Your online reputation is your most valuable asset. It's what people find when they Google you, and it shapes their impression of you -- sometimes before you've even met.
The bad news is that not everyone has a perfect online reputation. The good news is there's plenty you can do to change that. Whether you're a CEO with bad press, a job seeker with embarrassing photos, or a small business struggling with reviews, you have options.
In our Ultimate Guide to Online Reputation Management, you'll learn why reputation management is so valuable, what you can do to improve it, and proactive measures you can take to protect your reputation now and in the future.
I. Why Your Online Reputation Matters
We often focus on reputation management for businesses or job seekers, but the fact is that online reputation management is for everyone, always.
When Your Online Reputation Counts
Though it’s true there are specific times when your online reputation really matters, maintaining a positive online reputation should be a constant effort. A need for a good reputation could pop up at any time. Consider these moments when a good reputation is crucial:
- Applying for college
- Starting a business
- Searching for a job
- Asking for a promotion/raise
- Connecting with coworkers
- Developing a business partnership
- Talking to reporters
- Going on a date
- Getting a loan
- Buying a house
- Attracting new clients
- Impressing friends and family
Just how sure are you that you’ll never be laid off? Are you confident that your father in law would like what he sees about you on Google? Do you have all of the clients you’ll ever need to get you through to retirement? We know that 92% of U.S. companies recruit and screen candidates online. And 34% of hiring managers have dismissed candidates based on online reputation problems. Facebook is a favored recruiting tool for 82% of colleges, and colleges are increasingly researching potential students online. Many of these are big life moments you’ll see coming, but some of them may pop up as a surprise. Others, like networking or attracting new clients, occur on a near-constant basis. That’s why it’s essential that no matter where you are in life, you should make sure that your online reputation remains positive.
Someone is Googling You, Right Now
Even if you don’t have any life changes on the horizon, you should know that people are still Googling you anyway. It’s common practice to Google a friend, family member, or acquaitance out of curiosity. Are your results embarrassing, or encouraging?
Your Online Record is Permanent (That Means Forever)
Again, it doesn’t matter if you have no immediate need for a great online reputation. As long as you need it someday — and you will — it’s important that you pay attention to what’s out there, and what you continue to leave for others to find. Though the Internet moves at a fast pace, it’s also incredibly slow to forget. News stories or a drunken photo from 10 years ago may still show up on your first page of Google results if the search engine thinks they’re important.
And let’s not forget that there are tools that make anything on the Internet virtually permanent. With caching and the Wayback Machine, anything that has ever been posted online is recorded and saved, and can be retrieved swiftly, no matter how old it is.
Plus, your entire public Facebook activity is now searchable. That means you could be haunted by embarrassing high school photos for decades, even your entire life. This is why it’s so important to develop a strong online reputation with prevention, response, and proactive, positive online reputation building.
II. 5 Things You Don't Know About Online Reputation Management
Think reputation management is all about your first few Google results and locking down privacy on social media? Think again. There’s much more to online reputation management than you may realize.
- Even content on private accounts can be shared: If you’ve confidently locked down your social media profiles so that you can feel free to speak your mind, be careful. Though you do have a reasonable expectation of privacy, remember that anyone who can view your private profile can also save photos, take screen shots, copy text, and share anything they’ve seen.
- Your online reputation may soon impact your ability to get credit: Companies are increasingly turning to social media when making lender decisions. They are primarily used to confirm identities, but in some cases, they are also assessing creditworthiness. Social media activity may soon be incorporated into FICO scoring.
- Review websites are stronger than you: Reputation busting powerhouses like Yelp and Ripoff report have thousands of pages of content, and tend to rank very highly in Google. That means if you’ve got a bad review on one of those sites, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle.
- The law — and Google — may be on your side: Think you’re stuck with terrible search engine results? Not so fast. For serious offenses including false information, you may be able to use online defamation laws to remove content and even receive compensation for damage to your reputation. Google may also offer assistance in removing sensitive personal information from search results. Additionally, individuals plagued by mug shot websites may find help from new laws and Google algorithm changes. Certain members of the population, such as California citizens 18 and under may be able to utilize Internet eraser laws as well.
- Bad reputations happen to good people: You can have a poor online reputation through no fault of your own. How? Let’s say a criminal has the same name as you, or an angry ex creates a crazy blog post with your name all over it. It’s difficult to control factors like these, but they can influence your online reputation anyway.
