Back in the good ol’ days of the world wide web, keeping your real name hidden from the internet was a given. Everyone seemed to think that “www” stood for Wild, Wild West and web users were taught to fear the internet’s seemingly endless sea of information marauders and dubiously-motived hackers. Instead of using their real names, or even nicknames, most web users relied on a handle or screen-name that alluded to their hobbies or passions. (Fun Fact: This author’s first AOL screen-name was Banana1nPajamas…and yes, I somehow thought I was sooo cool and quirky.)
Facebook came along and changed the game. Though the social network is ubiquitous now, it first started out as a resource exclusively for Harvard students. It encouraged students to use their real names to sign up, and most did because they saw it as an extension of their campus life — just another way they could communicate with those already in their social vicinity. As Facebook grew, expanding its scope first to other Ivy League schools, then to all colleges, and then to the general population at large, the practice of using real names online grew along with it.
These days, real names are considered the norm on most sites. Chances are your Facebook account features your real name, your email address is some combination of your first and last names, your LinkedIn account features your full name and a comprehensive list of your credentials, and you use one of the above accounts to log in and comment on a plethora of other sites. Your online persona is no longer separate from your real world one, and everyone from potential employers to your old college boyfriend has probably Googled you at some point, trying to figure out what you’re up to.
With the melding of virtual and physical identities, its become increasingly important to monitor what type of info is available about you on the web and how this content reflects on you. This process is known as online reputation management. Let’s go over a few of its keys steps.
1. PERFORM A CURSORY SEARCH FROM AN INCOGNITO BROWSER
To get started adjusting your online rep, you first have to know what type of info is already out there. To check, open an incognito window in your browser (you should be able to find this feature in the File menu), and head to Google. Incognito windows do not log history or cookies, and do not access your currently saved cookies. This means that, in an incognito window, you will already be logged out of all your personal accounts, allowing you to see only the things a third party would see if they were searching for info about you.
2. ADJUST YOUR PRIVACY SETTINGS
Unless you Google yourself often, your incognito search will probably turn up some cringe-worthy moments from the past: a MySpace profile you forgot existed, a college-era blog post professing your undying love for Nickleback. You don’t necessarily need to delete these embarrassing relics, but you should make sure they’re not showing up in searches anymore. Log into the platforms hosting them and adjust your privacy settings to make sure your posts aren’t publicly viewable. It’s up to you whether you want to leave them accessible to friends or just to yourself.
Also, make sure to log onto the social networks you currently use and double-check your privacy settings there as well. Some of them (*ahem* Facebook *ahem*) have unfortunate habits of changing their privacy setting structures and defaulting their users to the most open profile possible.
3. SET UP GOOGLE ALERTS FOR YOURSELF
Now that you’ve cleaned up what’s already out there, you need to make sure to stay up-to-date on anything that might pop up in the future. You can do this by signing up for Google Alerts. Head over to https://www.google.com/alerts and, unless you have a very common name, sign up to receive notification emails any time your name appears in a new Google result.
4. DON’T JUST AVOID NEGATIVITY; CREATE POSITIVITY
Sure, it’s great that you deleted that Twitter post that made you sound like an axe-murderer, but it isn’t enough to simply scrub the web of things that seem questionable. You need to also make sure curious parties, like those potential employers we mentioned earlier, can locate content that paints a positive picture of who you are. One great way to do this is by setting up a blog or personal website that discusses your interests. If you’re the creative type, you might also want to set up an online portfolio using a site like SquareSpace or Wix. If both of those seem like too much of a hassle, you can at least go through your Facebook timeline and make select positive posts open to the general public.
Online reputation management is an ever-expanding science and you can get lost in the rabbit-hole of useful tips, but we believe the above 4 are the minimum ones you should follow. Have others you consider essential? Let us know below.