Odds are someone is searching the web for you right now, or at least has looked you up fairly recently. Do you know what they learned? Better yet, do you control the pages and profiles they visited? If not, it's time to take your online reputation into your own hands instead of leaving it to Google. Here's how.
It's no secret that friends, nosy family members, and potential employers will all take to Google, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to look for more information about you when they want it. In the case of family and friends, they already know you. When it comes to potential employers or people interested in working with you, it's important to make sure that the things they find about you are representative of who you are (or who you want them to think you are.)
You don't have to be a job-seeker to understand the importance of your online reputation, though. You can be a freelancer or entrepreneur who wants to control their image, or just someone who doesn't your name dragged through the mud. It may seem like the wall of Google search results when you search your name is impossible to control, but there are some clever things you can do. In this post, we'll tackle some of them, and by the end you'll have a better picture of what people find when they search for you. With work, you'll even have better control over what they find.
Before we get started, it's a good idea to see what others see when they search for you. Then we can tweak what we find so it's representative of the "you" that you want the public to see, not just what Google collects.
We'll start with Google. You've probably done a vanity Google search before, but if not, now's the time. Just log out of your Google accounts or use a browser where you're not logged in (Google personalizes results based on your account activity) and search for your name. Don't bother going more than a few pages deep, and make note of what you see. Remember, making a good first impression requires actually making an impression. While turning up nothing means no one will find anything bad, it also means they won't learn anything good about you, and that can be pretty bad too.
Now that you've seen what others see, it's time to get rid of anything you don't like. You can't trust you'll have the opportunity to explain the bad stuff away in a phone or in-person interview. Whether the behavior is your own, someone trolled you and set up fake profiles to defame you, or someone's been impersonating you online, here's how to handle it for each service:
If all else fails, you can turn to services that promise to protect your online reputation. They're usually effective, but they all cost money. For example, previously mentioned BrandYourself and Reputation.com (formerly Reputation Defender) will all help streamline this process for you.
Now that we've ditched the bad stuff, it's time to build up the good stuff. Potential employers, business contacts, and people you network with will look you up anyway, so why not make sure what they find is what you want them to know?
Spruce Up Your Social Networks. Your social networks can be valuable tools if you use them. Update your LinkedIn profile with your interests and skills, not just your work history. Add some relevant interests to Facebook and leave them public. You may even want to like a few job or industry-related pages, or create a Facebook page specifically for your professional persona. Upload a good-looking profile photo to your Facebook, Twitter, and Google profiles, and consider filling out your photo gallery with flattering shots of you, your work, or even your projects and things you've worked on. Use every opportunity to showcase your skills, talents and interests, whether it's in the "Likes" section of your Facebook profile, or the photos in your Instagram account. There's nothing wrong with food photos at Instagram if you're a self-described foodie, for example.
By now, you've done your homework to find out what other people find when they look for you, cleaned up your profiles, and added content to the web that you control so people only see what you want them to learn about you. As you go forward with your shiny, professional online persona, make sure to keep it clean by following the fundamental rule of sharing on the internet: don't post it if you don't want it to be public.