Online Reputation Management Means Knowing Where Your Secrets Are

November 3, 2008

Well, our previous blog post (10/20/2008) opened some interesting conversations…fortunately we moderate comments. Having been in communication with a couple of “buyers” of products from some of these Internet gurus, a message was forwarded to us whereby one of these gurus sent an ominous message threatening to lynch the member. He actually used that word in his email. So, here is a perfect example of how to ruin one’s online reputation. What’s interesting, since today the word lynch is not politically correct — let’s face it, had such an email been sent to an African-American, it would be considered a “hate crime”, a serious felony that would have resulted in the arrest of that Internet guru — is that this so-called smart Internet marketer was so stupid as to write such an email creating a document that will now live forever.

This will seem a little amusing right now, but some years ago I attended a high-level CEO management forum with about 800 C-suite types from all over the country involved in technology and/or the Internet in one way or another. The keynote speaker was then Attorney-General Elliot Spitzer. Yes, that Elliot Spitzer, and how apprapro to now be speaking of him in an online reputation blog. Anyway, his opening remarks, which he often used in these keynotes, went like this: “First of all, I want to let all of you know that before I came in here today, I have already read all your emails.” [This brought lots of laughter, achieving his intention of opening with some humor.] He then went on to say, “Here’s the message I can give you for your business practices. If you can nod, don’t speak, if you can speak, don’t write, and if you have to write, don’t record or save.”

You may recall that it is always discovery of EMAILS that brought down his targets and resulted in so many successful prosecutions for him that eventually led to him being elected governor of New York. Apparently, he forgot to follow his own advice. This is the hubris of success and moral depravity I touched on in my REPUTATION 2009 – THERE WILL BE BLOOD posting below, only now, in some cases, because of the fear in the economy, and job losses, it is spilling into this latest “bubble” of Internet marketing to the gullible and ill-informed. If one is qualified, and has done their homework, great! But when I read about someone who just spent over $5,000 buying one suspect online program in the last 30 days or so, who, for 25 years has spent 12 hours a day as a plumber/welder and is “hoping 2009 is the end of my day joband can’t wait to get started…” [obviously a newbie], my message to the Internet gurus is similar to that given to brokers who sell other types of investments: “Know Your Customer“, avoid obvious over-the-top puffery, avoid earnings representations, and disclose everything with transparency. These are the basics of online reputation management.

How aout this headline from a squeeze page making the rounds now:

“The Turnkey Money Machine
That Prints
Non-Stop Profits
For You
The Lazy Way!”

“…I’ll make money automatically 24/7, even while I’m sleeping or having fun doing something else. I won’t be chained to my computer slaving away.”


Okay, you get the message…the FTC loves this stuff when they come after you.

Let’s move on to another potential reputation killer occurring in offices everywhere.

Profiles Are For Viewer’s Eyes Only

It could have been a workplace disaster of incalculable proportions. But thankfully, Bridget’s professional reputation got by without a scratch.

Here’s the story as she tells it:

“Many of my co-workers are blocked from seeing my more ”social” moments on Facebook . . . such as the booze-fueled housewarming bash I threw a few months back. Not exactly something you want the bosses to see.

So imagine my horror when I saw a co-worker (who had full profile access) not only browsing through my party photos at work — but also showing them to someone who walked by!

Lucky for me, the person who saw it already was my Facebook friend. And that co-worker quickly realized that a social network faux pas had been committed.

I thought I had it under control because I used privacy settings. I trusted that co-worker with access, but I didn’t take into account that the pictures could be shared with others at work.

So the lesson learned goes two ways. First, assume that things you see are for your eyes only. It’s disrespectful to let the whole department huddle around your monitor to look at someone else’s profile.

And, of course, don’t assume bosses won’t see a photo just because you blocked their access. Unless you block all co-workers, someone at work could share it in the office. Nothing is 100 percent safe from being seen just because you use privacy settings.”

Niala has experienced this same problem, a little differently:

“I’ve had a few incidents with co-workers who aren’t on social networks but like to get into people’s business. Hey, we’re all journalists — it’s sort of a hallmark of the trade that we’re all nosy. But I have to draw the line when they are hovering over my computer, and, in some cases, asking me to click on things in people’s profiles. I’m not sure that I’ve done the best job telling them to back off. I usually just tell them they need to open their own account.”

For some reason, people who would never read an e-mail on your screen have no problem being social network voyeurs. Sound familiar?

One more “secret” hideout that we’ve seen come back to haunt people, and companies: too many employees fail to erase or encrypt sensitive data on their mobile devices before tossing them out. To prove this point, one known to us, a university research team recently purchased 161 discarded handheld devices from online auction sites and secondhand outlets.