III. Is Your Online Reputation Good or Bad?
Though every person’s online reputation is unique and individual, there are key factors that can indicate if your online reputation is helping or hurting you.
Signs of a Good Online Reputation
- Accurate search results: You want most of the search results that pop up for your name to actually apply to you. Not someone with a similar name, or entirely devoted to a famous person (or worse, a criminal) that shares your name. When people Google you, they want to find you.
- Information that backs up what others already know about you: If you’ve sent your resume to a potential employer, or connected with a new contact on LinkedIn, you can bet they will probably check you out on Google. Does what you’ve told them about yourself line up with what your online reputation will says? It should, or your online reputation may reflect poorly, and negatively influence their opinion of you.
- Active online participation, contributions as a thought leader: Do you have online accounts — and use them? Anyone who Googles you should be able to see that you’re active online, whether it’s on your own blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Tumblr. And that online activity should show that you’re knowledgeable, or at least interested in learning, about your area of expertise.
- The absence of embarrassing entries: Let’s be honest, when we take to Google to check someone out, often what we are really looking for is dirt. A good online reputation has nothing questionable to be found. No photos of crazy nights out, illicit substances, revealing clothing, or inappropriate poses. This also goes for entries on mug shot websites, news stories about trouble with the law, or even bad reviews and hate websites. At the bare minimum, your online reputation should at least not be embarrassing.
Signs of a Bad Online Reputation
- A complete lack of information, or inaccurate results: For people who want to learn more about you, finding nothing may be just as bad as finding something negative. It’s frustrating to discover that there is nothing to learn about someone online — and it can raise suspicion. In fact, many find Facebook abstainers to be suspicious. Searchers may wonder what you’re hiding, or it can also indicate that sadly, no one thinks you’ve done anything worth mentioning.
- Negative news stories or bad reviews: Having someone talk badly about you online is one of the worst blows to your reputation. It shows that you not only made a mistake, someone thought it was bad enough to share with the world. A news story about being arrested, irate clients, or even a crazy ex writing about your divorce can ruin your good name online in the blink of an eye.
- Hateful or controversial opinions, inappropriate language: The Internet is a great place for discussion, allowing you to connect not just with friends, family, and acquaintances, but with literally the entire world and its opinions. Forums, Facebook, and other outlets for discussion are a popular place to share your opinion and learn from others, but they also have the potential to wreck your online reputation. Search engine results that associate a hateful opinion with your name, or controversial discussions that are divisive may turn others off. It should also go without saying losing your temper or using swear words online will look bad as well.
- Inappropriate and embarrassing photos: Any kind of compromising photo reflects poorly on your online reputation. Teachers and nonprofit employees have been fired for just a single questionable photo on Facebook. If you’re able to find lewd, drunken, or disrespectful photos of you online, you have a reputation problem.
- Unsavory records: Your single night in jail or decade-old bankruptcy may feel like ancient history to you, but the Internet remembers. It’s a major problem if a search for your name pops up records that show you’ve had run-ins with the law or major financial trouble.
IV. How Much Do You Know About Your Online Reputation?
When it comes to online reputation management, knowledge is power. Even if your online reputation is not where you’d like it to be, it’s always better to know what you’re up against rather than wonder or ignore the facts. If you haven’t Googled yourself in a while — or ever — you may be surprised by what you find. Constant Google algorithm changes mean that search engine results are in constant flux, and links that were once buried might now be on top. Further, new content pops up all the time, so there may be new articles, photos, and social media entries you weren’t aware of before. That’s why it’s important to stay on top of your online reputation with regular assessment and monitoring. Doing so can help you identify and address any reputation problems or shortcomings before they spin out of control.
Steps to Assess Your Online Reputation
- Search yourself: This is the first thing anyone will do when researching your reputation online, so it should be your first step, too. Search for “your name” (using quotation marks for accuracy). Remember to use the name others are most likely to search with. What name are you using on your resume? If necessary, add your city, and be sure to click through Google’s tabs to see images, videos, and other links that may be associated with your name. Remember that if you’re signed in to Google services, your results may be customized, so try signing out and searching as well. Don’t stick to Google alone, either. Be sure to check Yahoo! and Bing as well. Concentrate most carefully on the first page of search engine results, as most searchers don’t bother to look beyond the top entries.
- Take a look at your social media accounts: Check out your Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and other public accounts. Do you have any embarrassing photos floating around, irate rants, or overly negative posts? They could reflect poorly on your online reputation. Not sure which accounts are still around? Use KnowEm to check for your username on more than 500 social networks and domain names.
