You already know the value of making a good first impression. You make sure you look good, act professionally and put your best self out there. You do everything within your power to minimize your flaws and quash anything that’s potentially damaging or embarrassing. After all, as the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
The same rules apply to your online identity — you’ve got to put your best virtual self out for the world to see. However, not everyone takes as much care to make sure their online presence is as sparkling as their in-person presence.
Think about it: if someone were to Google your name, what would they find? Lots of people just don’t know. And, perhaps more importantly, if they were to find something that you don’t want to them to see, how can you get rid of it? If you’re not sure about the answers to these questions, then use these four tips to make sure your online identity is how it should be.
1. Know what’s out there.
If you’re going to manage your online identity, you should first know what it looks like. This means that you need to do a Google search -- and a Yahoo search, and a Bing search, since those two search engines are also fairly popular and may yield different results than Google. Search your name. If you’ve got a common moniker, you might include other identifying information in your search, such as the city you live in or where you work.
Pay close attention to the first page of results, since that’s what most people who search you will focus on, but also click through to page three or four just to get a good overview of what your online presence looks like. And don’t just stop at the text links; click on the Images tab to see what photos of you turn up.
If you see anything that you shouldn't, take steps to remove that content! This means deleting anything incriminating that belongs to you and politely asking other site owners to remove things you don’t want others to see. Your results will probably be mixed on that last point, and in fact, you probably won’t be able to get rid of anything that’s part of the public record, such as news articles about any wrongdoings, but it's worth cleaning up as much as possible.
2. Sign up for alerts.
So, you’ve done a thorough web search, and you have a pretty solid idea of what your online presence looks like -- at least, you know what it looks like today. But the web is fluid, and it’s always changing. What new content will be added tomorrow? Next week? Next year? You don’t know, but the good news is that you can find out pretty easily.
To prevent any surprises in the future, you can turn on email notifications for each of the three main search engines. That way, if anything with your name on it pops up anywhere on the web, you’ll get an email letting you know. You’ll want to follow up with each notification you receive to make sure the content isn’t potentially damaging.
3. Comb through your social media accounts.
Sometimes, we are our own worst enemies, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to our online identities and our social media accounts. We post tasteless photos in the name of fun and vitriol-filled rants in the name of political consciousness, and while our closest friends understand that this content may not represent our best selves, everyone else just sees it as bad.
Go through your accounts -- your Facebook, your Twitter, your old MySpace page and old rant-filled blog from 10 years ago -- and delete anything that detracts from a good first impression. If you’re tagged in incriminating content, remove the tag and ask your friend to please delete it, reminding them that you’ve got a rep to protect.
4. Share as much as you can.
It’s usually not enough to just remove the bad content when it comes to managing your online identity; you’ve got to add some positive content. This means setting up appealing social media profiles, especially on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You’ll want to create positive updates and tweets, post photos that show you in a positive, professional light, and steer away from anything that’s controversial or potentially offensive (to anyone).
It’s also not a bad idea to leave positive, thoughtful comments with your name on high-profile blogs or newspaper sites. Finally, it’s often worthwhile to buy the URL of your name or some close variation thereof, then fill that site with positive content. Even if it’s just a simple one-page site with links to your social media accounts, it will be a site over which you have complete control, and it should show up high in search engine rankings.