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How to protect your online reputation

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by Staff Writer

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This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.

Having a strong online reputation defense in place might seem unnecessary to many people. But the truth is that a positive online reputation can make the difference between the Internet being a useful resource or a nightmare for you—personally and professionally.

Here’s why you need strong online reputation protection.

The attack can come from nowhere

The simple fact of the matter is that you can be a polite, decent person online and still be subject to an attack on your reputation online. A disgruntled ex-employee, an angry ex-lover, a total stranger… it doesn’t really matter what the source is. Just ask Al Nino, a man whose name sounds similar to the weather phenomenon El Niño. He spent a summer tormented by angry letters and phone calls over the weather.

The simple fact of the matter is that it’s unlikely you’ll see a smear campaign or a potential problem coming until it’s already out there. An online reputation defense ensures you’re both warned, and already acting.

Awkward situations can rapidly become worse

We’ve all been in difficult personal situations at some point. Personal and professional misunderstandings are simply a part of day-to-day life. The problem is that they can be aired out on the Internet and take on a life of their own.

Instead of discussing the situation with those involved like an adult, you suddenly have an enormous audience deciding they know what to do, and aggressively sharing that idea with you.

Slander and libel online can cost you money, friends, and relationships

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Unfortunately, for all the ideas that we’re a jaded and cynical species, far too many people actually believe everything they read on the Internet, provided a source seems credible enough or fits into a narrative we want to believe—a well-documented phenomenon psychologists call “confirmation bias.”

And anyone can see an untrue statement online: potential employers and clients, family members, even someone curious about you before you go out for coffee. Once people form an idea about you, it can be incredibly difficult to dislodge. A 2017 article in the New Yorker, “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds,” addressed this phenomenon. The article reviews several studies that demonstrate that we humans often cling persistently to incorrect assumptions and untruths—even after presented with the real facts that show our assumptions are objectively wrong!

Given these disconcerting truths, it’s clear that it’s better to simply ensure that the seed of doubt is never planted at all.

It can linger for years

Without a strong online reputation defense, online libel can be the problem that just will not go away. It’s not unknown for someone who struggled with an online smear campaign as a teenager to discover that campaign coming up in job interviews a decade later. And, frankly, once something “goes viral,” there’s a real risk; not all people are capable of applying common sense.

You shouldn’t have to “take” cyberbullying

In the end, it really comes down to this; total strangers do not have the right to define your life for you or make you miserable because they think it’s funny. With a strong online reputation defense, you can ensure that you’re not a victim or a target and can use the Internet with confidence.

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So, what should you do?

You’ve decided to take the next step and invest in online reputation defense—you know it’s important to maintain your positive image on the Internet. But how, exactly, does online reputation protection work? What do you do and when do you do it?

Here’s how you can get started right away:

Address online complaints and criticisms promptly

More often than not, Internet wildfires can be contained with a simple statement or with a few strategic moves on your part.

For example, try looking at a complaint about your business on Twitter or Facebook as an opportunity to demonstrate your excellent customer service and commitment to customer satisfaction. If a rude or false statement makes you see red, avoid firing off a flippant response immediately out of anger. (But don’t let a negative comment linger unanswered, either.) Instead, take some time to think and then respond. Don’t be defensive—demonstrate that you care that the customer wasn’t satisfied, and offer solutions.

Not all customers can be pleased, but many more simply want to vent and know that their voice is heard. Your response proves this to them, and what’s more, others will observe how you dealt with the situation and take note. More often than not, you can protect your online reputation simply by acting promptly and with forethought.

Monitor what people say about you online

The next step is to keep an eye out for what people are saying about you. This means constantly searching the web, using search terms like your full name or the name of your company; scanning user review websites for both positive and negative reviews; and analyzing social media and social media trends surrounding your name.

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Setting up a Google Alert for yourself is a good, simple first step you can take right now; sign up for this free service and you’ll receive updates when there are new Google search results for your name. You can also choose to receive Google Alerts for your competitors, your industry niche, or your product—or any other keywords you designate.

