You've probably thought about your reputation at work, or with your friends, but have you ever thought about your online reputation? Before the Internet, a reputation was something that was local and shaped by a person's community, but now your reputation is shaped by your online interactions, and it can be global.
This is because almost everything you do can be tracked online, especially if you use social networking sites. Posting personal information and photos on networking sites can be fun and convenient, but it can also lead to identity theft, cyberbullying, or hurtful gossip. What’s more, mistakes and triumphs that used to fade over time in the real world are now archived on social networking sites, in the form of posts and updates, and can be found in online searches, for all to see. And because we are all connected on the Internet, your online reputation can affect not just you, but also your family, friends and employer.
Your online reputation can consist of anything you’ve posted on blogs, social networks and professional networking sites— which are archived by search engines and can still be accessed—as well as the information that others have posted about you. Your online interactions can even affect your work reputation and how potential employers perceive you as a person.
Given the importance of your online reputation, here are some steps to help you protect it:
- Don’t reveal personal information—Avoid sharing your address, full birthday and other personal details online. If you share too much, cybercriminals could potentially steal your identity or use this information to impersonate you.
- Do regular searches for yourself—This lets you see what others are saying about you and check if there’s anyone impersonating you. Try to go beyond basic Google search and search sites like Facebook and Twitter, and any forums that you may have used in the past. If you find unflattering photos or information about yourself online, see if you can get them taken down by contacting the person who posted them. This is also a good way to look for out-of-date information, such as an old profile page, so that you can remove the information or update it.
- Set your own reputation—Shape the way you are seen online by using your full name on professional and social networking sites and establishing your own identity. This will make it more difficult for someone to impersonate you. Also, resist the urge to engage in arguments or criticize others online. Words said in person can be forgotten over time, but online comments will be there forever and could prove embarrassing later on.
- Understand that others influence your reputation—Even if you think you’re projecting a squeaky clean image online, your reputation could be affected by people in your network who post controversial comments or unflattering photos. Keep an eye on the kind of content your contacts are posting to make sure it doesn't negatively impact your reputation.
Most importantly, don’t underestimate the influence and reach of what you do online. Be careful what you post, and be vigilant about monitoring what other people post about you. Consider anything you do on the Internet as public knowledge, so keep it positive.