Understanding & Managing Your Personal Online Reputation
June 2024
Understanding & Managing Your Personal Online Reputation

Each person is two people:

  • One person has a good reputation, or a bad one, based on the way they interact with their neighbors, employers, coworkers, children, spouse and so on. This person lives in the real, physical world.
  • The other person’s reputation is based on those same factors plus all their social media posts, Internet purchases, delicate official information such as their social security number and driver’s license, and the scurrilous things that people say about them anonymously and without consequences. This person lives on the Internet.

The first person can be in fine standing while the second becomes the victim of character assassination. And eventually, the misfortune of the latter can affect the former. You need to be assiduous about defending your online reputation.

Below, we’ll discuss the nature of your online reputation, the damage that can be done to it and how to protect against that sort of damage.

If you found this page after having your identity stolen or being defamed by an anonymous reviewer or poster, we’re here to help. You shouldn’t have to go through that. And with our help you won’t ever have to again.

What is a personal online reputation?

Your online personal reputation defines how people who’ve found you online think about you.

The good and bad news here is that perception is highly subjective. If your Internet presence is fairly clean, people—such as potential employers or lenders—will think you yourself are a decent, upstanding person. However, a bad online reputation can sink employment and financial prospects, no matter who you are at heart.

People could also shrug off whatever they see and move forward with what they know of you as a real-space person. But you don’t want to bet on that.

Why is it important to manage your personal online reputation

The news gets even worse: The bad things people say about you don’t even have to be true to affect your online reputation.

Rumors and allegations can be made up wholesale. This is, to put it lightly, frustrating. Okay, okay: It can be infuriating; you feel violated, wounded and helpless. This is one major downside to our ever-more digital world.

There are four primary reasons that reputation management is important.

1. People are looking you up online at every stage of your career & making decisions about you based on what they find.

Imagine you went back to college to train for a new career that will allow your family to move up the financial ladder—that will get your family out of poverty, even. You’ve graduated, and now you have student loan debt coming due; your job search hasn’t been fruitful. But you have all the qualifications, and you’re a dynamic interviewer. What is it you’re doing wrong?

2. Anyone can say anything about you online without getting in trouble, whether it’s true or not.

Just then, you notice a scatological screed smeared across your social media front page. Oh no, you realize, potential employers could’ve seen this. That certainly isn’t impossible: 67% of employers report looking into a potential employee’s digital reputation.

Whoever said this foul thing, or made a vile accusation against you, did it with a username that doesn’t reveal who they are. In other words, they’re anonymous and aren’t accountable for what they said. That means that, on the one hand, they can’t say they’re an expert on you and your life; but rumors spread, and many think that where there’s smoke there’s fire, as the old saying goes.

The injustice of it hits you: You worked hard in order to benefit those you love and an anonymous liar, with a few keystrokes, has taken away your ability to feed your family.

3. Everything we do online, from the things we post to social media, the sites we visit, the things we purchase, and even the conversations we send via text/messenger, is stored somewhere.

Everything lasts forever on the Internet. And the Internet is no longer a discrete space you sign in to and look at on your home computer. So much is connected to the Internet: Your cell phone, your security system, your smart refrigerator. They’re all part of what’s known as the Internet of Things (IoT), a world-scale connectivity project that has brought us both great convenience and major privacy concerns.

4. Building a positive personal brand online gives you an edge, but most don’t know how to create one.

Even if you don’t manufacture or sell anything, you have a “brand”—a word that is, in this situation, more or less synonymous with “online reputation.”

54% of employers decline to hire a candidate based on their social media footprint. Think about that: If you have no online footprint beyond a single social media site, and you’re being badmouthed all over that site, your potential employer has nothing more to go on than your resume and interview—and a non-complimentary social media post suggesting that you’re a monster.

What can you do?

How can I improve my online reputation?

Google yourself.

Start with Google, just to see what you’re working with—or against, as the case may be. Many job recruiters are required to Google job candidates. And if they don’t like what they find, into the trash your resume goes. Recruiters are busy, after all, and have to have some sort of culling protocol.

If a quick Google search reveals a poor online reputation, there are steps you can take to improve it, or at least weigh the balance in your favor.

Boost your brand.

Sign up for accounts at major social media sites. Think of something you’re passionate about and write about that across all the major sites in specific ways: Post on Facebook; put up photos on Instagram; look endearingly silly on TikTok.