- Consider how many results actually apply to you: Having few or no results that belong to you may be just as bad as having negative ones. People who search for you may wonder what you’re hiding, or worse, think that there’s simply nothing remarkable about you to find. This is a sure sign that you need to work on building your reputation, as it not only leaves you in the dark, it also leaves you vulnerable, allowing a negative search result to creep to the top if you ever have a problem.
- Assess whether your results are positive, negative, or neutral: How did you do? Remember to save or bookmark any search results that may need your attention; you can work on them later.
- Ask a trusted friend, family member, or colleague to take a look, too: This is your life, after all, and your view may be a bit skewed. You may not consider certain photos or blog posts to be troublesome, while others do. Ask for some outside help to determine whether you should be concerned about what you’ve found.
V. How To Repair Your Online Reptuation
If your online reputation needs some work, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Plenty of people have black marks on their online reputation, whether they are questionable photos or embarrassing run ins with the law. It’s not the end of the world, but if you have a problem, you do need to take steps to lessen the impact of a negative online reputation.
- Attempt to remove the content: For photos or other content you’ve posted on your own blog or social media, the solution is easy: simply untag or completely remove what’s causing you trouble. And if it’s on a friend’s profile, politely ask them to remove it. Information you’ve found on websites can be trickier to remove, but it is possible. Google recommends contacting the webmaster of the page to ask them to delete what’s bothering you. If they refuse or are unresponsive, you may be stuck. But for certain sensitive information, including photos, contact information, and inaccurate information, you may be able to get help removing the search results from Google.
- Change your screen name: If you have embarrassing comments, social media accounts, or blog posts written under a screen name that’s associated with your name, try logging into the service you used and changing your screen name to a different, more anonymous one.
- Make your name more unique: If you have a common name, or one that you share with a criminal, famous person, or prolific online persona, consider using a different name in professional settings. This also works if you’re trying to leave behind any mistakes you’ve made in the past. Changing your name slightly can give you a fresh start. For example, if you’re a married woman with a new last name, instead of simply using your first and married name, you can use your first, maiden, and married name together to make it more unique. Others might consider adding a middle name or middle initial, or using a professional nickname in place of your legal first name. You can make sure that this is the name associated with your online reputation by using it on your resume, correspondence, website, and online profiles.
- Learn how to avoid making the same mistake next time: If you take action to build a positive reputation online, it is possible to push bad search results down to the second page or lower. But that only works if you can stop making the same mistakes that caused trouble in the first place. If you keep posting embarrassing photos, for example, they’ll never really go away. Identify what’s troubling your online reputation, and consider what you need to do to stop feeding Google results that reflect poorly on you.
- Move on and make your reputation positive: You may never be able to remove every negative online entry, but you can beat them. From now on, focus on what you can do to build your reputation in a positive way, and bury the results you’d rather not see. (Read on to learn how you can proactively build a positive online reputation.)
VI. Preventing Online Reputation Mistakes
A negative online reputation is difficult (though possible) to repair. But it’s easier to avoid building a bad reputation in the first place. How can you avoid making big reputation mistakes online?
- Keep what’s private, private: Questionable content like lewd photos, personal secrets, and hateful opinions are often really private. It’s not a good idea to share them online, as it’s easy for them to be saved and distributed. You should never, ever share anything online that could be used for blackmail or embarrassment later. Keep them locked behind a private profile if you must — but keep in mind that if it’s anywhere online, even in private, there’s always a chance that what you post will become public.
- Monitor your online reputation: Find out quickly when anything new associated with your name pops up. This will give you a better opportunity to respond proactively, and possibly prevent further damage. Services like Google Alerts can tell you via email whenever there are new results for any specific query.
- Don’t get angry online: There’s always someone available online to push your buttons, but remember that it’s just not worth it to engage negatively on the Internet. Getting into an online fight makes you look petty. And, don’t forget that your emotionally-charged tirade will live online long after you’ve calmed down.
- Use strong passwords and secure your devices: Even if you’ve done your best to keep profiles clean, a hacker can quickly waste all of your hard work and compromise your online reputation. Even a friend who jokingly steals your phone and posts to Facebook pretending to be you can cause trouble. Make sure that your passwords are chosen carefully, and that your laptop, mobile phone, and other Internet-enabled devices (especially ones with stored logins) are not accessible to others.
