It’s been almost a month since the presidential election and all the high-tempered social media posts bashing the respective candidates and ideologies. Most of the country is grateful to be able to log in to Facebook today and not have their newsfeed overflowing with political endorsements and slander. But, for a handful of high school students – the social media nightmare is just beginning.
What Happens in Vegas Stays on Facebook: Why Your Online Reputation Matters
As you probably know by now, almost everything you do on the Internet is being tracked – by Google, by Facebook, by advertising companies. These digital stalkers are building massive databases and indexing whatever information they can find about you. Once they get a copy of your information it can be incredibly difficult to delete, which is exactly the problem some teens are having after posting racist tweets.
Jezebel recently ran a story on the flurry of hate speech on public social media accounts after Obama’s re-election – most of it from teenagers on Twitter. Since their Twitter accounts were public, all the staff at Jezebel had to do was search for offending keywords or hashtags and click through to their profiles. Jezebel then contacted school officials and alerted them of the actions their students had been taking. Many of the schools were already aware of the situation and were “already on top of it.”
While it may seem like an invasion of privacy to inform schools of student’s behavior outside of campus, many of these teenagers also had public pictures of themselves representing their school with clothes and logos. This forces the school administrators to get involved, as their reputation as an educational institution is on the line as well.
Beyond the reputation management concerns for the high schools, students need to realize that most college admission boards screen applicants social media profiles and online reputation to help make decisions. If that isn’t enough, over 80% of employers now look up candidates on Google, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn before making a hiring decision.
To make matters worse, once Jezebel published the article using the teen’s real names, Google immediately started ranking the article on the first 1-2 pages for each of those students. Jezebel is a high traffic blog with lots of ranking power in Google – even a single mention of these teenagers names can place the article in their search results forever. Now, whenever a college admissions board or potential new boss searches “Stehl Taylor” they’re going to read all about his racist tweets.
Here’s some tips for students to protect and control their online reputation and web presence:
1. Think Before You Post
The real secret to good online reputation management is prevention. In this digital age, where news can go viral in 15 minutes, all it takes is one bad endorsement from the right person and your reputation is done. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say.
The easiest way these high school students could have protected their online reputation would have been to – you guessed it – simply not post racist thoughts in the first place. It’s like my mother always used to tell me: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then it’s best not to say anything at all.”
This rule has never been truer than it is today for social media. Think twice before you post.
2. Use a Private Social Network
If you do feel compelled to share any and everything that pops into your head on social media, at least use a private social network like Sgrouples. There are two aspects of privacy you need to make sure are enabled to fully protect your online reputation:
- Posts should be private – only available to select friends/contacts.
- Posts should not be indexable by search engines like Google or Bing.
It is important that only people you know can see your posts so your latest status update doesn’t end up on Jezebel. Likewise, make sure search engines can’t index your content & associate your posts with your real name.
Sgrouples has both of these features by default. You can share privately with custom groups or individual contacts, and everything is always hidden from search engines. Private social networks give you the ability to post without having to worry about the wrong audience seeing your content.
3. Start a Blog
Starting a blog in your name is a great way to protect your online reputation – as long as you don’t post inappropriate or racist posts on your blog! The idea is to make it a professional blog about your interests and expertise. That way it will show up whenever a college board or potential boss Googles you, and is a great way to show off all the things you’re passionate about.
WordPress, Tumblr, and Blogger are all great free platforms. When you set up your blog and customize the domain, make sure you set it up like this:
From there, fill out an “About” page with your 3-5 paragraph biography, and make sure to regularly update your blog (every 1-2 weeks minimum). It should show up for your name in Google in a month or so!
4. Be Selectively Public
This online reputation management tip goes hand in hand with the last one – In order to be private you need to selectively share truthful, positive information about yourself for Google to pick up on. As such, it’s worth signing up for all the major social networks in your name, even if you don’t plan on using them. This includes:
The idea is to sign up and take your unique name so no one else can use it to show up in your Google search results. Think of it like real estate. You want to own as much web property with your name on it as possible to protect your reputation.
Once you set up those social network profiles, put some basic content about yourself that you don’t mind being public. This will help Google pick up on your name and rank the profiles. From there, link the profiles to one-another so the search engines see they’re all about you and ranks them higher in your search results.
5. Get Professional Reputation Management Help
At a certain point, you might need to get professional reputation management help. Google really favors popular web sites for search rankings, so if a major publication writes about you it might permanently show up at the top of your search results. If that’s the case, time to call in the experts.
There are a number of good online reputation management companies out there. Be warned – professional ORM help can get incredibly expensive ($5,000-10,000+), which is why it’s so important to prevent an online reputation crisis before it happens. The process of suppressing a negative link is lengthy, expensive, and isn’t even guaranteed to work if the link is strong enough.
Most of us would do well to remember how truly public we are when we post on Facebook or Twitter. What you say, even if just a short status update, can come back to haunt you and ruin your online reputation. You never know who’s watching on social media.
Remember to think twice and ask yourself: “Do I really need to publicly post this racist comment to a web site with over 500 million active users?”
No. Just no.