By Ben Bowers
on 6.17.09

manage-your-online-identity

By now, everyone has heard the stories. A guy interviews for a job, asks the right questions, provides perfect answers, and knocks the whole affair right out of the park. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get the position. That’s because a quick online investigation by the hiring HR department unearthed countless strikes against him. Facebook photos of keggers years ago from college, not so subtle tweets hitting on his coworker a couple of months back, and his tryout video for that reality show “Skewer That Cougar“. OK, so maybe not that last bit.

The point is, poor online image management has reached a societal milestone. It is now the stuff of urban legend. We can all acknowledge the lesson the previous tale tells as something to fear, but we may lack the personal attachment to heed it ourselves. We shouldn’t be surprised, though; the internet (as we know it today) is a product of a decade’s evolution at most, and ten years is by no means a feasible learning curve by which to project across the entirety of society.

“Curating our online representation is now a duty we are tasked with for life. It is no longer a matter of choice for those looking to maximize their success.”

In other words, we were doomed to fail at assessing the implications of our actions. Subsequently, the scale and speed of the internet’s ascent has left our generation unexpectedly on the front lines of enormous change, and how we choose to adapt will in large part define the new status quo for our children’s generation. Most of us, though, still have trouble grasping this truth, as we remain a bunch caught up in the rapture of limitless communication and the amplification of individuality.

How can we, amidst our revelry of immeasurable sharing, possibly think of boundaries? Sprinting near towards the finish line of the inaugural decade of our young century, we men cannot afford to be flat footed. Curating our online representation is now a duty we are tasked with for life. It is no longer a matter of choice for those looking to maximize their success. This article is about first steps in the process. My name is Ben Bowers, and, if you are reading this, you are the resistance.

Know What’s Out There

wink_social_search_engine_resultsThe first step in any online image management strategy is to know what’s already out there. Everyone has Googled their own name at some point to see what shows up. Just because that broadly-based search didn’t immediately surface relevant information about you, though, doesn’t mean you’re home free. In order to take a thorough look, start with social search engines instead.

Unlike Google (for now), these search engines differ in that they index primarily pages produced by social applications (e.g. sharing) and have algorithms tuned to specialize in people search. Never heard of em’? Trust me, lots exist and I recommend checking out this list of 40 social search engines to get a taste. Their results can provide a good gauge of what information is floating around about you that others can access.

If negative things do appear, there’s no reason to panic though. At least now you know what sources to concentrate on locking down first. Take a good gander at the sharing and security settings across the variety of social networking tools you’re involved with and make sure sensitive material is blocked from public view. These settings alone, however, cannot guarantee privacy. Facebook, for instance, has had notorious problems insuring the privacy of its users images. So, to err on the side of caution, questionable text and images should simply be deleted. While these measures will improve the perception of your online persona, they will also limit sharing and making new connections. Thus, setting up dual accounts for public and private use can improve your ability to balance both needs and is something you should consider. The key is being conscious of what is out there and active in managing it to fit your goals.

Promote Your Strengths

Successful online image management is not all about locking up and blocking. On the contrary, when done well, adroit web denizens can ensure that only positive information is readily available and further sculpt their online identity to advance any number of personal or career initiatives. To borrow a sports cliche, sometimes the best defense is a good offense.
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Since this article has primarily been focused on online imagine management from a career standpoint, a natural place to start is LinkedIn. For those who don’t know about it, LinkedIn is a social network focused on professional connections and it’s now one of the first places companies and recruiters look online for information on job candidates. In its most basic form, LinkedIn serves as permanent repository to publish your resume online. At its most advanced, the professional uses for the service are almost limitless. Whether it’s staying in touch with colleagues, asking for expert advice, hunting for a new job, or scoping out competitors, LinkedIn can do it all.

Though the service attracts more professionals in certain fields than others, anyone with a career or looking for one should take the time and sign-up. New users and experienced vets alike should also snag their own personal vanity URL for their profile (networking Facebook users should consider doing the same thing and act quickly, as vanity URLs became available just this past Friday). Vanity URL’S make finding and directing people to your profile easier (e.g. facebook.com/yourname) and strengthens the likelihood of your profile appearing high in general search results for your name.

Your Online Profile

google-profilesCreating a Google Profile Page is another great tool for controlling and aggregating your online persona. Recently released by the company in May of this year, creating a Google profile enables users to consolidate “about me” text, contact information, and links to their various social networking profiles all in one place. While other services offer similar things, the advantage of Google profile pages lies in their high placement in name search results. So, instead of seeing those pictures of you imitating “Frank the Tank” a while back, Google-snooping employers and girlfriends alike are presented with a clean, personally curated positive summation of your life online.

You.com

For the ultimate control and flexibility in personal brand promotion, individual websites will always rule, and, as the role of the internet continues to evolve, this makes owning a prime piece of real estate along the information superhighway all the more important. Even if you don’t ever plan on building a website in the near future, I’d always recommend buying your own “yourname.com” domain, if it’s available, just in case. Depending on the domain registration service you use, the cost for a year’s registration can range anywhere from $1-15, which is a paltry price to pay for reserving piece of mind and opportunity in the future. If your desired dot com isn’t available, check other options such as .net, .me, or .name, as well. Some examples of domain registration sites are: godaddy.com, networksolutions.com, register.com, and domain.com. Anything that can be easily remembered will work.

Nothing you’re interested in is actually available? Certain services can alert you about domain name expiration and even backorder them for you to own the moment they become available. One example is Go Daddy’s Domain Alert Pro and another is Domain name alert from VeriSign but these are by no means the only solutions of this kind out there. Still not sure where to purchase your domain from? Check out this list of the Top 40 Domain Registrars.

michael_bay_blog_outlinedHow to build your site once you own a domain could be the subject of countless posts and is actually something I plan to cover in more depth soon (as I am in the process of building my own). For now all I’ll say is that looking into open source options such as: WordPress or MoveableType, and Square Space are great places to start when looking for a foundation to build your site from.

Once built, make sure to list your URL in a variety of locations including (but not neccessarily limited to) on business cards, email signatures, and resumes in order to direct people to it as the source for all things you. Adding links to your site from your social networking accounts will also help centralize your site as the starting point for your online presence. What you do with it from there is all a matter of personal taste. Clearly, those of us at Gear Patrol are partial to blogging and online publishing, but in all seriousness, starting to blog on topics surrounding your particular profession or passions can have enormous professional benefits and enhance your reputation as an expert in your field. Just don’t claim to be an authority on something you’re not. Of course, you can always just submit an article to Gear Patrol as a first step (hint, hint).

Let’s continue the conversation. Have any tips on how you’ve managed your personal identity online? Let us know in the comments below.