One melodrama I see played out time and again is caused by the disconnect between an individual’s desires for data privacy, and the need for good, proactive online reputation management. Many well-educated people think that by not having much about themselves on the internet, they’re protecting themselves and their families. They’re both wrong and right.
It’s absolutely true that you don’t want to have your data spread across the public internet, willy-nilly. You don’t want people to readily find your home address, your phone number, your birth date, and many other details, such as where you will (or won’t) be at certain times and dates. You don’t want to make it easy to be victimized — limiting data sharing can keep your identity from being stolen, your bank account logins compromised, and your home from being burglarized while you are away.
Unfortunately, people equate good data security practices with not having Twitter accounts, Facebook profiles, or personal websites and other social media accounts. Even the desire to avoid having digital copies of your photograph on the internet may fit into this category of misguided concerns.
This extreme avoidance of having any presence at all on the internet creates a big fat hole in one’s online reputations. Nature abhors a void and seeks to fill it, and the internet is no exception.
If you have a distinctive name, or your name in combination with your business concerns is a distinctive combination, then one may reasonably expect to find information about you when they search with your name combination(s) on the internet. If there’s no content at all about you, then you’re essentially a sitting-duck for a reputation attack. Without materials and webpages about you that are highly relevant for your name combination already in existence, anything creating that incorporates your name can easily be made to abruptly rank in Google, Bing and other search engines for your name.
It’s not infrequent that we see this happen.
All it takes is one disgruntled employee, one angry ex-lover, one crazy customer — or, an unforeseen event in your life such as an arrest, or censure by a professional organization, or an accident at your company. We’ve even seen cases where individuals are somewhat victims of their own success — making them the targets of an extortion plot based on a fictitious online defamation campaign.
And, if you think “I’m not involved with bad things, so my reputation is unlikely to become sullied”, then you’re really very out-of-touch with the reality. The anonymity of the internet is often taken as a license for defamation. We work daily with cases where generally fine people find themselves suffering due to how negative internet materials are damaging them.
Most people have something to lose when their reputations are marred by items showing up in search results. It can affect one’s business bottom line, career prospects, dating opportunities, and other relationships.
When such events happen, if there are no materials created in your name on the internet already, then negative content featuring your name can suddenly begin ranking prominently on page one of search engine results when people search for your name.
The dynamic at work is simple. You really need to have a handful of assets created to be highly relevant for your name and ranking in search engine results which you control. These materials help to insulate you some in the event that something negative is published about you on the internet. Such materials can make it more difficult for negative items to appear and gain traction for your name search combinations.
We call the establishment of positive name-optimized materials that are under your control “Proactive Online Reputation Management” or “Proactive ORM”.
Proactive ORM is not rocket science! For individuals, we recommend that you set up profiles on popular social media services and also a website on a domain that is highly relevant for your name. It further helps to develop each of these properties in order to strengthen or “optimize” their ranking power through search engine optimization (“SEO”) and social media optimizations.
You should also realize that having these items featuring your name published on the internet does not necessarily reduce your personal data security. You control the materials and can insure that they do not expose sensitive personal data. These items don’t even have to reveal details about your personality or activities to any degree — you can essentially manufacture a public “face” for your name, if you wish — a sort of protective camouflage if you’re particularly concerned about exposure. Alternatively, you can also choose to reveal some limited aspects of your personality and interests that may be in sync with your professional aspirations and/or hobby interests.
Many have left themselves open to being easily damaged when negative materials about them are published on the internet out of a misplaced concern about personal data security, but it’s not necessary for this disconnect to occur. It’s possible to practice good proactive online reputation management while simultaneously preserving one’s privacy and data security.