- By Keith Hosey -
Have you ever “Googled” yourself? If you are online, then chances are that you have some type of online presence. But what does it matter if you’re never going to run for office or become famous, it sounds like something only politicians, movie stars and other famous people need to worry about, right? Who would Google you anyway?
Potential employers, potential landlords, friends, neighbors, co-workers, business partners, classmates, teachers... you name it, anyone who is curious can look into your online presence. It’s the new first impression, digital impression, and it could harm you. So, if you want to make a good impression with anyone you may meet, you should make sure the internet isn’t giving you a bad name. Here is a simple, plain-English guide to online reputation management. I hope it helps.
Step one, Google yourself. Try it with your full name “Keith Hosey,” your full name and city “Keith Hosey, Louisville, KY,” any nicknames (Let’s say I went by “Chip” – and I don’t) “Chip Hosey.” Your results will likely list other people by your name. For example, “Keith Hosey” returns a mixture of results for me, a priest in Indiana, a 20 year old in Dublin, Ireland, a recently deceased man in Michigan, and another Keith Hosey from Alabama on Facebook. “Keith Hosey, Louisville, KY” gets a different set of results, just for me. Knowing your first three pages for each search is important. You will need to take a close look at what results are showing up for your name.
Social Media Management
Unless you’re famous, have been in the news or listed online with some group’s website (member of the Rotary Club, etc.), then most of your results will be social media networks. Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Myspace… I have even more than those, I use Flickr for photographs, YouTube, LinkedIn, Delicious bookmarking site, Foursquare and more.
You have total control of your social media accounts, so let’s talk about management. Nobody uses Myspace anymore, right? Just because you haven’t logged into your Myspace account in three years doesn’t mean it’s gone! If you’re done with Myspace, delete your account. Otherwise, your profile picture from 2003 doing a keg-stand will live forever. If there are any other sites that you don’t use anymore, delete them all.
Next you need to look at all your active accounts. How much access are you giving to strangers? Most sites like Facebook, Google Plus, Flickr, Foursquare, etc. will give your total control over who sees what and how much. You can be invisible or you can be completely public. A good way to find out how to control those settings is to Google “[that social network]’s privacy settings.” You’ll find tutorials on how to restrict access to “only your friends” or to make your profile completely invisible to search (including Google Search!). Then you have to be proactive about what you share with whom. Make sure all of your status updates are not “public” or “everyone.”
You may also want to go in each network and clean up old photos or old status updates that you don’t want people making judgments about. This can be very time consuming and the quick fix is that you make your information private and only available to “friends.” But you can’t hide forever. Eventually, your boss, coworkers, landlord, friends, neighbors, business partners, classmates, teachers, etc. may want to be your “friend,” then it’s all open to them again. That person you were hiding your keg-stand photos from might have the “friends only” access, so don’t completely ignore this step!
What about things you can’t control, like news articles, memberships, listings, etc. If you don’t have control of the source, then the only thing you can do is change the results. Google results are based partly on how much a link is clicked (and how recently it happened). So, if “Keith Hosey arrested for hunting rabbits out of season” is on my first page and I don’t want it there, I need to start clicking on positive links that are behind it in the search results. This will eventually push that link back to the fourth or seventh or fifteenth page. Hey, if it’s that bad and you don’t want it there, ask a couple friends to help. Unfortunately, there’s no other way around it. This can be a lot of effort, so ask yourself if you can live with it. For example, I signed up to be a part of an “International Talk like a Pirate Day” meet-up last year (It’s every September 19, me maytes!). Is it unprofessional? Yes. Is it goofy? Probably. Will it harm me? Not really. And in a couple years, it will fall back in the results to more current and more clicked items.
Do you have a disability?
Because I work at a disability agency, my name results have lots of disability results, disabilitymentor.net, blog posts like “I'd Like to Take the "Dis" out of Disability,” listings as “ADA Amendments” speaker, EEO filings… oh my! For me, I’m ok with the association with the word disability and it’s also part of my professional involvement. But if you have a hidden disability and don’t want potential employers or other people to know about it, you should make sure you don’t have it publically listed and searchable in Google. Is it part of a profile bio? Are you listed as the chairperson on your local National Association of Mental Illness website?
More tips and tricks
If you don’t put it out there, you won’t ever have a problem to worry about. Think before you post something on the internet, because it’s usually there forever. Try to stay away from making public your political views, your religious views, and any other hot topics. Try to stick to the old “Topics of Polite Conversation” rule of thumb. Also, remember that comments on websites, blogs and other people/pages on your social networks may be set to public, so be careful what you say. Just because your Facebook is set to “friends only,” your comment on your best friend’s page may be free and open for all to see. Finally, be proactive. You can set Google Alert emails on any keyword, just go to http://www.google.com/alerts and set it up for your name. This way, when there’s a new result for your name, you’ll know about it.
Photo Credit Flickr
Do you have any tips that I’ve missed?