Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Defending Your Online Reputation

This morning I wanted to write about "personal branding." I originally thought I would look at this new phenomenon and marketing buzzword as a potential outlet for narcissism and self-preoccupation. Then I came across an interesting article that showed me the flip side of the coin.

Could it be that you should monitor your personal brand because you need to defend your online reputation?

Like it or not, it's becoming ever easier for anyone to find your history and background using online searches. What happens if an ex-boyfriend or jealous friend with a grudge posts something negative about you or your child? A permanent online record is created, and prospective employers, teachers, friends and family members could one day stumble upon it.

Vanessa Van Petten writes RadicalParenting.com and a CNN.com column, and is a "youthologist" that speaks to groups "about family relationships, teen lifestyles, advertising to Net-Generation and many other issues pertaining to Gen Y." She wrote an article called Personal Branding for Teens: 7 Steps to Teach and Learn It. She says:
Youth should...be thinking about their personal branding the sense of how they are managing their reputation and how others perceive them... Just like teens want to know who is talking about them behind their back, you have to stay on top of what is being said or posted about you online. 
Yikes. I had a hard enough time trying to manage verbal rumors back in the late 80s/early 90s. Now kids have to deal with protecting their online reputations. Its as if parents and teens need to become their own public relations operation, and not just for keeping up appearances, but for keeping dirt off the record.

Van Petten advises that parents teach teens what kinds of personal information should never be shared online. They should setup a Google Alert using their own name as search criteria so they can see what is being said about them online. Manage and defend your reputation soon after something negative goes public. One way to do so is by using ReputationDefender, an online service that can help buffer messages that threaten your good name. Of course, there are also workshops for schools and families that can help train teens and their parents protect their reputation.

As a teenager, I would have wanted to avoid what was being said about me online. I'd have the urge to take the path that many celebrities do: avoid any news about myself. If I did see something negative about me, it would have been hard to handle. I was a teenager with very thin skin, as is typical of many young people. I actually feel sorry for teenagers today for having to think about their reputation in such detail.

This is where teaching digital citizenship to young kids and teens is so valuable. Such education could help prevent some uncomfortable or malicious messages from going permanently public. We should build a foundation early enough with children so they begin to think about how their online actions can affect others.

I'll close my post with a quote attributed to Scott Monty of Ford Motor Company: "Whatever happens in Vegas...stays on Google."

Personal message to Ms. Van Petten: You may see this post because you use Google Alert. I enjoyed your article very much. Your reputation is safe with me.

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