In the digital age, your reputation is everything. In seconds, you can go from nobody to hero—or villain. Consider the restaurant employee who recently faced racial discrimination from a customer at work. She chose to share the customer’s offensive comment—left on the receipt in lieu of a tip—on her Facebook page, and irrevocably changed three people’s reputations: hers, the customer’s, and her employer’s.
While there are plenty of social, ethical, and political issues to discuss about the restaurant incident, let’s consider the effect it had on reputation. The power of social media has made virtually all other facts about these people irrelevant; the general public has formed opinions about all three, and they will be hard to change. It doesn’t matter what kind of employee the server was, or if the employer was actually very supportive up to this point. One particular incident now determines their reputations.
Similarly, a few negative reviews on sites like Glassdoor.com, left by disgruntled former (or current) employees, can tarnish a company’s reputation with prospective candidates. Is that fair? For people on the losing end of a story like this, the answer is often no—especially when the negative review doesn’t tell the whole story. After years of building a personal brand, sometimes all it takes is one bad story to tear it down.
So what can you do? Take a page from the personal branding experts. On professional branding sites like Reputation.com, a company worried about a few bad reviews is encouraged to solicit as many true and positive reviews as it can, which collectively diminish the value of the negative one. In the 21st century, you can’t sweep the bad stuff away—information lives forever on the Internet. But you can empower yourself to collect as much good as you can, and display it as prominently (or more so) than the bad.
For example, sites like LinkedIn provide free Web pages for employees to fill like a virtual trophy case. List your accomplishments, publications, achievements, and even solicit recommendations from colleagues and clients. As sites like these become more popular, their Google ranking increases, meaning that potential employers vetting you on the ‘Net before making an offer are more likely to see these sites first.
The bottom line is that managing your online reputation requires proactivity and vigilance. Monitor search results for your name so you can act quickly when negative items are posted, and make sure to update your sites often with a running list of accomplishments. Associate your name with as much good as possible, and most people will ignore a few negative reviews.