First, how does a Net Rep get built in the first place? With the widespread usage of the World Wide Web, people across the globe have used the Internet to join social networking sites (like LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Plaxo Pulse and more). They have posted their résumés on various job search sites. They have joined special interest networking group sites (such as photography groups, hiking groups, and other network groups centered around various hobbies). People also ask questions and post responses to other inquiries on topic-related sites (think medical support groups, diet groups, book reviews, movie reviews, etc. where some, but not all are anonymous postings). Every time a posting or profile is made, Google and other search engines’ spiders take note. The more your name is posted on various sites, the higher your search engine results are going to be. That means everything you post on the Internet paints a picture about you and all of the pieces of that picture will be seen by one simple search on a search engine.
Marketers know the power of Net Rep building and purposely try to place a product or client’s name all over the World Wide Web in strategically advantageous places. You can do the same, but first you need to figure out what your existing Net Rep reveals. To do this, reexamine the content on your social networking sites from the prespective of a boss, employee, or client. Consider what your information reveals about you and how it may impact your professional reputation and credibility.
An example of how social networking content can backfire on someone is by using sites for dating searches. A senior executive was borderline harassing employees and potential employees through public sites. The behavior was observed by investors and became an issue for the company, along with almost costing the executive’s job.
One more cautionary note is that privacy locks on your sites do not always work. Member profiles still show up on “friends” and group lists along with any comments that have been made on other people’s sites. Basically, a trail of Internet bread crumbs leads anyone back to a site that is even marked private, so be cautious about the friends you accept and the posts you make.
The upside is that you can use the Internet bread crumbs in your favor by posting positive material that reinforces the image you want to convey. People like to see the humanity behind a person’s name, so posting favorite quotes, movies, and philosophical views can be positive if that’s the image you want to convey—especially when it’s congruent with your inner self. Sharing a personal story through your site profiles and revealing what you care about can go a long way. Even microblogging updates about what you are doing right now can enhance your Net Rep as long as they are true and not too abundant (e.g. Preparing for marathon to help abused children; Finishing grant proposal for mental health study on career mobility; Attending professional economic conference; Going on hike and smelling the flowers.).
Managing a Net Rep can be a lot like tending a garden. Plant good and healthy seeds and maintain upkeep. Revisit sites you’ve joined and keep the content positive. If people have posted negative things about you, make positive public comments or delete the profile if you’re getting harassed. You can also combat a negative posting through increased positive postings by colleagues and friends. Ask for public referrals, recommendations, and testimonials. Be professional and courteous with all of your postings—even in listserves. People across the world are watching, so communicate on the Internet with caution and wisdom.