- Think before you post: Surely, you’ve heard this one before, but it bears repeating. Don’t post or share anything you wouldn’t show to your grandma.
VII. How To Develop A Positive Online Reputation
Working on building a positive online reputation is a great way to show your true colors online and offer a more flattering angle on your online persona. It’s also the best defense against any negative online reputation issues you may have, as the good entries you work to create may outrank bad ones. The more positive entries you have to support your good name, the better. Even before your online reputation becomes a problem, you can take proactive steps to positively influence your online reputation.
- Don’t wait — do it now: No one wants to worry about online reputation management until there’s a problem. But it’s always easier to lay a strong foundation than it is to fix major structural problems. Take your time and do it slowly if you must, but don’t put this task off entirely. You’ll get a head start on any negative reputation problems that may come your way.
- Invest in professional photos: Support your positive online brand with photos that show your professional side. You can use these professional photos for online profiles, your website, blogging, even news articles. Use them enough online, and they’ll start to outrank any embarrassing photos (past and present) that may pop up.
- Claim all of your online properties: Even if you never plan to have a Tumblr, Foursquare, or Pinterest, it’s still a good idea claim accounts before others can get to them. Using your real name is ideal, as this is what most people will search for. Registering accounts means that you can control what’s associated with your name, and other people, including squatters and people with the same name, will not be able to negatively influence your reputation in this way. KnowEm is a useful tool for identifying social media, domains, and trademarks you may want to claim. Once you’ve registered important accounts, be sure to apply the appropriate privacy settings to protect any content you don’t want shared.
- Claim the most important of all accounts — Google+: A Google+ account is important to ranking well online, both now and in the future. Photos, links, and posts that you share on the search engine’s social media service may rank better than other similar results, allowing you to better control what’s associated with your name simply by posting to Google+.
- Register your online domain: It’s a good idea to snap up domains, including yourname.com/.net/.org and others like yournamesucks.com, just in case. Do your best to register your name exactly. If you have to, registering yourname.net is better than having to make changes to your name. Exact searches will always rank better, so do whatever you can to register your name verbatim, even if it means buying the domain from its current owner. You should also register the domain for as long as possible, as this makes it more credible to search engines, and also protects you from others who may want to buy it if it comes up for renewal.
- Actually use your accounts: The big four social media websites (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn) all tend to rank highly in search results, so if you have one of these accounts, you can bet that it will show up in a search for your name. Fill out your profile with photos and information about yourself that you want to be found. Make sure that what you’ve shared on the accounts supports your positive reputation. Use each service to share your expertise, connect with others, and support your personal brand.
- Start developing your own online content: Make your own personal website where you can share everything important online. Build a portfolio that highlights your strengths and accomplishments. Create a blog, Tumblr, or Twitter to share what interests you. Ideally, you’d buy the .com of your full name, and use that to host content. Even if what you’re sharing is not that interesting, owning content that’s associated with your name can help you influence the search engine results that matter for your reputation. Just remember to use your real name, and make sure that what you’re sharing is positive and reflects well on your reputation.
- Link to your most positive online results: If there’s a great news article written about you, or you have writing samples, photos, or a portfolio you’re particularly proud of, highlight it with a link. Make sure it’s on your Google+, LinkedIn, and any online resume you have. Doing so not only tells Google that it’s important and encourages higher ranking, it also makes it easier for others to find when they’re checking out your profiles.
- Share your knowledge with others: Everyone is an expert in something. What is your area of expertise? Consider writing guest posts for blogs that could use your input, or seek out interview opportunities that feature you as an expert. It’s always a good idea to follow Help a Reporter Out alerts to find out where your input might be needed. Most interview or guest post opportunities, especially those on high profile websites, offer a good chance of winning a reputation-supporting link in search results.
- Have conversations online: Comment on news articles that interest you. Follow popular industry blogs, forums, and groups. Stay on top of online discussions for your hobbies and special interests. You should leave insightful comments, ask questions, and help out others online, not only to develop a strong reputation, but to build your network as well. It’s best to use your real name if possible.
- Become an authority: As an authority in your community, you’re more likely to command respect, have positive online search results, and find opportunities for reputation-boosting interactions with the media. You can position yourself as an authority online by starting an online group, participating in Q&A sites like Quora, and sharing your knowledge through online content like videos, podcasts, ebooks, blog posts, and interviews. You can also highlight your expertise by speaking at conferences and industry events (and of course, posting about doing so online).
