The Internet can be a double-edged sword for your reputation. It can be very, very good or it can be very, very bad. If you are in the public eye in any way, you need to be proactive about managing your online reputation.
Last week, I spoke about the need to manage your online reputation when you are applying for jobs or promotions. Having a blog can be especially helpful towards this goal since you can write articles that reflect your expertise as well as show how you think, work, and relate to people in your world. Each blog post can come up on a Google search so it is also a great way of owning the first pages of a search of your name. And believe me, you will be searched!
When a recruiter or employer reads your posts, they will get a much clearer and richer image of you and how you would contribute to their team than they could ever glean from a resume. Creating and writing a blog takes a great deal of initiative and confidence and this will also set you apart from crowd.
This week I have had several people contact me about how to deal with negative information about them appearing online.
There are two main strategies when dealing with negative search results.
- Have it removed at the source.
- Add positive information which will suppress the negative results.
Libelous versus Embarrassing
You need to be aware that just because you don’t like the information being said about you, if it is true you have no basis to have it removed. When someone makes a false claim to the public in writing about someone else, that claim may fall under the legal definition of libel and there are grounds to have it removed as well as may be subject to legal ramifications. The mug shots appearing online after people have been arrested are horrible but not illegal, although often you can pay to have them removed (which then feels like you are being bribed).
Having Libelous Content Removed
If something is wrong or libelous, you want to try and have it removed from the source. Having it removed from Google would not even be effective since Google is not the only search engine. Even if Google did remove it, other search engines would still have access to it or it would be able to be accessed by a link. Once something has been published online, on a website or on a social media platform, it is out there and the best you can do is go to the webmaster of the site where it was published and ask that it be removed. If the webmaster does not respond, the hosting company has the authority to remove libelous information from a site that they host.
To find the webmaster, try and send a message through the contact page of the website or find the e-mail address for the person behind the site. If this does not pan out, do a web search on “whois www.thesitename.com”. This will give you some information about the owner or admin for the site. If you can’t get the owners name or are unsuccessful getting them to respond, the Whois will also give you information regarding the hosting company for that site and you can contact them.
If the webmaster makes the changes you requested to a site that appears in the search results, you can request that search engines remove outdated information by submitting a webpage removal request. But even if you were successful in removing it, content on the web has been indexed and cached and can still show up for years even if it no longer exists. That sucks right?
Fight Negative with Positive
The thing that is ultimately more effective is to fight negative results with positive ones. This may seem daunting; if you feel you have been violated online, you most likely want to stick your head in the sand and hope it goes away. The last thing you may want to do is to go add things about yourself online. But adding truthful and positive information about yourself will help to obscure the negative search results by pushing them back to less visited search results. It is highly unlikely that people will search past 100 results so adding positive information can dramatically improve the first impression people get when searching you or your brand.
According to research by a reputation management company called BrandYourself, of 130,000 people signed up for their site, there are over 1 billion names searched in Google everyday. In the effort to manage your reputation, the good thing to know is that 94% of searches never go further than the front page. BrandYourself also reports that:
- Only 2% own the entire first page with positive search results
- Only 50% have a positive first result, which is the most important
- One in four people have no positive information on the front page at all
You can use BrandYourself to assess, monitor and improve these results. Or you can do it yourself. Basically what you need to do is create positive search results. There are some easy ways to do this, but it takes some effort and some time to show results.
- Assess: Do a search on the major search engines, Google, Bing and Yahoo and for each of them, make a baseline list of the search results showing on the first pages. Identify each result as whether it refers to you and if so if it is positive or negative. Date the lists so you can track improvement over time.
- Create The Positive: If you are not already on the major social accounts, they are a good way to add results to the first page of a search. When you are setting up these sites, use your own name as the user name and in the profiles. Fill out the profiles completely and add the same photo of yourself to all of them. Here is a to do list. Create:
- Google+profile: add links to your website and any other site you contribute to.
- LinkedIn: complete the profile with your resume filled in as well as all of the other sections, including special projects and organizations you are active in. Ask specific people you have worked with for recommendations.
- Facebook: Yes even Facebook results can show up on a search. But make sure you clean up your profile and remove anything that is not on the up and up.
- Twitter: Use your name for your handle if available and add a complete profile including links to your website.
- About.Me or BrandYourself accounts can also show up in searches. About.Me is free and there is a free version of BrandYourself.
- Google gives more power to entries that are linked to, so if you can link one social media profile to another and to your website, this will help you get new positive entries in a search faster.
- Create a Blog style Website: If you don’t have a website, create one with WordPress. You can do so with either WordPress.com or the self-hosted WordPress.org. Use your name as the domain name or in the domain name if possible. It is not enough just to have a blog style site. It is important to actually write blog posts about your area of expertise and the work you do. Include sharing buttons under the posts. Share the posts on your social media sites and ask friends to do so. Each post is like a Google lottery ticket and if you use your name in the metatags these posts will show up in a search of your name. Create links to this website from all of the social media accounts you have created.
- In the future:
- Immediately address negative reviews. Don’t sweep them under the rug or wait too long. Listen to what they have to say without defending yourself. Empathize with the their feelings and it may be nice to offer them something for their dissatisfaction.
- Ask for reviews from satisfied customers. Ask them to go online and post 3rd party reviews on sites like Yelp, LinkedIn, Trip Advisor; whichever is appropriate to your business. You can also post reviews they have written on your site, but they are more believable when they are posted elsewhere.
- Continue to offer excellent service and create happy customers and good relationships. Buck up and don’t let negative information online get you down and stop you from moving forward. Use this as a reason to up your standards and take your customer service to the next level.
I know having negative information about you online may seem like life or death. And yes, it can make a difference in your livelihood, so it is important to face up to what is going on and do something about it. Everyone loves a comeback story and how you deal with a crisis and negative publicity is as important as what happened to get there in the first place. You may want to consider having someone or a team work with you to help you manage your feelings about what is going and guide you in making the right public relations decisions after a crisis; and also someone who is able help you with managing a comeback for your online reputation.