywhere, at any time you can share what's on your mind. Were you out with your buddies and heard a great joke? Share it with your friends! Have you received poor service at a new restaurant? Gripe about it and let the world know! Do you agree with the latest political rant? Share it with your online colleagues!
In today's information rich and easy publishing world, when you post anything online you are disseminating your message to the world and, by default, you are promoting your brand-your personal brand. While big-company branding can cost millions and involve countless hours of thoughtful planning, your personal brand can be broadcast to a global network at virtually no cost and with a simple (and too often heedless) click of a mouse.
What is your personal brand? If I only know you by your Twitter and Facebook posts what is the unstated promise I believe you represent? What is the unstated promise I believe I will receive if I associate with you? Is it you the professional, or you the one who just posted the sexist joke?
What most people don't understand is this: The Web is not anonymous nor can anyone control its flow of information. The Web, by definition, spreads and grows, connecting computers and people around the globe. Even one-to-one text messages or emails can be archived or shared with the masses. Consider this: Nothing stops me from posting on my Facebook page (and showing to the world) the email that you sent as a private communication meant for my eyes only. There is no such thing as "your online friends group" or "private message boards." Once a comment is in a digital format, nothing is private. Moreover the opportunities for distribution are limitless and the content can be found, theoretically, forever.
Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, micro-blogs, Skype, texting, digital photography, YouTube, and other technologies allow us to communicate in ways previously unimaginable. With mobile devices, we can broadcast when something occurs. The great benefit of today's Internet is that anyone can publish information for a worldwide audience. The great danger of today's Internet is that anyone can publish information for a worldwide audience.
When people type your name into Google or other search engines, what do they find? You can implement some simple tips to immediately manage your online reputation; to build and promote your personal brand. They can help you limit distribution of the wince-inducing comments and photos. And they can help you showcase accomplishments or experiences in the top results when someone searches your name.
1. Own Your Online Name. If your name is "Joe Smith," do you own www.joesmith.com, www.joe-smith.com, and even www.joe-smith-sucks.com (and all of the .org and other variations of the above names)? If you don't "own" your own name, then you're leaving your online reputation in the hands of someone who does. To purchase your own name, visit NetworkSolutions.com or www.godaddy.com. Conduct a search and if the name you want is available, purchase it for a fee of about $10 per year.
2. Manage Your LinkedIn Account. LinkedIn has become a key site to find business executives. Setting up an account at Linkedin.com is easy. Make sure you complete all of the fields and craft a well-written, professional profile. Be honest, as it's fairly easy to verify or refute any information you provide. To learn more about writing a compelling profile, visit samrichter.com/linkedinprofiles and check out the various links to several great profile-writing resources.
3. Leverage Your LinkedIn Account. Set up other accounts in places similar to LinkedIn such as Naymz.com, ZoomInfo.com, Plaxo.com, BrandYourself.com, and Workface.com. Copy the LinkedIn profile you so carefully crafted and then paste it into these accounts. Modify the information to fit the site's specific format, and change the first few sentences so that the content showing up in a Google search result is different for each site.
4. Create a Google+ Account. Let Google know that you exist and who you are by setting up your own Google Profile at Google.com/plus. Set up your free account; link it to your website and social networks, and more. Again, leverage the LinkedIn profile you already wrote when creating your Google Profile biography.
5. Create a Twitter Account (and Use It). Create an account at Twitter.com and Tweet on a regular schedule. Refrain from Tweeting about what you had for breakfast. Instead, share information that others will find valuable such as educational articles related to your business or industry. Follow others whose reputation you respect, and that in turn could increase your followers.
6. Give Your Name a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Boost. Companies spend thousands of dollars-big ones spend millions-search engine optimizing their company websites. That means that when someone enters keywords associated with the company into a search engine, the company's website shows up higher in the corresponding search results. You can do something similar with your own name with the help of BrandYourself, and you don't have to mortgage your house to do it. Set up your free account at BrandYourself.com. Use the prompts to conduct a search on your name. On the results page identify whether the result is a positive or negative one-or if it's not you-and BrandYourself will give you a letter grade relating to how your names ranks in search results.
7. Manage Your Facebook Account. Create and manage your Facebook profile at www.facebook.com. Remove any photos that don't show you in a professional manner. Certainly share information about your personal life because that's what people want to see on Facebook, but don't post anything that you wouldn't want your mom or grandmother to see-or great-grandkids 50 years from now.
8. Set Your Facebook Privacy. Do you want to keep your personal life personal? Make sure you set your Facebook Privacy settings to help you do that. Log in to your Facebook account and on the upper navigation menu look for the "Lock" icon. Click on it and familiarize yourself with the pull-down options related to protecting your privacy. Make sure you click on the "See More Settings" link.
9. Think Before You Post (or Send). Most communication is non-verbal. Although you might be only slightly miffed at someone, the comments you make in an email could be taken out of context and indicate that you are spiteful and mean, even if you use an emoticon (a smiley face J). Don't send an email, don't text a friend, don't post a Tweet, don't comment on an online post until you're sure that what you say won't be taken out of context, and how you say it is done in a calm, professional manner.
10. Email Yourself First. Did someone else's message make you angry or emotional? Before responding via email, text or social media, write an email spewing out your anger and emotions. Sprinkle in some four-letter words. Share what you REALLY want to say. But don't send the email to the other person. Instead, send it to yourself. Then wait a few hours or even until the next morning and read the email. Once you've had some time to reflect, you'll most likely refrain from sending the message altogether or you'll edit out the emotional parts before you hit "Send."
11. Give Yourself the Newspaper Test. Remember your digital messages are archived and theoretically searchable forever. Do you really want your permanent digital legacy to be one written in a time of anger? Ask yourself this question every time you're about to hit "Send" or "Post": "How would I feel if this post made the front page of tomorrow's newspaper . . . would I be embarrassed if my professional network read this? Would I be embarrassed if my great-grandchildren read this? If the answer is yes, then don't post it to the Web, send it in an email, or respond in a text message.
12. Don't Leave Your Brand to Chance. When was the last time you searched your name on Google? How about Twitter? Negative information spreads like wildfire online and you cannot leave your personal brand and reputation to chance. Numerous free services can notify you when your name appears online. My favorites are Google Alerts (Google.com/alerts) and for Twitter, Topsy.com. When creating your Alert make sure to put your name within quotation marks, and then use additional words to further narrow your search, and the minus sign to filter results. In the future, anytime Google or Topsy finds an online mention of your name, you will receive an email.
In today's information-rich world, it's nearly impossible to stay off the online stage. Whether you post information about yourself, or someone else does, you are almost certain to have an online presence - an online personal brand. The key question is, who is going to control your brand? Others? Fate? Or you?
Photo Credit: NocturnaIMoTH and Yuuleeaye (www.imgur.com)