- Write a press release: PR agencies use press releases to highlight positive news every day — and so can you. Develop your own press release and submit it to newswires to get the word out. Your release can be about anything: college graduation, a promotion, or developing a new business. This type of positive content can show up higher than other search engine results.
- Share photos online: Bump down any potentially inappropriate photos in Google Image results by sharing plenty of photos of yourself online, and in a number of different places. They should be head shots, other professional photos, or at least images that will positively reflect your personality. Post them to your accounts on Google+, Pinterest, Twitter, WordPress, Facebook, and more. Be sure to use your real name in the caption and tags so they’ll show up in search results.
VIII. Ultimate Online Reputation Tools
Developing your online reputation isn’t always easy, but with great tools, half of the work is done for you. Get help with your online reputation using these great tools.
- KnowEm: Sign up for KnowEm’s username search to find more than 500 social networks, domain names, and trademarks. You can discover which ones you’ve claimed, which ones are available, and which ones you need to snap up before someone else does.
- BrandYourself: BrandYourself’s DIY online reputation management service will help you improve the search results associated with your name, sharing specific steps you should take to help the good results rank higher.
- Google Alerts: Set up Google Alerts for your name, username, and common variations to monitor the web for any new content that may pop up.
- Yahoo! Alerts: Just like Google Alerts, Yahoo! Alerts will send you an email for new results related to keywords you define.
- Social Mention: Another useful tool for monitoring, Social Mention offers real-time social media search and analysis, allowing you to stay on top of what’s being said about you online.
- HootSuite: Manage your entire social media presence conveniently and professionally with HootSuite. Schedule posts, get analytics, and more.
- Google’s Me on the Web: Use Google’s basic reputation tool to find out what people can see when they search for you on Google, manage your web alerts, and review (or create) your Google profile.
- Help a Reporter Out: Helping reporters can help you, too. Respond to queries on this service to be interviewed and cited as an expert source, both online and off.
- Complaint Website Search: Find out if you’re the subject of any complaint website rants with this all in one search tool.
- Quora: Establish yourself as an expert in your field — and learn from others — on Quora. The website is a great place to find and answer serious questions.
IX. Online Reputation Management Rules
With so much to consider and do, online reputation management can be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. Keep it simple with these basic online reputation management rules.
- Know what you’re up against: Research your online reputation to find out what others are seeing when they check out out online.
- Keep your profiles clean: Remember that anything you say or post, even privately, can be shared online.
- Claim important online accounts: Gain control of them before someone else does.
- Remember that the Internet never forgets: What you post today can be found online for years to come.
- Avoid trouble, online and off: Getting arrested means your mug shot might end up online. Joining Internet tiffs looks bad, too. Don’t give anyone a good reason to write something bad about you.
- Use your real name: Anyone checking out your online reputation will search for your real name, so be sure they can actually find you.
- Be active online: Show signs of life online, but remember to keep it professional, or at least flattering.
- Create positive content: Write content that you’d be proud for others to find. Eventually, it may outrank other results that are less flattering.
- Stick to proper grammar: It doesn’t have to be perfect, but the language you use online should be a professional reflection of your persona.
- Develop a portfolio: Give others something to find; better yet, show them your very best work online.
- Link to important, positive content: Tell Google what you really want to share by linking to it from your profiles, domains, and other online properties you control.
Online Reputation Management for College Students:
Online reputation management is crucial for college students: college is a time when you’re preparing to take the next step into the job market, while also enjoying an active social life — and maybe snapping a few regrettable photos along the way. But with 92% of recruiters checking out candidates online before scheduling an interview, it’s important that you develop an online reputation that can get you hired after graduation.
Strike a balance between fun and your future by putting effort into your online reputation. You can get started by assessing your reputation, building an online presence, and taking action to improve what’s out there. Try these essentials of online reputation management for college students:
- Find out what’s out there: Take a look at current search results for your name. Are there any embarrassing photos or questionable posts? And what about your connections? Remember that you’ll be judged not just on what you say and share, but on who you associate with as well. Be sure to check out social media profiles, where many college students have reputation trouble.
- Fix what you can: Though you can’t remove everything online, you can take action on profiles and websites that you own. Go over your profiles, blogs, and other websites associated with your name to make sure they reflect a professional personality, and delete anything that may reflect poorly on you.
