Three Steps for Protecting and Promoting Yourself Online

Asking if an associate or friend is 'online' is a thing of the past. You rarely hear: 'Hey - are you on Facebook?' Instead, you're more likely to end a first date or a networking event with a 'Hey - I'll Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn you.' Assuming that your acquaintances aren't searching for you online is na?ve and could even be harmful. Statistics show that many companies will do extensive online research on a potential employee before they'll extend an offer. Back in June of 2010, we reported that nearly 70 percent of college graduates Google themselves to see what Google returns, an act that is no longer considered vain or unimportant, but a necessary step in monitoring your public persona. Even if you're not a celebrity or big time government official, we still highly recommend caring for your online reputation. Below, we've made it simple: Online Reputation Management in three easy steps.

1. Your identity is already online - make sure you have control.
Just because you don't actively participate in the online community, don't assume that your identity is safe. It's not uncommon for individuals to make fake accounts using real names to post slanderous statements, viruses and worse online. By claiming pages using your real name, you begin building your online brand, be it personal or professional, giving credibility to your name and taking steps in the right direction toward a positive online reputation. Create profiles on sites like Facebook and Twitter (if you haven't already) as well as LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube and other social media networks. If you're a business owner, claim the company's pages on review sites like Yelp, Google Places and foursquare.

If you're willing to spend a few dollars, we highly recommend buying your name as a domain name (think joesmith.com). That way, if you do ever decide to start a blog or a personal website, you can circumvent the difficulty of obtaining a relevant URL. Using websites like GoDaddy or Domain make the process simple and inexpensive. Consider buying several variations of your name and nicknames while you're there.

2. Online reputation management is not a set-it-and-forget-it task. You must manage your identity online.

Make sure you know what is being said about you online. The easiest way to do this, without paying an online service, is to set up free Google Alerts. Once you enter your name or business name (don't forget to include variations) in Google Alerts, you'll receive an email when there are Google results that match your keyword.

But, there's more to monitoring your online reputation than just listening to what's being said. It's important to get involved and participate in online discussions about your company, your field of expertise, or your interests. When commenting on blogs or news stories, include links to your personalized sites - this will add to your comments credibility and direct traffic to your sites or accounts.

If a negative situation arises online - say you find an incriminating photo, or someone is verbally attacking you or your business - there are several actions to take. Try contacting the person privately at first and ask them to remove the offending information. Use your response to clearly explain yourself and the situation as seen from your point of view. This is the time to be articulate and polite - yelling and name calling will only make the situation worse. If you're representing a business online, it's also important to publically respond to customers in an appropriate manner whether it's through a targeted blog post or in a story's comment section. It is never acceptable to respond with a blanket comment or offer an incentive (discount, etc.). These responses can seem impersonal and insensitive.

3. Know when it's out of your hands.

Most people can handle the basics of ORM themselves. However, it's important to know when you've reached the point that you need to let professionals take over. Perhaps your small business has grown so much that maintaining your company's online reputation is too time-consuming. Many people turn to professional ORM services when the press picks up an unflattering or untrue news story.

Professional services, like ours, can bundle your online reputation management program with other online identity strategies, like search engine optimization and overall brand development. Letting a company manage your accounts and online reputation isn't giving up, or becoming disconnected with your online identity - it's just a way to eliminate the stress of keeping up with it all on a daily basis. Any good ORM and SEO company will keep you informed about what's happening with your online reputation program while offering advice and creating action plans that will help make your online reputation as spotless as possible.