The Next Trend: Personal Online Reputation Management

I’ve had more requests from individuals to help them with online reputation management in the last few months than I have in the last few years. What’s going on?

First off, businesses are becoming more aware of the need to manage their online reputation. That’s great, because it keeps me busy.

Celebrities have also caught on, and are seeing the need to do something about maintaining a positive image online. It’s bad enough to put up with what the tabloids print. In the online world, things can get even nastier.

Now we’re seeing a trend where ordinary individuals are looking to hire reputation management specialists to burnish their online “brand.”

I’ve addressed the issue of personal online reputation management for executives and college students in other blog posts. In most of these cases, the concern isn’t about handling negative reviews or criticism online, but rather establishing a presence online to build a reputation.

A lot of people are now waking up to the fact that some online information about them may not show them in the best light. Even if the information is absolutely, 100% correct, they still may not want it popping up in a search.

Perhaps they were accused of something (but not convicted), and their names appear in news stories. In these days of trial-by-media, everyone feels entitled to offer their opinion and pronounce a verdict on the scantiest of information. Never mind due process of the law. Public accusations are as good as a guilty verdict in the minds of many.

Typically, only the most sensational or celebrity-related stories get prominently reported in the main media. However, even if a story is buried on page 37 of a newspaper, it can still appear at the top of an online search about the person of interest.

Also, public information that used to take some effort for someone to find is now easily accessible with a quick online search. This includes information about your mortgage, property purchases and sales, bankruptcy, court filings and nearly any public documents about you.

You may also find yourself on lists of donors to charities or political parties. That may not bother you if you still proudly support these organizations. But if your donation was ten years ago and you’ve since changed your views, you may regret being associated with something you no longer believe in.

Not surprisingly, the undesirable content is not always something posted by another person or organization. I was contacted recently on behalf of an actress (somewhat well known, but not a huge star) who was concerned because a search turned up some images of her posing in a bikini in her earlier days. She thought this bit of “youthful indiscretion” was damaging her reputation.

This isn’t the type of client I typically work with, so I turned down the assignment. But it shows where we’re headed.

We have to face a new reality: More and more information about you is finding its way online, and it’s going to stay there a long time. The internet never forgets.

It reminds me of the song “Every Breath You Take” by Sting:

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take
I’ll be watching you

Your online reputation consists of everything ever posted by you or about you. Every step you take, the world is watching. That’s why it’s easy to predict that online reputation management companies will be approached more and more by individuals who want help with managing what shows up about them in online searches.