WATCHING THE LANDSCAPE
To protect your online name, it helps to know where things stand from the outset. That means making a painstaking Google search for yourself, bookmarking every instance where you appear. This should expose potential points of harm.
Now it’s a matter of staying on top of the situation. A daily slog through Google mentions would not be practical. Fortunately, a range of tracking tools can keep you informed.
Users can set GoogleReader and GoogleAlerts to search out keywords and phrases, including their own names. These tools will regularly check in on news sites and other sources and alert the user when hits come up. Yahoo Alerts will do the same.
Other tools such as Social Mention will track your presence in social media, while applications including Technorati monitor action on the blogs.
As a luxury real estate broker in New York City, the last thing former Army Cpl. Katriel Calderon wants is a blemish on his Internet presence. "I take my career very seriously, so if there is a picture of me partying when I was 18 years old, that's not the best thing in the world," said Calderon, who wound up his service in the motor pool at Fort Eustis, Va., in 2010.
The Internet is a reputation minefield. Anything you say remains eternally public. Others can say anything they want about you, or post those party pictures. Worse: Potential employers will Google applicants, taking a direct route to all those faux pas.
Still, there are safeguards and remedies.
The first step is threat assessment. "There is a huge breadth of information that exists on the Web about everybody," said Brent Franson, vice president of advanced client solutions at reputation management firm Reputation.com. "This ranges from sensitive personal information like name, address, salary, hobbies, [to] information that you might post about yourself, for instance on your LinkedIn page or your Facebook account."
All this content can be hazardous. Maybe you commented on a newspaper article, but your political views have changed. "If you are applying for a job, they will Google you, and those top 10 or 20 results will matter," Franson said.
At reputation management firm Netclarify, Chairman John Mills has seen it happen: a job candidate misidentified as a male stripper (by a friend), and another wrongly noted as a child molester. "Seventy percent of employers say they have turned down applicants because of problems with their online identity," Mills said.
The top hits matter most, so the strategy is to get rid of those high-ranking hits. Maybe you can't make that spring break picture go away altogether, but you can shove it deep down in Google.
One way to do it is to stake out real estate, creating not just one public account but multiple addresses. "You can't just set up a LinkedIn account and expect that you are going to rank very high," said former Lt. Scott McIntosh, president of The Nashville SEO Company, who left the Navy in 2009 after eight years of service.
Create your own Web page, claim Facebook space, get a blog, build profiles on professional organization websites. The more profiles you have at credible websites, the more likely those profiles will start rising to the top. "You need to look at every service where there is a way to get a page about you," McIntosh said.
When it comes to online reputations, Twitter may be the most pernicious location. Users can spit out comments without a moment's hesitation. They are virtually anonymous, and tweets are so short, there is no room for explanation.
Use any of the many Twitter monitoring tools to keep tabs on your name. If something questionable comes up, ask the Tweeter to carry on the conversation offline. Twitter's managers also will take action against a user who is deliberately harassing another user.
It helps, too, to claim specific territory. While it is critical to have TomJones.com locked up, for instance, that won't stop a detractor from grabbing TomJones.net or (better still) TomJonesSucks.com.
Go to the source
Even after all this, that spring break photo is still hanging around. If only the website owner would take it down.
Mills has a model letter asking website owners to remove questionable information. "Most people, when they are asked to take something down, they take it down," he said. And if asking nicely won't help? "You may need to hire a lawyer."
For Calderon, the surest way to keep a clean name online is to monitor himself: Don't post anything embarrassing, don't do anything inflammatory. "I think before I post."