On occasion, CIO.com receives e-mails from IT executives asking us to remove certain blog entries and negative comments about their leadership from the site. These requests demonstrate that IT leaders are beginning to understand the damage the Web and social media can do to their reputations and to their careers. But I’m concerned that with the exception of John Halamka, JP Rangaswami and a few others, CIOs generally aren’t doing enough to protect their reputations online. I get the sense that they’re just doing damage control and that most don’t realize their careers are truly at stake until it’s too late.
The fact is online reputation management is critical for executives. “As you climb the corporate ladder and become more visible, the chance of prospective employers Googling you is higher because they’re taking more of a risk hiring you,” says Dan Schawbel, a personal branding expert and author of the forthcoming book Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success.
Since site owners rarely take down blogs or comments upon request (unless the content violates a site’s terms of service or is slander or libel), CIOs can’t rely on such appeals to clean up bad press. What’s more, even if a site owner does remove a controversial post, the post might still live on in Google’s cache.
To help CIOs get more sophisticated about managing their reputations online, I prepared the following three basic tips.
#1: Know what’s being said about you.
Sometimes we receive requests from CIOs asking us to take down posts or comments several years after those posts and comments were originally published. This makes me think that these CIOs aren’t proactively managing their reputations online, and that they’re discovering negative information about them at the worst possible time—possibly during a job search or after a prospective employer brings it to their attention.
When you’re prospecting for a new job, you need to know what people are saying about you online, whether they’re friends, neighbors, journalists or disgruntled employees. You need to find these skeletons in your virtual closet before prospective employers find them.
If you identify any articles or comments that are remotely negative or controversial, you need to plan how you’ll address this information with a prospective employer) in the event it comes up during a job interview. (See 5 Tips for Managing the Messaging About Your Departure from a Company.) You can’t afford to get blindsided, especially in this job market.
How can you find out what’s being said about you online? Let me count the ways:
You can do vanity searches—that is, you can enter your name into different search engines—to see what comes up. You can set comprehensive Google alerts for your name so that every time your name appears online, whether it’s in a blog or news story, you know about it.
My colleague C.G. Lynch says CIOs should watch what’s said about them on social networks. A friend or colleague could write something in jest that could be unflattering.
Personal branding expert Schawbel advises people to search for their names on Twitter. “Go to
search.twitter.com, type in your name, then click the RSS feed next to it. That way, every time someone tweets and cites your name, you know about,” he says.
Schawbel also recommends backtype.com, which keeps track of blog comments. If you want to find out if your name is appearing in the comment sections below blogs, search for your name on backtype and setup an RSS feed.
“By doing all of those things, you’ll keep a pulse on what’s being said about you so that you can react quickly and efficiently and prevent forest fires from breaking out,” says Schawbel. “Negative press can spread easily through various social networks. The sooner you find out what’s being said, the sooner you can stop it.”
#2: Defend yourself.
You can’t ignore online trash-talk. You can’t pretend it doesn’t exist or that people won’t find it. You have to confront it head on.
If you find you’re being slammed online, offer your side of the story. Responding to criticism is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your leadership ability, so write with a measured tone, not angrily. Sharing your perspective ensures that if a prospective employer finds attacks on your character, it also sees your even-handed response to them.
Rest assured that defending yourself doesn’t make you look defensive or weak. On the contrary, says Schawbel, employers will respect that you have a spine and that you care about your reputation.
#3: Control your top 10 search results.
Schwabel says it’s possible to control the top 10 search results Google serves up for your name if your name is unique. By controlling your search results, you can control people’s perception of you, he says, since their idea may be based on what Google shows them.
You can control your search results by creating content and joining social networks that help position your brand, says Schwabel. It takes time and effort, but it’s worth it, and it’s helpful even if your name is common. (See How to Improve Your LinkedIn Profile: Stand Out to Employers, Recruiters.)
“Although there might be negative comments about you on blogs, if you can build content and join social networks and optimize them, then all those negative comments go to the sixth and 20th pages of search results,” he says. “That’s like sweeping your digital dirt under the carpet.”
The most important lesson here is to be proactive. Monitor what people are saying about you online, and don’t wait a year or more to defend your reputation.