In business, as in life, reputation is everything. Protecting, managing and maintaining a strong, positive, professional reputation is vital to your success, whether you’re looking to freelance, starting or growing a new business or trying to close a deal with a new customer.
In recent years however, much of our day-to-day business communication has moved on to the web: the growth of business networks means that our contacts books, CVs and referrals now tend to live online. For example, the professional networking site LinkedIn has over 135 million members worldwide and is often the first source of information an employer or recruitment consultant will turn to before diving into your CV.
It therefore becomes important to take steps to protect your reputation online – especially if you’re a freelancer and visible on LinkedIn or other sites. With a little bit of effort and some on-going maintenance, it’s relatively easy to do. Follow these seven simple steps:
1. Set up Google Alerts
Firstly, in order to protect your reputation, it’s necessary to know what is being said about you online. The easiest way to monitor this is to set up some Google Alerts using your name and some key words you’d expect to be found for, such as your company, your job title or your industry.
2. Monitor mentions using a tool such as Google’s Me
Google has a tool called Me on the Web that helps you manage your alerts and provides information on how to control what third-party information is posted about you. The alerts should pick up links to forums, blogs, websites, news articles and images where you are mentioned. Alternatively, you could use a free online service such as Social Mention, which looks for your name or key words across all of the major social networks.
3. Read and respond
Make sure you read what is being said about you and respond where possible to show the author that you are actively involved in your reputation online. Remember to always be calm, polite and professional with your responses, no matter what has been said about you!
4. Regularly update your online profiles
It’s also very important that you make sure all your online profiles are up-to-date and consistent with each other. The best way to keep on top of this is to make a list of all of the sites you have a profile on, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, connect.me, etc., then go through and update them once every couple of months. Make a note on your list of the date, so when you revisit them next time you can easily remember what’s changed since then and update accordingly.
These sites are a great place to build your ‘professional brand’ and communicate your skills, achievements and contact information but they only work well if they are consistent, accurate and current.
5. Make some noise
Many UK entrepreneurs struggle when it comes to promoting themselves and their businesses and are uncomfortable ‘bragging’ about their achievements. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that if you don’t talk yourself up, no one else will.
Don’t be shy – take a proactive approach and put yourself in a positive light at every opportunity. This includes posting your achievements, contributing your ideas and opinions to forums, groups and in your networks, take the opportunity to guest blog about things you’re an expert on and answer comments or respond to questions about you, your company or the industry you’re involved in.
6. Create a personal website
You may even want to register a website or blog in your name and add your bio, update it with content regularly, and link in your other profile sites. When you contribute to other sites you should drop in a link back to your site. Creating as much content as you can will help secure a top search engine position for yourself and ensure you shine online.
7. Update your security settings
The recent incident of a hacker is a timely reminder to revisit your privacy and security settings on all your accounts. There is a risk of identity theft and impersonation if your accounts are not secured and a hacker gets access to your passwords.
The first line of defence is to use unique complex passwords (at least 12 characters, consisting of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters) on each account. Free online password managers can also help you generate and keep track of super-strong passwords.
The way we use the Internet is rapidly changing and as we do more professionally online – from business deals, to recruitment, networking and collaborations – there is a growing need for trust. The kind of trust that comes with knowing the person on the other end of the browser is really who they say they are.
From the UK government ID assurance program to some key online reputation and identity verification services, expect to see some robust solutions that go beyond the traditional means of information validation, to bring real trust to the web and enable us to do more.
James Varga is the CEO of internet identify specialist MiiCard.