You want to look for both positive and negative statements about you, for entirely different reasons. Positive statements are assets you can amplify elsewhere online; for example, on social media, your website, or in email marketing campaigns. And you need to know about negative comments, of course, so you can assess the situation and determine the best course of action. You can’t solve a problem if you aren’t aware of it, after all.

Determine what’s a threat and what’s not

Few of us enjoy perfect press, but it’s worth looking at the press itself before choosing a reaction. A semi-literate comment on a blog post full of slurs and incoherent rants isn’t going to damage your business very much and isn’t worth reacting to. In fact, you could end up making the problem worse if you respond.

Fortunately, you don’t have to protect your Internet reputation from people your customers will dismiss.

However, a funny song criticizing your company going viral? That could be worth addressing, especially if it begins getting traction on social media.

Don’t waste time with removal requests

In a perfect world, you could contact someone who posted a lie or nasty rumor about you online, ask them to remove it, and they would comply. Problem solved. Unfortunately, however, this rarely works. What’s more, sending cease-and-desist letters to the website hosting the negative comment is usually ineffective—in most cases, the website is not legally required to remove the content. You’re better off spending your time creating a positive online presence that stands on its own, not waging war on slanderous remarks here and there.

Protect your personally identifiable information

You want your business or professional profile to stand out online, not your personal information. Unfortunately, these bits of information—like your age, birthday, home address, and a host of other details—are a form of currency today. Companies gather this data, make some of it available online, and sell it to advertisers. That’s why it’s a good idea to remove your information from people-search sites like Pipl, Spokeo, PeopleFinder, and so forth. This process can be lengthy and involve physical paperwork, but it can be worth it, especially if large amounts of information about your life are available online.

Take charge of your reviews

The goal of this step is to develop your brand and the community surrounding it by working closely with friends and good customers to raise positive press about your business.

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For example, if a customer posts a glowing review of your business, you’d work with other customers who share their opinion to increase positive reviews and rate each other’s reviews highly. You can do this simply by asking long-time or otherwise happy customers to rate you on review sites like Yelp, Google+, or the site that’s most relevant to your industry.

Unfortunately, you can’t just delete negative comments from these sites, as much as you might like to. However, you can work to drum up positive reviews and make sure they get more notice.

Establish an online presence by publishing content regularly

Do you have a website? Most businesses do, but many individuals haven’t taken this basic step yet. Even if you’re already active on social media, a website can still help you protect your online reputation.

When creating your website, try to get your full, first and last name in the URL: YourName.com; or if that’s not available, YourNameYourProfession.com. This step will not only make it easier for people to find your website when they search for you online, but it will also protect against someone else purchasing a website with your name and using it to misrepresent you or your business. After all, you don’t want a fake website making your first impression for you in your Google search results.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to pay a web designer a small fortune to build the site. Platforms like Squarespace and WordPress offer free or inexpensive options and include a variety of design templates to choose from.

Once your website is up and running, be sure to update it with new content regularly—designate one page as your blog and write posts on a consistent schedule. This part truly is crucial; a sad little blog with one entry from 13 months ago won’t do much for your online reputation.

There are other places you can publish content, too. For instance, if you’ve ever created a PowerPoint presentation for a conference you attended, you can upload that to Slideshare. Videos can be shared on YouTube. Meanwhile, Quora is a site that allows people to publicly ask and answer questions; by answering questions relevant to your industry, you can establish yourself as an expert.

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In short, this step is all about building a base of positive, accurate content online. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of websites and platforms where you can do this.

Get active on social media

If you haven’t already done so, establishing social media profiles and claiming your business on directory and review sites can go a long way toward boosting your presence online. Once you’ve created a social media account, you want to be consistently active on it—don’t just set it up and let it go dark. It’s the same principle that applies to your blog: regular updates are a must!

Over time, your profiles may show up prominently in your Google search results. You can also use your social media accounts to bring people to your website. For example, every time you publish a new blog post, you can tweet a link to it on Twitter.

Next steps

If you’re ready to get going, but still could use some guidance, consider contacting ReputationDefender. We have the experience and knowledge to answer your questions about online reputation protection, no matter how big or small. Our strategies and technologies have been extensively tested in the field and have been shown to be able to navigate the shifting Internet landscape, as new social networks emerge and new opportunities for self-promotion arise.