Google is the first place we turn to when we want to find out more about someone. 92% of hiring managers do it, potential dates and clients do it, even work contacts will Google you. Will they like what they find?

In our online reputation guide for professionals, you’ll learn why your reputation is so important, and essential steps you can take to improve your reputation as a professional. Whether you’re a seasoned expert or just starting out in your career, this guide offers the essentials for creating a great reputation online.

Your Online Reputation Makes a Difference

Think your reputation doesn’t matter? Think again. Online reputation management is essential to your success as a professional, no matter what industry you’re in.

Critical Moments for Your Reputation

Your online reputation might not be a daily concern for most professionals, but it should be on your mind at all times, and an effort that you keep up with regularly. Why? You never know when you’ll need to have a great reputation — and that need could pop up unexpectedly at any time, so you should always be prepared. As a professional, you need a great reputation for critical moments including:

·    Finding a job

·    Developing a business

·    Seeking out partnerships

·    Attracting clients

·    Earning a great review, promotion, or raise

·    Networking

·    Collaborating with coworkers and colleagues

·    Applying for a loan

·    Speaking with the press

·    Working with clients

If you’re not worried about ever finding a new job, client, or partnership, then maybe — maybe — your reputation is no large concern. But keep in mind that a great reputation, both online and offline, is a vehicle for growth in your career. Neglect your reputation, and you neglect your future.

Job searches in particular are a major online reputation concern. This applies whether you’re looking for work with a corporation, joining a practice, or seeking out partnerships to develop your own business. The bottom line is: your reputation as a professional strongly influences your career opportunities. Let’s look at the facts:

·    Online recruiting and screening is practiced by 92% of U.S. companies

·    34% of hiring managers admit to dismissing candidates due to information found online

Whether you have a big career change coming up or not, you should be prepared to support your good work with an excellent reputation. Remember that while a good reputation is essential to hiring decisions, partnerships, and other big moves, it’s also important to supporting smaller, more everyday interactions like finding new clients, networking, and interacting with the press. Keep your online reputation positive — because there’s a good chance you’re being Googled by everyone you work with.

You’re Being Googled

If you’re working on a major change, like a new partnership, promotion, or new job, chances are good that you’re being vetted on Google. After all, we all want to know who we’re working with. But even if you’re not in the middle of a change in your career, there’s a good chance you’re being Googled anyway. Many people admit to Googling friends, coworkers, and acquaintances — even if it’s just out of curiosity.

The Internet Never Forgets

You may not need a great reputation today, tomorrow, or next week, but someday, you will. And even if you don’t have a pressing need for a good reputation, what you do today can have an impact on your reputation tomorrow.

Your online reputation is a record book of what you’ve done over the years, not just what you posted last week. And even though we’re constantly adding information to the Internet, it also never forgets — and posts you’ve shared years or even decades ago can be found and influence your online reputation. That’s why it’s so important to be careful about what you’re posting today, because it might be important months or years down the road.

The Internet simply doesn’t forget that post from five years ago. It’s archived for posterity and can be found, sometimes quite easily, sometimes with a little digging, but ultimately, it is available if you’re looking for it. Even pages or posts that have been deleted may continue to be available on caching and the Wayback Machine.

That’s why it’s important to continually maintain a great reputation today whether you need it or not. Build a good reputation right now, and it will be there when you need it later.

Do You Have a Positive Online Reputation?

We know how important a positive online reputation is, and the impact it can have on your career as a professional. But how can you know if your reputation is supporting your career or holding you back? Review these signs of a good (or bad) reputation to determine how well you’re doing.

Positive Reputation Signs

·    No embarrassing entries linked to your name: A good reputation is much more than simply avoiding bad entries, but let’s be real: this is the bare minimum. Any professional contact that’s checking you out online will immediately zero in on embarrassing photos, questionable posts, and negative news stories.

·    Search results that include the real you: Chances are good that you’re not the only person in the world with your name. Most people understand this, and don’t expect for every search result to be relevant to the individual they’re looking for. But if there are no accurate search results for your name that apply to you, you’ve got a problem.

·    Corroborating information: Are you really who you say you are? Employers, partners, and other interested parties may check you out online just to make sure you’re telling the truth about your past. That means what’s on your resume should line up with what anyone can find out about you online.

·    Active online accounts and posts: The absence of embarrassing entries and search results that really belong to you are good, but they’re not enough. To really have a great reputation, you need active, public online accounts, such as LinkedIn or Twitter. You should have active participation in discussions, sharing of relevant information and news, and even a blog that shows your knowledge as a thought leader in your profession.

Negative Reputation Signs

·    Bad search results: A negative review, bad news stories, mug shots, court records, or blog posts that don’t feature you in a favorable light can really hurt your reputation. Even worse, these are the kind of entries that tend to stay put on search results, so they’re difficult to get rid of.

