As you develop your professional career there are a few key aspects in your growth: your skills (that you must keep sharp and always adding to), your network (that you must give more to be able to take a little from), and your reputation.
An often shared quote which has been attributed to many people, but most commonly to Will Rogers is:
It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.
You can have all the skills in the world, but if your reputation and professional image is destroyed those skills will be worthless. You have to be valuable to an employer or your network in order to utilize your skills.
This makes protecting your professional image critically important. You don’t need a fancy PR firm or membership program to watch for negative things that are said about you online. It is more important to make sure you are careful with your own actions than to worry about the multitude of things others could do to you.
How to Project a Professional Image Online
The internet is really huge. That means you have a bunch of different ways to mess up your image online. Where should you focus your efforts first? You can start by building a personal website or digital resume. Any time someone searches for you, these profiles will be one of the first things they see. But you also need to be aware of your social media accounts. What you think is just between you and your friends could come back to haunt you later. Here are some social media tips to help protect your online reputation.
Watch What You Say
First, know that anything you put out on the internet is going to be found. Don’t say something online assuming no one will notice. The smallest thing can be taken out of context and blow up into a major reputation hit. And of course long tirades will be well documented and possibly available forever… not good.
Focus on Popular Reputation Sites
Sometimes the best defense is a strong offense. If you plan on using social media, then make sure you have your profiles set up and protected to only access to only the right type of person. Here’s a few sites to target first.
Having a professional profile on LinkedIn is one of the best image moves you can make online. Part online resume, part networking community, your LinkedIn profile shows who you are and who you’re connected with. Good people tend to know good people, so make sure you reach out to your contacts and build up a solid connection base. (If you have less than 15 connections and no profile photo you look like you don’t know what you’re doing.) Add project highlights and your previous positions as well.
Facebook and Google Plus
Facebook, in my opinion, should be kept for personal, real-life friends only unless you are running a profile based on your business. You can limit who gets access to what on your profile. Make sure the general public can’t access your photos and timeline. You only want people you know and can trust seeing your thoughts on Facebook.
Google Plus is a little different because you assign your contacts to specific circles like Work, Public, Friends, Co-Workers, and so on. Just make sure if you have something controversial to say that you’re sharing it with the right group — and only the right group — to avoid it blowing up on you.
Defining Twitter is a little difficult. Fast paced, 140 characters, part-chat room, part-news breaking service… it’s just interesting. The only problem with Twitter is something you say can seem so little (it is just 140 characters!) but it can be retweeted by millions of people. Be careful what you say.
Also, try to get your name on Twitter. I snagged @kevinmulligan when Twitter first started to get popular. I didn’t know what I was going to use it for, but at least I control it.
Custom Domain or About.Me
Whenever someone Googles your name you want the right information (positive and controlled by you) to be at the top of the results. One way to do this is to buy a custom domain associated with your name or heavily managed to show off your name.
If you don’t know how to buy a domain and build a website you can either get some help from a professional or simply use something like About.me to show yourself off (and also link to your other real profiles).
Do you have any additional tips for protecting your image online?