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What You Say Online IS Your Reputation

Web 2.0 has taken the world by storm. Web 2.0 is defined as two-way communication, whereby parties can interact, often in real time, over the Internet. (Web 1.0, by contrast, is defined as one-way communication whereby your company creates a website to share your information, and search technologies make it easy for people from around the globe to find you.)

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Skype, photo sharing sites, micro-blogs and other technologies allow us to communicate in ways previously unimaginable. With mobile devices, we can broadcast something when it occurs. The great benefit—and the great danger—of Web 2.0 is that anyone can be a publisher of information and the world is the stage.

What makes Web 2.0 so dangerous is that you can not only share information and distribute it on a global scale without the benefit of an editor, but worse, what you say online can be archived and searchable by anyone—forever. One online mistake can theoretically haunt you for the rest of your life.

The Good News
There are steps you can take to ensure you manage your reputation, and they aren’t limited to living in a cave with no Internet access (because even then, you still can probably be found online). There are techniques you can use and online resources you can leverage to create, maintain and even further your personal brand.

When people type your name into Google or other search engines, what do they find? Following are some simple tips you can immediately implement to manage your online reputation. Many are important to Google and other search engines—meaning, if managed correctly, you can be sure to have the information you want to be seen showing up in the top of search results when someone searches your name. Best of all, for the most part, you control the message.

Own your name online. 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 else.

Manage & leverage your LinkedIn account. LinkedIn has become one of the key places for business executives to be found. Setting up a LinkedIn account at www.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 enter. Follow the LinkedIn guides to learn how to best take advantage of this powerful resource. Set up other accounts in places similar to LinkedIn such as www.naymz.com, www.zoominfo.com, www.plaxo.com and www.businesscard2.com. Copy and paste your LinkedIn profile into these accounts, and then modify it to fit the specific site’s format.

Create a Google profile. Let Google know that you exist and who you are by setting up your own Google profile at www.google.com/profiles. Set up your free account and link your website, social networks and more. Again, leverage the LinkedIn profile that you’ve already written when creating your Google biography.

Create a Twitter account (and use it). Create a Twitter account and tweet on a regular schedule. Refrain from tweeting about what you had for breakfast. Rather, tweet educational articles related to your business or industry. Share information that others will find valuable. On Twitter, follow others whose reputation you respect.

Manage your Facebook account. 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. Remember, it’s not just you, but it’s also your “friends” who help form your online reputation. “Unfriend” anyone who posts inappropriate content on his or her Facebook page. If someone posts a photo of that party you attended in college that embarrasses you, kindly ask that they remove it. If they won’t, certainly un-tag your name. (If you’re tagged in someone else’s photo on their Facebook page, it’s possible that the photo can be found by searching your name.)

Set your Facebook privacy. Want to keep your personal life personal? Make sure you check your Facebook privacy settings. Log into your Facebook account, find “Account Settings” on the main navigation and then choose “Privacy Settings.” Customize your settings to the level of privacy you wish. Make sure to click on the multiple links under “Privacy,” including “Application Settings.” You need to manually opt-out of Facebook’s default settings because Facebook itself is an opt-in program, meaning you opted-in to Facebook’s default privacy settings upon opening your account. Facebook’s default settings are basically “share everything with the world,” so if you don’t want that, then you need to change your settings individually.

Get involved. Participate in LinkedIn Groups and answer questions in LinkedIn’s “Answers” section. Use your real name when identifying yourself. Write articles for your industry blog and website and make sure to link to your website and, again, use your real name. Serve on nonprofit boards and make sure the biography you want is posted on the organization’s website. The more credible places where you can get your name posted and seen, the more credible sites that will appear when someone searches your name.

Keep your cool. If someone writes something negative about you or your company, don’t respond with an angry rebuttal. Instead, recognize that when people criticize, they usually just want to be heard. Call or email the person with a genuine apology. Even if it’s not really your fault, apologize for, at the very least, the negative experience the other person had. Let him or her know how you’re going to fix the problem, and then apologize again. How you respond to negative comments probably says more about you than the positive messages that you control or that even others post about you.

Read More OnlineTo learn more about the dangers lurking within Web 2.0, read more from Sam Richter in The MHEDA Journal Online.

Think before you post (or send). Remember, 80 percent to 90 percent of communication is non-verbal. What you think is funny, others might find highly inappropriate. Where you might be just slightly angry at someone, in an email your comments can be taken out of context and you could be portrayed as spiteful and mean. Don’t send an email, text a friend, post a tweet or comment to an online post until you’re sure that what you say won’t be taken out of context, and you’ve said it in a calm, professional manner.

One important tip here. Did someone else’s message cause you to feel angry or emotional? Before posting a response online, tweeting, texting or emailing the other person, write down exactly how you wish to respond at that very moment in your emotional state, but write it in an email that you send to yourself. Then wait a few hours or even until the next morning and re-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 send. Remember, once you hit “Send” or “Post,” it’s archived and theoretically searchable forever. Do you really want your permanent online legacy to be one written in anger? Every time before you hit “Send” or “Post,” ask yourself: “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?” If the answer is yes, then don’t “Send” or “Post.”

In today’s information-rich world, it’s nearly impossible for you not to be found online. Whether it’s information that you post or information that others post about you, virtually everyone today has some form of online presence. The key question you need to answer is: Who is going to control the message?

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
Sam Richter Meet the Author
Sam Richter is a speaker and author based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, and on the Web at www.samrichter.com. He will present “Know More! Posting: What You Say Online, and What’s Said About You, Can Make or Break Your Business and Reputation” at the 2011 MHEDA Convention on Tuesday, May 3, at 1:15 p.m.

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