- Never overshare: Everything you post online should be employer-friendly. Put everything through a filter and consider how it would be seen by a potential interviewer. Could that photo or strong political opinion rub them the wrong way? And it should go without saying: never post online if you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and of course, don’t post about drinking or doing drugs, either.
- Develop your online presence: Even if you have the basics of Twitter and Facebook covered, make sure you’re ready to take a professional leap by signing up for LinkedIn, creating a blog, and contributing online. It’s also a great idea to create your own website with a digital resume. Building a positive online presence can help send a signal to employers that you’re professional and engaged.
- Be positive online: No one likes a whiner. A surefire way to turn off employers is complaining about school, your job, professors, or how tired or busy you are. While it’s fine to ask for help now and then, your online profiles should have a good balance of positive, neutral, and negative vibes.
- Maintain what you’ve built: Protect what you’ve built by keeping an eye on your online reputation regularly. Set up Google Alerts, social alerts, and remember to continually search for your name so that you’ll always be up to date on your online reputation.
Online Reputation Management for Car Dealerships
Today, car sales start online. In fact, Google reports 95% of vehicle shoppers start digitally. And shoppers aren’t just finding cars online: they’re finding your reputation, too, with 62% of vehicle shoppers checking professional review sites before making a purchase.
Is your online presence helping or hurting dealership sales? Bad reviews, customer complaints, and negative news stories can all reflect poorly on your dealership, and send customers directly to your competitors. Find out what you can do to put your dealership’s best foot forward online:
- Assess your online reputation: Do a quick Google of your dealership to see what customers are finding when they look for you. Most dealerships will see review websites, social media profiles, and dealership webpage results, possibly even news stories. Consider how they reflect on your dealership: do you have positive ratings from happy customers, active social media, and a useful website?
- Read negative reviews: Don’t worry if you’ve found some harsh feedback: it happens even to the best. But what you do about it is what can set you and your online reputation apart. Consider what your unhappy customers are saying: is there something you really could have done better? Take their opinions to heart and use online feedback to inform customer service and other areas of dealership business. It’s also important to directly (and respectfully) address customers who have left a negative review. Offer a genuine apology, find out what you can do to make it right, and ask them to give you another chance in the future (and maybe even a more positive review to go along with it).
- Sniff out fake reviews: Some dealerships report fake negative reviews, often placed by competing dealerships. This action is clearly a problem for dealerships building a legitimate online reputation. You can fight back by questioning the accuracy of reviews, reporting any suspected false entries to their respective websites — most are eager to review and remove fake feedback.
- Encourage positive reviews: Follow up with customers and ask them to leave reviews. Identify the websites where reviews matter most (the ones that you see first on Google), and direct customers there with a polite request to share their experience. Building a record of positive reviews can give car shoppers confidence and encourage them to shop with you — instead of competitors that may be lacking in positive feedback.
- Promote your positives: If you’ve found positive reviews and feedback for your dealership on a website, blog, or forum, make sure to link to them from your website, social media, or both. Encourage potential shoppers to find great feedback by letting them know it’s out there. And keep in mind that by linking to it, you’re also telling Google that it’s important, helping to push positive content to the top of results.
- Develop your online presence: Many customers today visit third-party shopping and review sites long before they consider which dealership to visit. Make sure you have a presence and great reviews by registering your dealership on sites like Google+, Cars.com, and Edmunds.
Online Reputation Management for Doctors
Online reputation isn’t just for online retailers and restaurants anymore: the need for a positive online reputation has spread to all businesses and services small and large, and that includes doctors. In fact, the Journal of American Medicine reports that patients are using online physician ratings now more than ever before, and 59% of patients consider a doctor’s online reputation to be important.
Further, patients are choosing doctors based on online reviews, with more than 1/3 of patients choosing their doctor because of a positive rating — and 37% deciding not to use a particular doctor because of bad reviews. It’s clear that now is the time for doctors to get a handle on their online presence. Here’s how you can get started:
- Take a look at your online reputation: Most doctors already have an online presence, whether they’ve worked on developing it or not. A Google search for most doctors will reveal physician data and review websites. These sites collect and share information about doctors, including specialties, practice history, and affiliated hospitals. Some doctors also have news articles about breakthroughs, or even unfortunate events.
- Set the record straight: Claim any profiles that you find, and make sure all of the information displayed is accurate. Respond to negative reviews if possible, remembering to be polite and post factual (not emotionally-driven) information to support your side of the story. If any news stories are incorrect, contact editors to make sure that they’ve got the right information: this is what your patients find when they search for you, so it should be perfect!