·    Inappropriate posts or photos: You’re a professional — so your online reputation should make you look that way. Drunken beach photos, controversial opinion posts, hateful language, or inappropriate comments take a serious toll on your reputation. Posts like these can even get you fired.

·    Nothing at all: It’s better to have nothing about you online than negative search results, but a complete lack of information certainly isn’t a good thing. Many people view those without an online presence as suspicious. And ultimately, not having any information about yourself online means that you haven’t done anything worth mentioning — good or bad.

3 Surprising Facts About Online Reputation Management for Professionals

You probably already know the basics of online reputation management: don’t post crazy photos or make the nightly news for committing a terrible crime. You may even know that it’s a good idea to check out your results on Google and review your social media privacy settings. But there’s so much more to online reputation management, and some of it may surprise you:

·    Your private posts aren’t 100% private: It’s a good idea to review your privacy settings on social accounts, but remember that it’s not foolproof. Yes, your posts should stay private, but anyone with access can share them by taking screen shots, printing posts, saving photos, or copying text. Your privacy settings are only as strong as the people you let see your posts.

·    You can get reputation help from Google and the law: Often, there’s not much you can do about negative search results other than burying them with more positive content. But in certain situations, particularly with serious or sensitive information, you can get help. Google can remove sensitive personal information from search results, and California citizens 18 and under and European citizens can utilize Internet eraser laws and the “right to forget” to have items removed. You may also consider legal action if results fall under online defamation laws.

·    You can get a bad reputation through no fault of your own: If you’ve ended up on a mug shot website or have bad news reports or reviews due to stealing money from clients or a similar action, you can expect to earn a bad reputation online. But even those who live a squeaky clean lifestyle can fall victim to a negative reputation. Exes seeking revenge can post embarrassing photos — even lies, or a criminal might share your name. It’s nearly impossible to prevent or control these reputation ruining possibilities, so the best defense is a good offense.

Investigating Your Online Reputation

Good or bad, it’s essential that you get a handle on where your online reputation stands. Knowing your strengths or where you need to improve can help you develop a more positive reputation or continue to maintain a good online presence.

It’s a good idea to take a regular assessment of your online reputation, even if you’ve already done it recently. Search engines, Google in particular, are constantly changing algorithms, and that means the search results that existed months or even weeks ago may not be the same today. Old, embarrassing entries of yours could be uncovered, or positive links might be buried. And of course, new content like blog posts, reviews, and social media posts may have been crawled in the meantime.

Regularly assessing and monitoring your reputation can help you stay on top of ever changing search results for your reputation. Caught quickly, you may be able to stop reputation issues before they become a real problem.

How to Assess Your Online Reputation

·    Google yourself: It’s the first thing anyone else will do when investigating your reputation online, and that means it’s the most important space for you to check out as well. This is especially true for the first page of search engine results. Look at links, images, video, and more to see what’s associated with your name. Use quotation marks around “your name” to make sure you’re getting the most accurate results, and remember to search for the name others are most likely to use, such as the one you have listed on your resume. If you’re having trouble narrowing down results, add your city or state. And, remember that if you’re signed in on Google, you’ll see customized results, so it’s best to sign out first to see what everyone else sees.

·    Determine which results apply to you: Some, even many of the search results for your name may not apply to you, and that’s OK. Take a look and consider which ones others may think belong to you. Are they positive results, and do you have enough? Not having enough positive results can make people suspicious about what you’re hiding — and it can leave you vulnerable to having negative search results hit the top of Google without any other results to keep them down.

·    Check social accounts: Your social media accounts are likely to pop up in search engine results, but even if they don’t, be sure to take a look — because other people will. Focus primarily on popular public accounts, including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Watch out especially for negative posts, embarrassing photos, inappropriate “Likes,” and questionable friends. If you can’t remember all of your accounts, use a service like KnowEm to find all of the accounts associated with a particular user name.

·    Grade your results: Be honest with yourself, are you really happy with the way you’re portrayed online? Determine whether the results you’ve found are positive, negative, or neutral. It also helps to ask for help. Turning to a trusted friend, colleague, or family member can help you see your search results as others see them. Plus, they can tell you the truth about whether or not you should worry about certain results.

Improving Your Online Reputation

If you’re not entirely happy with your online reputation, you’re not alone. Practically everyone has room for improvement in this area, and it is completely normal to have a few negative results to take care of. Even if your reputation is squeaky clean, a lack of positive results can keep you down too. It’s OK — but if you do have a problem, it’s important that you take action to repair and improve your reputation.

