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How to Protect your Reputation online

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  • 1. How to Save Your Online ReputationBy Jon Bernsteinpublished on BNET.com 10/06/2009David Brown, a former security services executive working in education, had no idea how manyenemies he had until a magazine Web site published a review of his book in 2006. Seeing thereview, a former employee whom Brown had fired seized the opportunity to start a bitter smearcampaign. Vitriolic comments began to appear after Brown’s book review, calling him a liar, a cheat,questioning his work ethic, and accusing the married father of three of an affair.Men and women claiming to know Brown (not his real name), either from previous work orpersonally, started to weigh in with nasty comments. Some said he had ruined their life; othersaccused him of lack of integrity. All anonymously, of course. “It then became open season for anyonewith the tiniest grudge,” says Brown.Even when the magazine publisher erased the forum from its site, anyone who Googled Brown’sname or his book would be presented with an ever-expanding list of comments that damaged hisprofessional and personal reputation, as well as sales of his book. Ultimately, Brown had to approachGoogle HQ directly to erase the offending section from its server.Brown’s story is far from isolated. Author Alain de Botton’s personal attack on The New York Timesreviewer Caleb Crain is a reminder of how easily the personal and professional can collide online.Jimmy Wales, a co-founder of online encyclopedia Wikipedia, used an entry on his site to effectivelybreak up with his girlfriend. She retaliated by (literally) selling his dirty laundry on eBay. Their spatbecame a spectator sport throughout the blogosphere.Like it or not, social networking sites and blogs are making the private all the more public. Youmay have a smaller digital footprint than Jimmy Wales, but negative comments can spread quicklybeyond your personal network to damage your life and your career. It’s your reputation. Better to bein control. Things you will need: • Money: $500 - $1,200+ a day if you’re hiring someone to track or repair a dent to your reputation. • Time: Half a day to two days for an initial audit of what’s out there about you; 20 minutes a week to keep track of your evolving digital footprint; two to five days to deal with any attack on your reputation. -1-
  • 2. Keep Track of Your Online ReputationGoal: Make tracking part of your everyday routine.Start by identifying the most likely places online for your name to come up. Googledominates the search engine market, and it’s also where the media looks first, according to adfirm Universal McCann.Identify blogs and forums within your professional circle, as well as popular social networkingsites that you, colleagues, or competitors use. Then there are networking sites # LinkedIn andFacebook are frequently used to check character references, and Facebook tends to rankhigh on Google, too.Emerging social sites such as Twitter are increasingly important because of their viralpotential. Twitter “makes it easy for people to quickly express their inner monologue. And it isvery easy for others to spread it around,” says Andy Beal, co-author of Radically Transparent:Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online.Last, ensure the biography on your corporate Web site is accurate and fair. Check corporatesites of places you’ve worked; it’s unhelpful to have outdated information online.Once you’ve identified the sites you want to monitor, set up alerts. You can set upa Google alert at google.com/alerts for your full name. Subscribe with your full name toTechnorati.com, a blog search engine, and BackType, a blog comment search engine, toreach blogs that Google alerts may not cover. Twitter tools abound: Tweetdeck, Thwirl, orTweetGrid are a few. Most have — or are building — clients that work on smartphones suchas the Apple iPhone and the BlackBerry, and all let you tailor your searches so you can followmentions of you in real time.Another tool worth considering is Twinbox, which lets you track what’s being said on Twittervia Microsoft Outlook. Dan Schawbel, a personal brand specialist and author of Me 2.0:Builda Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success, recommends Tweetbeat.com, which gives younotifications through e-mail when people talk about you on Twitter. Checklist What to Track • Search engines: Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft’s • Bing Blogosphere: Known blogs in your professional arena, or use blog search engines such as Technorati or Google Blog Search • Forums: Known discussion threads in your professional arena • Social networking sites: Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn • Microblogging sites: Twitter, Jaikuand Plurk, Social Mention -2-
