The Internet offers a plethora of tools that assist people in their endeavors to connect, communicate, and create. Although it provides these benefits, the web is also a place where nothing can truly be forgotten. Social media sites like Facebook chronicle and store years’ worth of data and pictures, while review websites like Yelp allow customers a public forum to air personal grievances about businesses. Simultaneously, popular news outlets often dominate the front page of search results, broadcasting articles to a larger audience than ever before and keeping the past indefinitely warehoused online.
When nearly anything can end up on the Internet, people often find themselves the inadvertent architects of their own negative online reputations. This can affect their personal relationships, as well as their careers. While there are steps you can take to improve your online image, prevention is the best way to build the foundation for a positive online reputation. Avoid the following four practices, which can have a lasting negative influence on how you’re perceived online.
Taking an “off the grid” approach
The Internet is an integral resource that people of all ages use to learn about businesses and individuals. When faced with a question or problem, many people’s first impulse is to turn to Google to find the information they need, or to locate a professional who can provide a solution to their problem.
If you refrain from developing a presence on the Internet, you’ll be at a distinct disadvantage in today’s business world. Companies without an online presence are often seen as unestablished, antiquated, or even unreliable. Having no reputation can be as bad as having a negative one, and can cost you customers, income, and the potential for growth.
Individuals without a strong online presence can suffer the same consequences as businesses—you might be overlooked by potential employers as behind the times, or because the employer could not find enough information about you to justify an interview. Additionally, not having a presence online will prevent you from knowing when people are talking about you. In this case, you’ll already be at a major disadvantage in defending yourself against slander or false claims.
Responding angrily to comments and reviews
The anonymity that comes with using a computer helps many people feel more comfortable sharing their opinions, but the drawback is that their opinions are not always positive or polite. Although angry rants and bitter complaints about you or your business can make your blood boil, it’s important to keep your emotions in check when responding.
For businesses, responding to a review or comment from a frustrated customer must be done with finesse. These instances are when it’s most necessary to demonstrate your commitment to professionalism by responding in a calm, confident manner. Customer satisfaction should be your goal.
For individuals, acting disrespectfully toward others on social media can damage the way that you’re seen by your colleagues, employers, and other influential people. Many people have lost their jobs due to inconsiderate or offensive posts on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Posting or being tagged in compromising photos
The photos of you on the Internet have a direct correlation with how you’re perceived by others, both online and in real life. While privacy settings on social media sites afford users some control over which pictures are public, there is no guarantee that all photos of you—especially those posted by others— will remain concealed from potential employers or customers. And the more people use social media, the more professional and personal relationships converge on the Internet, potentially bringing your private life into contact with your professional life.
Posting pictures that display unprofessional aspects of your life can make finding employment difficult, and businesses can lose the respect and patronage of customers. Additionally, it can discourage other professionals or businesses in your industry from working with you.
Ignoring false or abusive content
For those companies and individuals who have already been hurt by negative information posted about them online, a common mistake is thinking that this content cannot be removed. While there are legal guidelines that dictate which content must be taken down by law and which can only be removed at the discretion of the author, the best action in the interest of your reputation is to reach out and ask.
While articles published by newspapers are notoriously difficult to have removed in their entirety, false or misleading information released within the article can sometimes be corrected or retracted if a business or individual can provide evidence that a claim is false.
Additionally, you can petition to remove information from websites that don’t belong to a news outlet if the post contains information that is untrue or considered harassment. Content posted on social media sites is frequently accompanied by links that allow you to report it to the website with the click of a button. Sites like Facebook are known for refusing to tolerate bullying, and may accommodate an individual’s request to have pictures or posts that defame them removed.
Ultimately, however, some content is online to stay, and the best option is to take steps to counteract any negative search results under your name. In these instances, it may be in your best interest to hire a private firm to assist you in taking back control of your online reputation.