By widening your brand footprint rumors on one site look less credible: Sure, someone said something nasty about you over here, but the three other sites you manage are full of nothing but praise. Once you’ve expanded to various social media providers, dig in and find people you know, or people who have the interests you have. Create a community. That community acts as a sort of moat around the castle of your reputation; you can get a lot of people on your side with social media. They don’t know you, per se, but they’ll give you the thumbs-up when your online reputation comes into doubt.

Start a blog.

Social media is, by its nature, sort of a hit-and-run thing: The most popular posts are punchy, lapidary and quick. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re intelligent or informed or kind, and that’s the other side of the sword.

Blogs have the same interpersonal connectivity value as social media. But the real benefit of blogs is that you have more space to develop ideas, ease confusion or, in the rare case in which you will choose to deal with a cruel commenter, defend yourself. Blogs allow for less ambiguity than social media, and while for some that means they’re tightening their own rope with each word, a carefully curated, well-written blog can be worth a whole raft of tweets.

Buy your name as a domain name.

It’s a good idea to buy the rights to your name in domain form. You’ll also want to buy domains for your various nicknames. Some malefactor who owns Your Full Name dot com could post awful things that, seeming to have originated from you, would disqualify you from any job.

Moderate comments when you can.

Depending on your privacy settings, you may be able to moderate comments on your pages. You’ll definitely want to do this if you can: Trolls abound. Free speech absolutists don’t like this idea; they think the Internet is supposed to be a libertarian paradise where everyone says everything that comes into their heads. But think realistically: You’re trying to protect your brand — your sensitive personal information and that of your family, as well as retain your employment prospects. Removing nasty comments isn’t a mangling of the Constitution: It’s a sound business endeavor. Mean-spirited posts are hardly speech worth protecting.

Delete, delete, delete.

Everything is forever on the internet—in a sense. While by onerous means someone can track down something you deleted ages ago, deleted posts are functionally gone so long as no one took a screenshot of them.

When building your brand, go back through all your posts, comments, and personal information and delete anything that could be controversial. What constitutes “controversial” content? It’s hard to say. You’ll have to guess, and it’s better to err on the side of caution, especially if your career is at stake.

Research, research, research.

Everyone’s an expert on the Internet. If you have actual expertise, that’s frustrating to no end: You worked hard, you’re admired in your field, and you’ve made contributions to the sum total of human knowledge. And here comes a loudmouth contradicting you. Pro tip: Anyone who starts a sentence with the formulation “Well, actually…” is not likely to say anything intelligent—let alone demonstrate expertise.

And if you yourself don’t know something, don’t spout off about it until you’ve done your research. Because then experts will call you out, and you’ll look like a fool—especially if you continue to belabor the point.

Keep your cool.

The internet is a global data hub. It’s also a huge trash-talking coliseum. People love to irk, con, hurt, and bait others on the Internet, especially when they can remain anonymous. And the hell of it is, if you engage them it only gets worse. You can’t force a fanatic to accept a fact he denies. Nor can you force a bully into nice behavior.

Just don’t engage. Now, if someone has a legitimate comment or complaint and will speak to you like a human being, go for it. But don’t argue, don’t engage with trolls. You’ll only come out looking worse.

How do I find my personal online reputation?

If you’re looking to find out your online reputation, Google yourself. Google is simply the largest and most powerful search engine; if they can’t find anything, no one else is likely to be able to.

You may also want to confirm that your banking information hasn’t been hacked. If a thief racked up purchases on your dime and damaged your credit score, that’s something you really need to know. Your credit score is, depending on who you’re talking to, a major factor in weighing your online reputation.

How can you protect your personal reputation online?

There are several steps you can take to protect your personal reputation online.

  • Create strong usernames and passwords.
  • Update verification modes frequently.
  • Don’t open suspicious emails.

If your Social Security number has been stolen, you can request to “Block Electronic Access” to your Social Security number by calling the Social Security Administration’s National 800 number (Toll Free 1-800-772-1213 or at TTY number at 1-800-325-0778). You’ll still have to work after that to find the channel by which your info was taken, but at least you’ll have a legal entity in your corner.

How do I fix my personal reputation?

Nearly the whole world is online. This means your online reputation is at risk. Make sure you take steps to protect it: Change passwords often, check your credit report, take reports of fraud seriously and don’t engage with suspicious actors.

IDShield offers the above and more. Get in touch today to see how we can best protect your online identity.