·    Try to remove negative content: First and foremost, do your best to get rid of anything that doesn’t support a positive reputation. If you’ve posted photos or questionable comments, simply remove them. Ask friends to take down any embarrassing entries associated with you, and contact websites to delete pages you don’t want to be associated with. Keep in mind that removing information from websites you don’t control may be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Follow Google recommendations and contact the webmaster directly first to request removal. If that doesn’t work, and you have sensitive information that you’d like to remove, ask Google for help.

·    Use a different name: If you’re not happy with your results, consider changing your name slightly. This works if you share a name with a criminal, politician, or anyone else that may dominate search engine results or reflect negatively on your good name. It’s also an option if you’re having trouble moving past a bad reputation that you’ve built on your own. Use a slight variation on your name in professional settings, and that will be the name people search for and associate with you online. Options include using your first initial and middle name, using your maiden name, or a professional nickname.

·    Stop making reputation mistakes: Removing negative results and changing your name won’t help you if you keep making the same mistakes. New entries will just pop up again. Avoid posting embarrassing photos, getting into trouble with the law, or earning negative reviews. Don’t give ammunition to a bad reputation.

·    Work to make your reputation positive: It’s not always possible to remove negative search engine entries, and this can really hurt your reputation if you let them continue to stay near the top of search results. That’s the bad news. The good news is that most people won’t go past the first page of search engine results, and if you develop positive entries for Google to feature instead, you can push negative entries down far enough so that most people won’t go looking for them. Read on — we will share more about building a positive online reputation.

Avoiding Reputation Mistakes

While it’s possible to repair a negative online reputation, it’s best to simply avoid developing a bad reputation at all. Watch out for these online reputation pitfalls to protect your good name online.

·    Always think before you post: It’s the golden rule of reputation management, and especially important for professionals. You may represent not just yourself, but any organization you’re associated with. Any time you post online, take a pause to consider whether what you’re sharing is flattering to you and your career.

·    Maintain your privacy: As a professional, it’s just not appropriate to air your dirty laundry online. Keep party photos offline, don’t share personal secrets, and keep controversial or hateful opinions to yourself. Even if you’re posting these items behind a private wall, remember that practically anything can be shared online and it’s never truly private. Be sure that you’d be comfortable for anything you post in private to accidentally become public.

·    Use strong passwords and security protection: Even if you can keep your behavior positive online, that doesn’t mean a hacker will. Letting anyone else gain control of your accounts — even a friend or family member — puts you at risk for posts that can ruin your good reputation. Carefully choose your passwords, and keep devices out of the hands of others, especially if they have stored logins.

·    Be respectful of others: How you interact with others online says a lot about your personality and integrity as a professional. Getting into online arguments or making hateful comments will only make you look bad — even if you’re right. Just don’t engage.

·    Monitor your search results: Taking one look at your online reputation and forgetting about it forever is a recipe for disaster. Set up monitoring alerts with Google Alerts and similar services to find out right away when there’s a new result for your name. With this information, you’ll be able to respond quickly if there’s a problem.

How Professionals Can Develop a Positive Online Reputation

While online reputation management often focuses on damage control, that’s far from the most important thing you need to do to develop a positive reputation online. As a professional, anyone who searches for you will expect to see not just an absence of negative results, but a collection of positive results that support your good name. Have you built positive online content that reflects your career? If not, it isn’t too late, but now is the time to start.

Building a positive online reputation allows you to influence how others see you online. It’s like turning for the camera to see your best angle, showing off what you really want others to see. It can also work as an effective defense against negative reputation problems, as a wealth of positive entries can outrank and push down bad search results you’d rather keep in the dark. And even if you don’t have a problem with your reputation now, a strong history of positive reputation results makes it more difficult for negative entries to see the light of day. Take these proactive steps to build your good name and protect yourself against a negative reputation online:

·    Start now: It seems like there’s never a good time to get started working on your online reputation, and you may not feel like it’s important to really dig in until you have a problem. But there’s no time like the present, and it’s always better to prevent a problem than it is to go back and fix it later. Start small if you have to, but whatever you do, just start.

·    Buy a domain: Perhaps the single most important thing you can do to establish your name online is to create a home base for your activities, preferably on a domain with your name on it. You can create a website, blog, or even just a simple portfolio or list of links you’d like to share. Register if it’s available, as well as the .net and the .org to thwart imposters. Try to register your name exactly if you can, or use a slight variation on your name that you can use professionally. Register it for as long as possible to avoid the risk of losing it to others when it comes up for renewal.

·    Branch out online: Often, the most important part of managing your reputation is simply getting there before someone else does. Claiming online properties, whether you plan to use them or not, is a good idea. If you have accounts registered under your name, you’ll be able to keep squatters and imposters out of them and keep your good name under your control. Use a tool like KnowEm to find out where you can claim your name online.

