Assess your digital reputation

Posted on August 14, 2018

I’ve got a bit of a reputation. Whether you know it or not, you probably have too.

I’m talking, of course, about our online reputation – the image we create of ourselves on the internet. Everything we post – blogs, tweets, photos and videos, likes, links, comments and shares – contributes to our online reputation. So, too, does whatever other people post about us. And anyone who discovers this information will judge us, based on what they see – and may even use it against us.

Digital profiling is the process of gathering and analysing information about an individual that exists online. A digital profile can include information about personal characteristics, behaviours, affiliations, connections and interactions. A digital presence is how you appear online.

The good

Much has been said about companies using social media to identify and screen potential employees, particularly the newly minted set. But now, the proverbial mouse is in the other hand. According to a recent survey – nearly 28% of college students plan to seek employment using LinkedIn. Slightly more than seven percent plan to use Facebook, a platform formerly seen as primarily social.

It’s that blurring of the lines that is actually putting the soon-to-graduate set in the driver’s seat; instead of waiting around for that recruiter to reach out, they're using digital tools to identify and, ideally, land their ultimate gig. For them, the wealth of online information helps them cull through options to identify companies that align with their values and goals.

The bad

A survey by the Society of Human Resource Management shows that more companies are recruiting via social networking. Not surprising that almost 100% of recruiters use LinkedIn. Facebook is the next most utilised social media site (58%), followed by Twitter (42%).

In addition to being careful about what you post, it’s good practice to give pause before giving access. Think twice about to whom and to which sites you give access to your Facebook profile. You are who you “hang” out with – on and offline; make sure you know the friends who have access to your profiles and that everyone you are connected to is carefully considering what they post to your wall or the photos you’re tagged in.

The scary

Google is your first resumé. Everything you post can and will be used against you. Run a red light? Cameras are there to catch it. Fall in a fountain? Someone may be filming it and uploading to YouTube before you dry off. Walking on the street can inadvertently turn you into an overnight celebrity, everything is on the record and privacy has basically gone out the window.

Don’t worry if your digital footprints are a little muddy. Below, are tips on how to regain control of your online reputation.

 Research yourself online

Find out what’s already out there about you in cyberspace.

  • Clear your browsing history. Then put your name into several different search engines, and see what comes up. Try nicknames, initials and variations of your name.
  • Type in other things about you – your school or university, clubs you are or were a member of, places you’ve lived, the company you work for and previous employers.
  • Look for images, photos and videos as well as words.
  • Search sites you visit often, such as online directories, online grocery stores, public record sites and shopping sites.
  • Don’t forget to search social media sites and blogs – both personal and professional. Explore what other people have said about you, photos they’ve tagged you in or comments they’ve made. Look at your friends’ personal pages as well as your own.
  • If you have a business site, look at the reviews given and comments made.

Assess your digital reputation

Consider what all the online information you’ve found says about you. You may not like everything you see. Ask yourself:

  • Is it accurate? Is it positive? Does it reflect the image I want to project? Is there something left out?
  • Would I be happy for anyone else to see it – my spouse, my employer, a health insurer, or a customer?
  • Does something need to be edited or removed?
  • Are my personal and professional profiles combined? If so, should I create separate profiles for my work and personal lives?

Practise mindfulness

Be mindful of how your online activities affect your digital profile – and that of others. Think about the long-term effects of what you post. Aim to do and say things that benefit your online reputation, and don’t do anything that might damage anyone else’s.

  • Before you share, think about the consequences. You may be happy to post that picture now, but what about in a few years’ time? What does it say about you? What would your grandmother or your boss think?
  • If you’re feeling angry, hurt or upset, don’t post. You may well later regret it. Don’t be drawn into online arguments or make controversial or inflammatory comments. Don’t post when intoxicated.
  • Monitor your digital profile regularly. Check back often to see what new information has been added about you. Set up an alert with Google’s Me on the Web tool. It will tell you when information such as your name or email address is posted online, or you’re tagged in a photo. Also re-evaluate your social networks circle, pages you like, people and groups you follow and newsletters you subscribe to. Remove people from your online circle if necessary.

 Think privacy

  • Keep personal information private. Ask permission before posting personal details and photos of other people. Keep passwords, user names and account numbers to yourself.
  • Use privacy tools to set appropriate levels of access for friends, family and the general public, particularly on social media.
  • Before you download an app, check what information it will gather about you and why, and who it will share this data with.
  • Discuss with family and friends what you are happy for them to share, and what should stay private. Don’t overshare. Help your family to understand the consequences of sharing too much information. Remind them – and yourself – that nothing is ever really private if it’s online. 
  • Be careful not to share too much about your working life, or you might accidentally give away confidential information. And don’t be negative about your boss, your colleagues or your workplace.

 Fix what you can

Retrace your digital steps and take action fast to restore your online reputation. The sooner it’s gone, the less damage it will do.

  • Delete old, inactive accounts.
  • Ask Google to remove unwanted information from search results.
  • Hide or delete embarrassing, controversial or offensive posts. References to drugs, discriminatory comments and dishonesty about your qualifications, have to go.
  • If you can’t remove content posted by others, ask the person who posted it to take it down or correct it. If you can’t contact or get a response from that person, ask the site administrator for help in getting the unwanted content removed.
  • If you feel it’s necessary, use a professional service to clean up your image. Just Google “online reputation” and you’ll find a list of them.

Publicise the positive

Cultivate a great online image by putting your best self forward. This should help push negative information off the first page of any search engine results.

  • Create positive, up to date, quality content. Start your own blog or website under your own name, and write regularly about things you know well and are passionate about. Liven it up with attractive images and contemporary design.
  • Keep up with current affairs so that you can comment constructively and knowledgeably. Join online forums.
  • Promote all the good things you do – like charity work.
  • Build a profile on a professional networking site like LinkedIn, make connections and ask for recommendations from people who know your skills and career achievements. Write recommendations for your contacts, and comment on their posts. Keep your profile up to date with new accomplishments. Be honest.

Keep it up

Now that you’ve kicked off those muddy digital boots, had your online makeover and created a strong and positive profile, don’t let it slip. Stay alert and make sure you protect and maintain your digital reputation so that it continues to reflect the person you want to be seen as and gives a lasting impression.

- Author Suzanne Gericke

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