The Care and Feeding of your Online Reputation
By: Debra Benton
From The Virtual Executive by Debra Benton, reprinted with permission from McGraw-Hill Professional. Copyright 2012.
Unless you are so far off the grid that you live in an abandoned vehicle on blocks, the IRS does not know you exist, your siblings assume you are dead, and your fingerprints have been surgically removed, there are some electronic records on you. (Of course, if any of the above is true, you probably aren’t reading this.)
If someone runs a Google search on you, something is likely to come up. The good stuff are articles, stories, and blogs that you’ve written or been quoted in; awards, announcements, projects you’ve been part of; and profiles, postings, tags, and “likes” on social feeds.
Then there are the things you have little control over that come from public records and what others post.
“Only the very, very rich or powerful can remain un-Googleable.”
It is common that if you contact someone out of the blue, before she considers responding to you, she will run Google search on you and check your Facebook and Twitter posts.
Think Twice Before You Post
When you engage online: think twice, post once. Be interesting so you’re appealing to get to know. How you express yourself, how you think, and how you handle and present yourself all add up to the impact you have.
Understand the culture of the media site that you are using, and communicate only about topics appropriate for the site. It’s okay to lurk a little in a new community you’ve joined to get a feel for it before posting messages. You’d do the same at a live event; step back and observe before joining in.
Ask yourself, if your post is:
- Positive and pleasant
- Accurate and honest
- A hot topic
- Stimulate conversation
- Give insider information
- Provide little-known data
- Teach something
- Prompt other sites to link
“When you post, ‘wow’ people with content: solutions, tips, advice. Be worth talking about.”
Don’t post silliness just to add another item. Share stuff that has a reason for showing. Avoid random quotes, statements, useless updates, rants, and repetition. Watch for typos and grammatical errors in your posts just the way you do when you use written and voice channels.
Exhaustively edit everything you post. Use impulse control. There is no machine to take you back in time and unpost. The Internet is a permanent record; it never forgets anything published. Comments, news, images, blog posts, commentary, status updates, or photos placed on the Internet dissipate like airborne viruses.
Slow down. Even though you can post or respond with a few keystrokes and a click, don’t. Sit on it, walk on it, sleep on it. Then reword it.
“Do the firefighters’ drill: stop, drop, roll. Stop the process. Drop the idea that you’re emotionally wedded to. Roll into a better way of wording.”
Filter what you write. Ask yourself if it is what you want your boss, coworkers, parents, children, and grandparents to read — because they will, or someone will tell them about it.
“One site profile was more detailed in its questions than a psychological profile I had to complete to go to sniper school.”
Social Media Tips to Heed
People can be in such a hurry to get their message out into the media stream that they don’t think seriously about the repercussions until it’s too late. It’s not just the information you dispatch.
Someone else can take a photo of you and tag you, and it is there without end too — your personal Wikileaks moment. And before you post about others, put yourself in their position to make sure it won’t offend them.
“I run a public company. You don’t have to dig too deep to get some dirt on me.”
A good question to repeatedly ask yourself as you pause to post is, “Ten years down the road when I am chief something, do I want that out there?”
Debra Benton, author of The Virtual Executive (McGraw-Hill, April 27, 2012), founded and directs Benton Management Resources, counseling such clients as AT&T, American Express, GE, Pepsi, United Airlines, Time Warner, McKinsey & Company, Verizon, Dell, Novartis, Kraft Foods, and NASA, and others from Hollywood to the Washington Beltway. She is the bestselling author of eight previous books including How to Think Like a CEO and Executive Charisma. More at: Debrabenton.com.