Do you remember the web 20 years ago? Web browsers were very basic, there were only a small handful of websites that users could post to, and web video was still a future technology.
Today, the web is a massive interconnection of screens, readers, recorders and sensors. Virtually everyone connected to the web has a digital footprint that follows them around.
What does your footprint say about you?
When I read the news this week about the hacking of Ashely Madison—the website for adulterers—and the subsequent release of profile information by the perpetrators, it made me think about the importance of reputation management in the digital age. It’s a lesson I’ve been trying to get across to my twenty-something sons. Now I have a real life example I can point to.
How would having your adulterer profile exposed to the world affect you? What other “private” profiles do you have that could damage your reputation if exposed?
What my sons are having a hard time grasping is how these things follow you around. And it’s not just the tawdry stuff, either.
Anyone can write and publish bad things about you online. If someone posts something bad about you or something that was previously true—like why you were fired from your last job or the freaky things you do in bed—these things will have a seriously damaging effect on your future.
Your digital reputation can also bring opportunities your way, but only if you manage it correctly. If you aren’t the one creating and managing your digital reputation, people won’t see your best. In fact, they may well only see the worst.
The internet is a vicious place. Anyone in your personal or professional life who wants to do damage to you has a plethora of avenues to do it. What do you think will happen when the spouses of the Ashely Madison cheaters see their partner’s name in the spotlight? It’s not going to be pretty.
Here’s the real issue. Every significant life transaction begins with a search.
Employers search prospective employees, people searching for work search employers, home buyers search real estate agents, and renters search landlords. If you do business online, are trying to find a job, or you’re just trying to get a date, if you’re hearing crickets it’s a good indication that your digital profile is working against you.
Here’s why. We live in a pull economy and people find you because of the internet.
Let’s say that you are a real estate agent, broker or property manager. If you’re talking about real estate on Facebook and you have a decent profile on LinkedIn, then you have a plausible résumé. But if someone looks you up, and finds another person with the same name, who happens to be a sex offender, that could be damaging to you. Likewise, if all they can find are complaints about you and your business on Yelp, Facebook, BBB Online or Ripoff Reports, that’s not good, either.
In the pull economy, people make an instant decision about you based on what they find on Google, Bing and Yahoo. And, trust me, it only takes one negative report at the top of a Google search for your name to completely destroy you.
In a future post, I’ll talk about the various ways you can take charge of your digital reputation.