One in five (20%) contained details about salaries, company finances, business plans, or board meetings. A Blackberry once owned by the European sales director of a major Japenese firm, for instance, had the goods on company clients as well as the executive’s bank account numbers — along with his car make and registration.

Our general advice is to always delete your data, but the reality is not that simple. Someone inside your company has to set policy and tell people exactly what they should do when they get rid of these mobile devices.

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Were You Bad (Cool) or Good (Uncool) In College?

October 2, 2008
Student Profile Search ResultStudent Profile Search Result
Random results for “Student Profile” search term found on MySpace or Facebook

How does your past behavior in college affect your job prospects relative to your online reputation? Let’s face it: the job market is very tough today and, typically, many, if not most, individuals change jobs more often in their careers than ever before. I have seen statistics that indicate it is not at all unusual to see today’s workers change employers six or more times in less than twenty years. Years ago the HR wonks and hiring executives would look at this in the interviewing process to determine whether or not this person was “unstable”, unable to even hold down a job, and dig deeper into their social lifestyle to perhaps discover some “problems”, real or imagined. I am probably guilty of having done this myself years ago with such a resume and candidate in front of me.

But wait! Speaking of “social lifestyle“, with the tools available today to that prospective employer not available as little as five years ago, “you better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, I’m telling you why: MySpace/Facebook has come to town.”

We have recently had the opportunity of working with some late Generation X-er’s and early Generation-Y’s who have been shut down on some recent job interviews or resume submissions. They were great candidates, clearly qualified for the positions they sought. After getting blown out, these individuals spent some time doing deep searches of their own names, and guess what? The search engine results surprised them, but you know what happened: yes, today, they are great parents, well educated employees, community participants, maybe struggling a bit with desire for more income or debt reduction, hence, seeking the new opportunities, but they were JERKS in college. Just STUPID. Wait! Let me take that back a little and restate it so I do not appear so harsh. They exercised very poor judgement for whatever the reason may have been. Often they just had a need to appear “cool” to their peers and in their immaturitythe major culprit— were not capable of foresight and how their actions and behavior could possibly affect their future.

Okay, granted, we have all done stupid things in college, but twenty plus years ago, if you told me I would be carrying a telephone in my pocket the size of a playing card cabable of world-wide calls and viewing almost all the known information in the world, I’m sure I would have dismissed you and urged you find a new hobby other than science-fiction. Hence, in today’s new paradigm, we must be cognizant of this public dissemination and adjust our behavior accordingly.

So, when those old offline college chronicles were published and distributed on campus, or in the community, who would have thought those publications would be archived and converted to digital format for page upload to the World Wide Web? What if the article was negative: you got suspended; caught in the wrong place at the wrong time; arrested? And, pow, even if it is a decade old, or more, there it is on page ONE of the major search engines as a search result for your name. Bye, bye new job. Want to compute what this damage to your online reputation may be costing you? Many thousands, and more, between now and your hoped for retirement, so I’m not going to do the math for you to see because it is very disheartening.

So some of these “cool” ex-collegiates seem to now be searching for something new: online reputation management. Of course, all the work we do, the clients with whom we work, and the techniques we use must be confidential, for obvious reasons. However, we just completed a campaign whereby in less than thirty (30) days we were successful in removing 1999 negative web pages for our client from Google (and other SE’s) and replace them with all positive, informative web sites, positive buzz, and total reputation repair. An online search for this individual today will reveal a highly desireable candidate for any employer. And you know what? The client really deserves only the best! A terrific knowledgeable person, a wonderful family, and deserving of a great future. Just made that one mistake so many years ago. Yeah, real “cool“, right?

The point of this message is that whether this sounds familar to you as an adult now part of the working population, an entrepreneur seemingly being held back from getting your deals done or business growing, OR a collegiate who happens to be reading this blog, take this conversation very seriously and think smartly about the content and/or images you are posting to your social media Web 2.0 sites. They will be there forever! Would you want your chidren or potential future employers to see this content five, ten or twenty years from now? Did you exercise good judgment, a critical trait for employers, even more keen if you are in a professional endeavor. Or how about if seeking a political position? (heh-heh)

The images at the top of this page were easily found and publicly available…I have no idea who these people are and certainly do not seek to draw attention to them, only the important issue under discussion. And these are mild pictures…imagine what the “private” posts contain. Beware: “private” posts may NOT be private, the content and images could remain on those servers forever, or saved by others, and when you least expect it, or even remember them, “whoops” there they are!

Oh, by the way, it wouldn’t hurt to use these same rules on YouTube.