Online Reputation Can Make or Break You or Your Business
What happens online, stays online...forever! Kind of like the opposite of "What Happens In Vegas, Stays In Vegas" (although I'm sure many people could attest that is not always the case). Many individuals, especially younger ones, may be the ones improperly posting their questionable pictures, opinions, articles, or emails. As a result of these actions, countless individuals have lost jobs, potential jobs, scholarships, relationships, court cases, investors...the list goes on and on. Although this category of damaged online reputation usually falls under the fault of the individual, it could have easily been avoided, and the long-term effects can at least be minimized if done correctly. It is situations like these that have also caused many legal repercussions for social media (Facebook, Google, etc) privacy settings for posts, advertising / application platforms, and claims of completely private or "disappearing" media (SnapChat for example). Keep in mind that anything that is posted online or by phone in any way could end up public.
But what about reputation-damaging situations that can occur to more savvy online professionals? Perhaps you have always practiced "restraint of pen and tongue" and have never committed any online slips that could be detrimental to your career. Unfortunately, that may not stop others from unfairly criticizing you, or even just plain lying online to tarnish your name. This could be executed by an old employer, former employees, students, business competitors, or the infamous "trolls" online that seem to gain pleasure in causing problems to others they may never have even met before.
Let me give you a few potential troubling yet common examples:
Imagine that you have put your whole life into your small business and one of your competitors (or individuals they hire) gives your business a dozen negative reviews on all major review sites. In many industries (especially restaurant or service industries for example), that could really cripple a business and significantly reduce your income. Or maybe you have gone to college for a total of 10 years to get your Ph.D and devoted another 20+ years to teaching and research. But the first result of a Google Search with your name is a horrible review of your teaching skills on RateMyProfessors.com from an angry student that failed your class. Or perhaps you are trying to get a new job but your former employer has publicly posted negative reviews of your performance out of spite since you are leaving / left their company for greener pastures. Fake reviews can be concocted, pictures can be photoshopped, emails can be generated, accounts can be hacked, malicious lies can be written (often by anonymous sources or profiles), false romantic affairs can be imitated, and dirt can be dug up on nearly anyone. Most of this is not just immoral, it is illegal. Unfortunately, it can often be very difficult to protect yourself legally, and even if you rectify the situation eventually, the damage has already been done.
I'll give you one more scenario that many of you may be able to relate to. This situation is reminiscent of the recent "Right To Be Forgotten" legal action against search engines in Europe. The individual sparking this case lobbied for his unflattering former tax problems be removed from search engine results so it would not harm his current financial status. Maybe you have also made a mistake in your life 5, 10, or even 20+ years ago. Most of us have. But you have paid your dues, moved on, and lived a proper and successful life since then. Unfortunately, the internet doesn't always forget and you may continue to pay the price. There may be no viable (or affordable) legal action that can be taken to protect your rights, but other measures can be utilized to give you your life back.
One of the many services I offer as a digital marketing specialist is the monitoring and improvement of your online reputation. Whether you are an individual or a global corporation, you need someone looking out for your good name. Measures can be taken to remove or report malicious media attacks, fake reviews, false damaging online statements, fake pictures / emails, or fake imitational profiles. New and accurate reviews and be solicited from real customers, clients, employers, etc to help balance out those false negative ones. You can optimize social media or website pages that you control to rank highly in search engines while also pushing the negative garbage to the next pages. Search Engine Marketing campaigns such as AdWords can be purchased to ensure positive 1st page search results. Use Google Alerts or similar services to monitor new mentions or search engine results for your name and / or business(es). Legal action may also be taken if absolutely necessary but that may end up being costly, time consuming, and without guarantee of success. Unfortunately for many, the law can be quite a gray area when applied to online or mobile media.
I've dealt with all of these situations either with my own businesses or with dozens of other individuals and businesses that I've worked with. We've all witnessed the disastrous fallout resulting from bogus attacks on online reputation or poor online reputation management. It's not pretty. The victims that make the news are often celebrities, athletes, billionaires, or massive corporations. It really can happen to anyone or any organization. Monitor your online reputation and don't hesitate to hire a professional if something is unfairly damaging your current prospects.
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