- Develop a presence on major doctor review websites: Make sure that you have a profile on doctor rating sites, including RateMDs.com, ZocDoc, and Vitals. Google+ is also useful for improving your position on Google search results.
- Encourage feedback from satisfied patients: Seek out your best and most recent patients, and politely request that they leave you a review on the websites you’ve found. You can do this by quoting positive reviews with the source on information brochures, sending post-visit emails, posting a patient feedback sign in your waiting area, or sharing links on your website. By building an extensive record of happy patient reviews, you’ll be less likely to be hurt by the odd patient who has unhappy feedback to share.
- Avoid discouraging reviews: Some doctors have asked patients to sign “will not review” agreements, and while this may protect your reputation temporarily, it is not a good idea for long-term online reputation management. These agreements are not likely to hold up in court, and can send a closed-off message to clients. It’s much better to simply encourage your loyal and satisfied patients to share their positive feedback to build your reputation online.
- Make improvements if needed: It’s difficult to hear that you’re not making patients happy, but if that’s the case, negative feedback can be useful and contribute to the lifelong health of your practive. Patients often mention bedside manner, wait times, and problems with office staff in complaints: this feedback can help you illuminate problems in your practice and identify where you can improve.
- Don’t talk about your patients online: Though there are situations, such as articles in reputable medical journals, which call for patient discussion, it’s important to keep patient talk professional. Avoid gossiping or complaining about patients online, as this can be hurtful, and reflects poorly on your professional image.
Online Reputation Management for Teachers
As community leaders that influence and shape the future of children, teachers are held to a high standard of conduct, and that standard extends to your online presence. What you post online can directly impact your reputation and professional image — and even the future of your career.
Though teachers are certainly allowed to enjoy their private lives outside of school, it’s important to pay attention to what you share and say online. Oversharing or overstepping privacy boundaries can spell trouble for you, your students, and school administrators. Even a single questionable photo can lead to professional trouble and possibly the loss of your job. Follow these tips to stay safe and private online as a teacher:
- Create professional profiles: Claim your identity on leading teaching websites including edWeb, WizIQ, and Edmodo. Doing so will allow you to participate in discussions with other teachers, while also developing a reputation as a professional teacher online.
- Keep your private life private: Understand privacy settings on social media sites, and use them to restrict posts from the public. Students and others may be curious about your life outside of school and search to find information — you shouldn’t leave it open for them to find. It’s also important to remember that security and privacy settings aren’t foolproof: statuses can be copied and shared, photos downloaded, and anything can be screenshot.
- Put a filter over everything you post online: Even behind a private wall, you should never share anything that could cause trouble for you professionally. Photos of drinking, complaints about work, lewd or racist comments, and extreme opinions are best shared offline, if at all. You should always consider how your online posts reflect on your professional image.
- Avoid connecting with students or parents online: Interacting with students on social media can call your ethics into question: many teachers have been accused of developing inappropriate relationships with students online, and it’s best to avoid this question altogether by keeping interactions entirely school-based. Of course, it’s fine to set up groups and online discussion resources for your classroom, provided that all conversations are transparent. Friending students is another story, however.
- Don’t talk about your students: Every professional needs to vent now and then, and teachers are no exception. But gossiping or sharing private information about students is totally inappropriate, and will land you in hot water. Even if your comments are behind private walls, keep in mind that teacher friends and anyone else if your network can see, share, and hand a printout of your comments directly to school administration or a student’s parents. Unless your comments are dripping with praise, it’s best not to discuss students online at all.
- Look beyond social media to monitor your digital identity: While social media is typically the main concern for teachers, don’t forget there’s an entire Internet out there. Blog posts, online comments, and other content can still cause trouble for you professionally and damage your online reputation. Do a quick Google of yourself to see what’s out there so that you can take action if needed.
- Contact school administration if you’re a victim of cyberbullying: If students make inappropriate comments or posts about you or directed at you, don’t respond. It’s also important to avoid responding to negative comments posted about you online. Instead, save and print evidence, and immediately report it to your school administration. They should be able to take action and allow you to stay hands-free of the situation
Jessica Merritt is a reputation management expert, small business owner, and customer service fanatic who believes building a great reputation is easier than you might think. She has written extensively about reputation management and is always eager to share new ideas and useful resources for businesses and individuals building a better reputation online. Jessica lives in the Houston area with her husband, son, and small army of pets.