·    Use your social accounts: Social accounts including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ are becoming increasingly important to your reputation and search engine results. Plus, if you have an account registered in your name, it’s likely to show up on search engine results, and you’ll want to put your best foot forward by actually maintaining an active presence instead of just registering and walking away. Develop a full profile with photos and information that supports your positive reputation, and use social tools to connect with and learn from others online.

·    Use professional photos: You’re a professional — make sure your photos are, too. A great heads hot can make you look more professional online, and can be used for your website, online profiles, blogging, guest blogs, and sent to the press for news articles. And if you use it often enough, your professional photo is likely to outrank any other images that show up in search results for your name.

·    Share lots of photos online: While a great head shot is important, so are action shots. Share photos of you at work, your accomplishments, and any other images that can back up your reputation. They’ll help to establish your credibility, build interest, and may even dominate image search results for your name if you tag yourself in them.

·    Interact with others online: Be a part of the online conversation by commenting on industry blogs, and becoming an active participant in forums and groups relating to your special interests. Ask and answer questions, leave your insight, and develop your network and professional reputation with online interaction.

·    Get featured as an expert authority: Share your professional expertise online, earning guest blog posts or interview opportunities. Get in touch with prominent bloggers and journalists in your industry, and follow Help a Reporter Out to learn about interview opportunities.

·    Get mentioned in the press: Done something newsworthy like expand your office or hire a new associate? Don’t keep quiet about it. Write a press release to highlight positive news and submit it to newswires.

·    Support or create your own authority: Can’t find a community or online outlet to share your expertise? Make one. Developing your own community or blog will help to support your credibility and reputation and point to you as a professional leader in your industry. You can also contribute as a professional on Quora, or speak at conferences and industry events.

·    Share your expertise: Writing your own online content can help to establish you as a credible, professional expert. Write a blog or even simply start a Twitter to share and write about what interests you professionally.

·    Link to everything: Remember the domain name you registered? It’s a great tool for linking to all of your important work online. Develop an online portfolio that showcases your strengths, major accomplishments, and links. Use it to post photos of your speaking engagements, link to guest posts, and share photos of what you’ve done and what you’re proud of.

Useful Tools for Your Professional Online Reputation

Let’s be honest: developing a professional online reputation is often a lot of work. It requires frequent posting, networking, monitoring, and vigilance. But it doesn’t have to consume all of your time. With useful tools for your online reputation, you can automate much of the process — or at least make it a bit easier to stay on top of it all.

·    Google Alerts: Use Google Alerts to find out when any new search results for your name pop up.

·    Yahoo! Alerts: The same as Google Alerts, Yahoo! Alerts will let you know when there are new search results for your name on Yahoo!.

·    Google’s Me on the Web: This Google reputation tool will show you what’s associated with your name on Google, direct you to set up or review your Google profile, and make it easy for you to manage alerts.

·    Social Mention: This monitoring tool goes beyond the search engines to stay on top of social media mentions. You can find out what’s being said about you online with this social media search and alert tool.

·    KnowEm: Using this tool, you can find hundreds of available accounts for your name, including domain names and social networks. You’ll see which ones you’ve claimed, which ones others have claimed, and find out wht’s still available for you to claim before anyone else can.

·    HootSuite: HootSuite makes it easy and convenient to manage your social media presence and better communicate online.

·    Help a Reporter Out: Stand out as an expert by responding to queries on the Help a Reporter Out service.

·    Quora: Another great spot to highlight yourself as an expert, this Q & A website will allow you to answer questions in your professional area of expertise.

Online Reputation Management Essentials for Professionals

There’s plenty to consider when developing, repairing, or maintaining your professional reputation, but the basics aren’t that complicated. Stick to these essential rules to develop a strong professional reputation online.

·    Research your online reputation: First and foremost, you should know what others see when they search for you and be able to identify areas where you need to improve your reputation.

·    Get there first: In a sea of online professionals — many of whom may share your name — establishing your online reputation may be as simple as just claiming profiles, domains, and other properties before anyone else gets a chance to.

·    Be on your best behavior: You’re a professional, act like one both online and offline. Make sure your social profiles reflect a professional personality and avoid getting into trouble — especially any trouble that could follow you online, like mug shots or bad reviews.

·    Stay active online: Whether you’re engaging in conversations on social media, creating communities, or speaking as an authority, being active online can help you develop a reputation as a professional and outrank any negative entries you may have.

·    Use your real name: Whatever you do when you’re active online, make sure you’re using your real name so that your activity will show up in professional search results.

·    Create a showcase: Develop a portfolio or link to important content so that others can easily find your best work, professional associations, anything else that can support your good name as a professional.

Don’t wait to build your professional online reputation. Start today to protect your reputation, and it will support your great career tomorrow.