Protecting Your Online Reputation: Professional Edition

If you’re online, you have a reputation. A reputation is a terrible thing to squander, so take steps now to ensure that your online reputation remains good.  

Behave Impeccably

Make sure your writing online is grammatically correct, professional, and polite. Understand that what may be a joke between you and a friend might not seem that way to a third party. Don’t pick arguments online. Be quick to apologise, sometimes even if you think the other party doesn’t deserve it. Keep pictures of you as private as possible or don’t post them at all. Is it unfair that some employers, clients, or vendors would consider a picture of you holding a beer unprofessional? Sure. But this is the world in which we live.

If it helps, before you post, ask: what would grandma say?

Enable Strong Privacy Settings

For every single one of your online accounts, visit the privacy section thoroughly review. Do this once a quarter. The more personal information an account has, the more private it should be.

Remember That Nothing Is Really Private

A dean at Yale got fired over an inflammatory Yelp review this past year. It doesn’t matter that she wasn’t acting as a Yale employee when she wrote said inflammatory review. It negatively impacted her employer, so she was fired. Understand that nothing you do online is really ever private and act accordingly.

Distinguish Yourself

Most people don’t have a completely unique name. For every Barack Obama, there are thousands of Bill Smiths. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, but it does mean that the Bill Smiths of the world need to make themselves unique online.

Why? Aside from standing out, you don’t want to get conflated with another Bill Smith who is behaving badly.

Add an initial. To separate yourself the other Bill Smiths, add an initial or two. Sure, by becoming Bill W. Smith instead of just regular Bill Smith, you’re jumping from a pool of thousands to hundreds, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Take a professional headshot. No longer just for models, a headshot is a good professional move. It’s completely normal these days to “meet” someone online before you meet in real space, so posting a picture helps put a face to a name. In terms of protecting your professional reputation, though, a headshot helps distinguish you from everyone else with your name. If someone spots a head-shaven, tattooed, twenty-something Bill Smith at a White Power rally in Carolina, it will help you avoid misguided online vigilantes if your LinkedIn picture shows a suit and tie wearing forty-something.

Cross-link your social media platforms. Your Twitter profile should include links to your LinkedIN profile and Instagram page. Why? Because these are all facets of your online identity. You don’t want to be mistaken for someone else on Twitter, so linking to your LinkedIN will help show people they have the right (or wrong) person. And if linking your Twitter account to your LinkedIN seems like a bad idea, you should reconsider the Twitter account.

Include a disclaimer. This advice is for desperate situations only. If you’re constantly getting confused with another Bill Smith out there who is posting inflammatory content and generally being a jerk, it’s time to post a disclaimer. Something like:

I am aware that there is another person out there with a similar name who is hurting other people with [behaviours x, y, and z]. I am not this person. I do not agree or endorse this person’s actions. If you have been hurt or offended by this other person, I understand your pain and frustration, but please understand that his actions are not mine.

And if the other Bill Smith starts contacting you? Report him for harassment.

The Bottom Line

It’s normal to draw a distinction between your personal life and work life. However, in terms of your online reputation, the two are one and the same. Make sure you remember that when conducting yourself online.