Since I started working with the people at ReputationManagement.com, many of my friends and relatives have been asking plenty of questions about online reputation management (how it works, etc). Almost everyone has the image in their head of a business trying to get rid of a bad review that an angry customer threw up online in a fit of rage. When I tell them that it also makes sense for individuals to monitor their online reputation, they often look perplexed. I've tried to follow it up with a couple of jokes, like "Bob, how would you feel if the whole world knew that you used to drown adorable kittens as a hobby?", or something else as heinous. Of course, the look I see from them at that stage goes from perplexed to mortified. The point I was trying to make was that even if you aren't a part time kitten drowner, every individual should pay close attention as to what shows up online when people (especially recruiters) are searching for you. There are more instances than you care to know about of items appearing that may be at least somewhat out of your control.
A recent survey by Jobvite showed that in 2012, 75% of the US workforce is comprised of people who are seeking new employment. The biggest takeaway for me was that 49% of the workforce in the survey were employed but open to new opportunities. That 49% are most likely the same group of people who probably aren't paying the closest attention to their reputation online as they aren't 'actively' searching for a new opportunity. It creates a situation where you could be an excellent candidate for an upgrade for your job, but when the recruiter goes through your LinkedIn profile which hasn't been updated since the day you created it and sees some other items in the search results they weren't thrilled by, you could be passed over for a position without ever even having a clue it was available.
The following is a start as to why the average person who may be interested in a new job if the situation arose (which is only 75% of the workforce in the country) should take stock of their reputation online:
1. Identity Confusion (aka a Digital Doppelganger) - This is a situation where if you perform a search for your name, the returned results include listings that are not you. Since there are roughly 314,000,000 people in the United States, this may come up more often than you would imagine. There have been some interesting stories in the past, including a threatened lawsuit from a librarian named Lauren Bernat. Ms. Bernat just happened to share the same name with with Wii Fit Girl of internet fame. The librarian contacted Google as well as a lawyer to see if the YouTube video could be removed. The lawyer thought better, but this incident is still pretty high on the comedy scale. Just be glad your family name isn't Bin Laden or something.
2. False Claims - These could come from an ex-colleague, ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, or anyone for that matter. For whatever reason, some people truly enjoy spreading lies online, whether it's websites like Don't Date Him Girl or the Bad Employee Database. I liken sites of that ilk to my previous piece about Rip Off Report. Some of the stories on there may very well be true, but there is no vetting process before they go up, so who knows what could be out there under your name.
3. Photos You Aren't Proud Of - As I wrote previously with FaceBook's Graph Search, it is now easier for photos of you that you maybe didn't want spread around the web to be in the open. The Jobvite survey also indicated that the mention of or photos partaking in illegal drug use is the top 'bad impression' for a recruiter, so you may want to edit your 112 photo slideshow from your last two trips to Burning Man.
4. Profanity Used in Any Writing - People use bad language in conversation quite frequently, but it shouldn't necessarily be a given for online dialogue. Putting something in writing is just flat out different from saying the same thing when there is no other context such as body language or facial expressions. Using harsh language can not only be seen as offensive, but could also be seen as overly aggressive behavior. A potential employer is most likely not going to be excited to come across a blog of yours that would have to be read after 11 pm on HBO, so it is always best to moderate your swearing if at all possible.
5. Horrible Grammar - Recruiters look for a sense of professionalism when performing online searches for potential candidates. If you can't write well in things you post online, recruiters may think you won't be able to use proper grammar in a professional setting, so always represent yourself in a way you would feel comfortable with your English teacher seeing.
6. Non-Updated Profiles - If a recruiter locates your LinkedIn profile and sees that you haven't updated anything since 2007, they may wonder if your skillset still fits the position that is available. Even though I was at the same job for 12 years, I would update my LinkedIn profile before my yearly review. It was just part of making sure I kept my resume and profile up to date and didn't forget new things we had going on. While some people may worry about their employer being suspicious they're quitting or looking for another job if the employer happens upon an updated LinkedIn profile, you have a responsibility to yourself to ensure you are ready if the perfect opportunity presents itself.
7. Real Mistakes Made - Let's face it, everyone makes mistakes. Some are larger than others, but anything that is documented with the law tends to live on forever in cyber space. Just when you think that your public intoxication was a distant memory from the incredible Nickelback concert in 2001, something about it could still be online, just waiting for the wrong person to come across it.
In the end, it's not only large corporations, like Boeing or Herbalife for example, who need to be concerned with monitoring their reputation. When three-quarters of the work force in our country would be open to new employment, and more than nine out of ten recruiters look online to fill positions, everyone out there should take the 10 minutes a month to go through both searches of their name as well as their social profiles to ensure they don't turn their dream job away without ever knowing it existed.