Google yourself. What do you see? Are you represented fairly?
Online reputation management (ORM) means taking control of the online conversation. Its techniques and strategies ensure that people find the right materials when they look for you on the Internet.
Done well, online reputation management creates balance, counteracts misleading trends, and allows you to put your best foot forward.
Online reputation is becoming so pervasive that it’s almost time to drop the word “online.” Essentially, your online reputation is your reputation, professional and personal. Here’s why:
The Internet is our first stop for everything
- Two out of three people see the Internet as the most reliable source of information about a person or a business (Edelman Insights)
- 70% of hiring managers have rejected a candidate because of something they found online (Cross-Tab)
- When looking for a local business, 97% of people read online reviews (BIA Kelsey)
Looking at statistics like these, it’s clear that what happens online affects your entire life.
Online and offline are blending
With each passing day, the online world becomes more and more enmeshed with the rest of our activities. From smartphones to smart TVs, from the “Internet of things” to the self-driving cars of the future—you are living each day increasingly online, even if you never touch a computer.
That means there are more and more ways for you to leave an online mark, positive or negative.
Now, you might not think that people are searching for you, but chances are they are. Common reasons include:
- Employers doing pre-interview research
- Landlords looking into prospective renters
- Children searching for details of their parents’ “real lives”
- Curious significant others, past and present
- Former colleagues looking to share professional opportunities
No matter how “under the radar” or “low-tech” your lifestyle, there is a good quantity of information about you online—and people are seeing it.
Your online reputation is forever
If someone writes something negative about you online, it can put you at a serious disadvantage over the long term—especially if you’re not aware of it. You might never know why you didn’t get that apartment you wanted, or why a job offer never materialized after that phenomenal interview.
It’s important to keep tabs on what people are saying about you online and then take steps to correct any inaccuracies.
Over 80% of reputation damage comes from a mismatch between the buzz and the reality.
Given how advanced search engines and other information technologies have become, why do we even need to manage our online reputations? Shouldn’t these issues go away on their own over time?
Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen. Online reputation mismatches are not technology problems, they’re human problems.
Google’s algorithms can only give us what we ask for. So if we ask for juicy gossip, conspiracy stories, and negative reviews, that’s what gets associated with our search terms.
Online reputation management counteracts that human bias for gossip, ensuring that the materials that actually matter aren’t overwhelmed by the rumors.
This need will always exist. In fact, it’s probably going to get more and more important to manage our online reputations as search engines and other online algorithms become a bigger part of everything we do.
There are similarities between online reputation management and search engine optimization (SEO) but there are also important differences.
SEO is about promoting a specific website or page to the top of the search results. Online reputation management is about controlling the collection of websites that appear in your search results. That means the tactics and measures of success are different. For example:
Multiple targets. In an SEO campaign, you typically aim to make a certain page rank as highly as possible, ideally in the very first position in the search results. In ORM, it’s not as important if Site X is in the first or the fifth position, but it is important to control what gets onto the first page. Therefore, ORM techniques are designed to create an ecosystem of materials, each telling related stories in different and complementary ways.
Displacement versus promotion. The goal of SEO is usually to move a specific site or sites up. Amazon wants people to click on its website and not on a competitor’s site, so they work to make their website rank as highly as possible. The goal of ORM is usually to move a specific site or sites down—displacing misleading information or gossip with higher quality materials. It’s less important whether someone clicks on your business website or your LinkedIn profile as long as they don’t click on the rant posted by a disgruntled former employee.
Lack of virality. Most SEO campaigns would be more than happy to have their sites go viral. In ORM, on the other hand, virality is not always beneficial. Even if good sites go viral, they will add to the competitiveness of the search results. More people will be digging around in the search results, changing the balance of which sites rank where. At the same time, any problems that arise will be much harder to deal with, because the search volumes will be higher.
Keyword focus. SEO typically targets a group of related search terms or keywords, with the goal of attracting site visitors from as many different searches as possible. A travel agency might try to target “Hawaii vacations” and “budget resorts in Maui”, for example. In an ORM campaign on the other hand, we target very specific search terms that have a reputation impact. The goal is not to attract as many site visitors as possible, but to make sure people looking for something in particular see relevant information, regardless of which site they decide to visit.
Depending on your needs, online reputation management can be a relatively simple, straightforward process, or it can be complex and multifaceted. Regardless, most ORM campaigns follow a few general rules:
Search results are algorithmically generated. Your online reputation is determined by complex calculations run automatically by computers. After all, nobody has time to take in all the information that’s out there, so search engines and social media sites make educated guesses about what people will find interesting.
Popularity over accuracy. No algorithm can tell whether information accurately reflects you or not, so popularity becomes the main measuring stick. That’s why embarrassing party photos, frivolous lawsuits dismissed years ago, and other kinds of irrelevant but intriguing “click bait” often dominate online reputations.
Don’t click. It can be tempting to visit the negative pages in your search results over and over again. Don’t. This tells search engines that the page is relevant, driving it up in the results. For the same reason, don’t tell all your friends to go visit the page. And under no circumstances should you link to it on social media or from another website.
Don’t engage with detractors. If someone writes something unflattering about you, don’t write back, don’t post a comment, and don’t refer to the offending item in online forums. All this does is send more attention to the issue you don’t want seen. There’s also the danger that truly malicious posters might take your response and twist the words against you. Why give them additional ammunition? It’s better to fight their taunts with radio silence.
Get your story out there. You can only promote the materials that are out there. That means you need a solid base of positive, accurate content to improve your online reputation. You can do this yourself to some extent—starting a blog, posting YouTube videos, etcetera—but you may need a publication team in order to affect competitive search results.
Use social media. Not on Twitter? Sign up, using your full name as your handle (e.g. @johndoe). Are you active on LinkedIn? Make sure your resume is up to date. Social media sites often rank well in your search results, and you control the content they display, so they can make a big difference to your online reputation.
Protect your privacy. Keep tabs on the personally identifiable information about you posted online. Opt out of services that sell your personal information, and remove your data from people-search sites. This makes it less likely that sensitive personal details can be used to hijack your online reputation.
Assume everything lasts forever. If something has been published online, it’s potentially part of your permanent online reputation. Search results aren’t arranged chronologically, so old news items, outdated information, and stories from years ago can continue to rank if they’re seen as relevant by search engines. This can work for or against you.