How Can Your Online Reputation Hurt (or Help) Your Chances of Success?

There was a time when your actual reputation was separate from what people were saying about you online. That time is over.

Virtually no one is going to buy it, date it, or work with it without Googling it. With the Internet, your online reputation literally precedes you. Potential clients and customers are almost certain to check you out – investigate your online reputation, that is – before they climb into bed with you. When doing business in this new age, online reputation management is key.

An online reputation can make or break a person and a business.

The New Reality

Until fairly recently, it was difficult and expensive to investigate the background of a person or business. Research was a skill reserved for professionals or private detectives. Now, virtually anyone – potential employer, girlfriend, car buyer, whatever – can delve deep into your personal life and private and past information with a few clicks.

If you sell a product or service, understand that the bulk of the people to whom you are selling are doing to you what only a private investigator could have done a generation ago. Just as glowing reviews can help make a sale, the perception of impropriety – a shady past, unhappy customers, dishonest brokering – can create a snowball effect and make a bad online reputation even worse.

Investigate Yourself

The first thing you need to do is see what they’re saying about you. The first and most obvious step is to Google yourself and the name of your business and click on whatever hits you find.

Next, Google any email addresses that are or have been associated with you or your business now or in the past. Also Google screen names that you frequently use. Email addresses are often used as your logon name to forums, message boards, groups, and social media sites. By searching both your name and names that were likely to be used as website logons, you’re leaving very few stones unturned and seeing most of what the average searcher will be able to find out about you.

Social Media

Unless a person runs a website or owns a business, the first thing an online search is likely to turn up is their social media presence. Your Facebook and Twitter profiles are where most of your online information is contained. Photographs from your private life, insight into your political or religious beliefs, who you spend your time with, and your personal habits are on display for everyone to see – but they shouldn’t be.

Separate and Conceal

The first trick with Facebook is to build a wall between your private and personal lives. Have a profile for you as a human being and set up a separate page for your business. Put as much distance between the two as possible.

Next, go to the little gear icon in the top right corner of your personal home page and click on “privacy settings.” Under “who can see my stuff?”, limit your past and future posts to only friends and review any posts that others have tagged you in.

Your friends, politics, religion, and personal hobbies and habits are nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s also not necessarily prudent to advertise them to the world.

Maintain a positive online reputation first by knowing what people are saying about you.

Your online reputation is a lot like your real-life reputation: If you’re honest and genuine and treat people well, it’s likely to be stellar. If you’re not, people are likely to notice. The key to online profile management is to be aware of the discussions that involve you and your business. Once you know what’s being said, you can move to either hide it from or amplify it to prying eyes.

Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about maintaining a positive digital profile and online commerce.