  • 3. • Personal rating sites: PersonRatings.com • Corporate Web sites: Your company, former places of workRepair Your Online ReputationGoal: Identify the nature of the attack and act accordingly.Monitoring the Web won’t prevent an online attack. If you fall victim, don’t panic: Think beforeyou respond. “If it’s an isolated incident, and no one has replied, you might consider lettingsleeping dogs lie,” says Andy Beal. Likewise, Schawbel cautions against rising to the bait: “Ifsomeone is deliberately attacking you for fun, or ‘trolling,’ then leave it alone. They only wantthe attention,” he says.Analyze what’s been said about you. If a blogger has their facts wrong, correct them # mostwill quickly amend their post. If the criticism’s true, apologize using the same medium asthe message. Give people a platform to complain to you where the original complaint wasposted or on your own blog. Your willingness to engage is likely to win over the sceptics. Italso reflects well on your own management style.If the attack on you is a calculated campaign # a post on a blog with a follow-up onTwitter # then take action. If you’re being attacked professionally, you should alert thefollowing:corporate stakeholders, including your boss; the company press officer; and the legaldepartment.Deal with the matter informally first. If you know the identity of your detractor, approachdirectly, offline. “You don’t want to do this in the public domain,” advises Beal.In most cases people will remove the offending item from the blog or forum, but if they don’t,you can consider a more public approach. Be open, constructive, conciliatory, and willingto engage.Try something along these lines: Jim, I’ve already spoken to you about this, andas you know, what you are saying about me is inaccurate. I would like you to remove it.Meanwhile, if anyone out there reading this has any questions, this is how to reach me.If this approach fails and comments against you are defamatory, you may need to speak to alawyer.One more thing: think before you fire off a salvo to a co-worker online. If you need anexample, consider this fairly innocuous Facebook exchange between “Yvonne” and hermanager, “Cheryl.” It takes on a new and unflattering life on Lamebook, a site that highlights“lame and funny” extracts from social networking sites for others to comment on. Hot Tip -3-
  • 4. Dont Mix Business and Leisure Online Use separate social networking options for work and play # Facebook for your friends and LinkedIn for professional contacts, for example. That way, a personal spat is less likely to spill over into your professional life. “Post a short explanation, saying: ‘I use this site for X or Y,’” suggests Tiger Two’s Nancy Williams. And, obvious as it may sound, you don’t have to accept everyone’s invitation to join your network.Protect Your Online ReputationGoal: Insulate yourself against attacks and build a brand that reflects theprofessional you.So weve discussed the cure, what about prevention? The answer lies in building andmaintaining your online brand. That way, any negative commentary is not the only news aboutyou. “If those negative associations occur,” says John Purkiss, co-author of Brand You. “Youwant people to think, “‘Well, that’s absolutely out of character.’” You’ll put the burden of proofon your attackers.The first step is to effectively “buy up” all the online property in your name. Whether or notyou’re active on Twitter, LinkedIn, or have plans to set up a Wordpress or Typepad blog, it isworth setting up accounts in each.It is a defensive maneuver that, at the very least, stops someone else owning and abusinglinkedin.com/joepublic, twitter.com/joepublic, joepublic.wordpress.com, and so on.Next, identify advocates and encourage them to point to you online. That may mean writing aLinkedIn recommendation, a mention on their blog, or simply a link.The more relevant the people with whom you’re linked, the stronger your “link equity” #and the more likely you’ll appear on the first page of a Google search. Plus “it’s a lot easierto respond if you have a community to rally around you,” says Nancy Williams, founder ofU.K.-based online reputation specialists Tiger Two.Be proactive. Offer to blog and write articles about your specialist subjects for onlinepublications that hit your current and future business associates. Earn a reputation as a“player” in your field. Get your name out there. Essential Ingredients -4-
  • 5. Getting to Grips with SEO If you want the positive to push out the negative on page one of Google, learn about search engine optimisation (SEO), the art of increasing the search engine traffic to your site or profile. Some good places to start: • 23 Strategies to Improve Your Website Traffic • How to Improve Your Link Popularity Purkiss has one last suggestion. If you are the author of your own downfall, try copying scandal-hit 1960s politician John Profumo, whose humiliating exit from politics was followed by a lifetime of philanthropy. Applying a 21st century twist to the Profumo Principle, Purkiss says: “Do lots of good stuff until the bad stuff is pushed to page six of Google.”Copyright © 2009 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved. -5-

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