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5 real-world examples of online reputation affecting people’s lives

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by Jennifer Bridges  @JenBridgesRD

Cheerful young woman connecting to internet and receiving a present from a website, a male hand is coming out from the computer screen and giving her a gift box

They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. That may be true, but what happens online certainly doesn’t stay online—especially when people are googling you. What they find in the search results—good or bad, accurate or inaccurate, current or outdated—reflects directly on you and can significantly affect your life, from relationships to job opportunities, and more.

But don’t take our word for it. Here are five real-world examples of people’s lives being transformed by their online reputations:

  • Student loses NASA internship
  • Bullied student gets into his favorite school
  • Social media posts lead to denied insurance claim
  • Spur-of-the moment tweet affects loved ones
  • Company’s exclusionary attitude disgusts customers

1. Student loses NASA internship

Because employers and potential employers are googling you, maintaining a positive online reputation can help you get (or keep) that new job or promotion. In contrast, controversial social media posts can get you fired. In fact, nearly 1 in 10 young people have been passed over for a job due to their poor online choices.

A good example of what not to do is Twitter user Naomi H, who sent out the following tweet after being accepted for an internship with NASA:

Source: Joe Rogan on Twitter

Because she used the #NASA hashtag, NASA officials saw her tweet and withdrew the internship offer. Naomi H later apologized to Mr. Hickam, but it’s unclear whether she ever regained the internship.

If your online reputation isn’t helping you land a job, then it’s time to do a thorough audit of your search results and delete any content you’ve shared that could limit your employability. For help removing negative items posted by others, see How to remove an article from the Internet.

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2. Bullied student gets into his favorite school

According to a survey by Kaplan Test Prep, nearly 40% of university admissions officers are looking at applicants’ social media profiles. This means that managing your online reputation can increase your chances of getting into the school of your choice.

Alan Katzman, the CEO of Social Assurity, recently shared with us a story about one of his clients—a high school junior just starting the college application process—who was able to clean up his online reputation after his “friends” set up a fake neo-Nazi Twitter account using his real name and image. These friends then spent roughly six months growing the account’s number of followers by spewing hate speech and engaging with other neo-Nazis on Twitter. Funny, right?

When the student learned of the prank, he was devastated. He also worried that his poor online reputation would keep him from getting into the college of his dreams.

However, Katzman got the fake account deleted. He then used reputation management techniques to build up a new social media presence that accurately reflected his client’s accomplishments, aspirations, and personal attributes.

In the end, the student was accepted to his first-choice school via early action. This story is proof that you too can restore your good name—even after a reputation crisis—by employing the right reputation management techniques.

3. Social media posts lead to denied insurance claim

To evaluate risk and investigate claims, some insurance companies are googling you and tracking your online activities via third-party tracking cookies. For example, before submitting payment for a claim, life insurance firms now investigate the insured person’s online reputation to verify that he or she followed the terms of the policy. If a company discovers social media comments and pictures that reveal a lifestyle different from the one the person described when applying for coverage, then it could refuse to pay out on the policy.

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This exact scenario happened when a grieving family member submitted a life insurance claim. Apparently, the deceased denied having any dangerous hobbies when he applied for a multimillion-dollar life insurance policy. However, after his death a few months later, the insurer rescinded his policy upon finding evidence online of his long-standing heli-skiing hobby.

The takeaway from stories like this is that you can save yourself a lot of money by monitoring what appears about you online and taking steps to ensure that your posts—as well as things other people post about you—reflect the best version of yourself.

4. Spur-of-the-moment tweet affects loved ones

If critical articles, scathing reviews, or unflattering social media posts about you appear in your search results, then people might link family members who share your name with your negative content. Not only would this embarrass them, but it could also cause them to experience the same financial, educational, and career challenges that you might be facing, albeit to a lesser degree.

One example of how your online reputation can affect those close to you is the story (shared with us by J. J. Cannon, author of @Sophie Takes a #Selfie) of a college student, whose boastful tweets about getting arrested for public intoxication went viral, destroying her online reputation. As a result, her family and friends had to endure intense media scrutiny. Years later, links to the episode still appear on the first page of the young woman’s search results.

Luckily, you can protect your family members from unwanted negative publicity, whether critical articles, scathing reviews, or unflattering social media posts about you, by proactively building and maintaining a positive online reputation.

Do you have a good online reputation? Find out with our free
Reputation Report Card.
Start Your Scan

5. Company’s exclusionary attitude disgusts customers

Most people decide to do business with a company based on its reputation for customer service. So, what happens when a company earns a name for poor customer service?

In February 2016, the teen apparel company Abercrombie & Fitch scored lower than any other retailer had ever scored on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), earning it the title “Most Hated Brand in America.” Much of this poor reputation was due to former CEO Mike Jeffries, who famously claimed “We hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people. A lot of people don’t belong and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

The brand’s customers were appalled. In an article in The Guardian, Molly Henderson, 17, describes her decision to stop shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch after reading Jeffries’ comments. “They even hang up to a size three out and put the larger sizes on the shelves,” she said. Although Molly is slim and would fit in those sizes, she says “that doesn’t mean I want to shop at a place that treats other people badly.”

Jeffries’ statement, coupled with the firm’s discriminatory policies, significantly damaged the company’s brand, leading to protests, boycotts, lawsuits, and most importantly, a staggering 77% drop in sales that year. According to Dwight Hill, a retail analyst, “One factor [for the decline in sales] has to be the negative press [the company] received from the comments Jeffries made.”

Jeffries, who led Abercrombie & Fitch for more than 20 years, apologized for his comments, but never overcame this reputation disaster. After consecutive 11 quarters of negative store sales, he left the company in 2014.

Years later, Abercrombie & Fitch is still recovering from this experience. This is why it’s so important for companies to realize that the actions of their executives can have lasting reputational impacts.


As you can see, there are many ways that a positive online reputation can improve your life, whether it’s helping you get that job you applied for, increasing your chances of getting into your favorite college, saving you money, protecting your loved ones, or keeping your customers’ respect. To learn more about the best ways to repair or strengthen your online reputation, feel free to give us a call. We are always happy to provide a complimentary consultation, whatever your concerns may be.