Your reputation is one of the most important assets you have personally and professionally. Right or wrong, it defines how other people perceive you as a person. You can do positive things to improve or maintain a good reputation, such as demonstrating a high level of professionalism at work or loyalty to your family and friends. Likewise, you can easily damage a reputation through a seemingly innocent comment made to the wrong person. A damaged reputation can be difficult, if not impossible, to salvage.
There are real world consequences for the things we say. This extends to the online world. Social networking sites, posts to forums, restaurant reviews and a myriad other sources create a digital reputation that precedes you. Your words influence people, whom you may have never met, to form a opinion about you. Your words can have profound impact on your life. Here are some examples:
Current & Future Employment
It is increasingly common, almost ubiquitous, for businesses to use social media as a tool. They use social media to promote awareness of their brand and products. As part of this, many organizations have policies in place dictating how their employees must act when representing the interests of the organization in a public forum. More and more organizations are terminating employees for perceived violations of their social media policies.
When screening potential job applicants, it is becoming popular for employers to perform Internet searches for publicly available information about the applicants. There is some debate about the ethical nature of this practice, but it is clear that the trend to use social networks as part of the vetting process for employment will continue. Those pictures of you at the office party might keep you from getting a job.
While you might not think social networks have anything to do with insurance, insurance companies and investigators are using social media to unearth fraudulant insurance claims. Claiming to be unemployed and receiving unemployment insurance while at the same time discussing your salary on a social network can result in criminal charges. Insurance fraud is not the only reason insurance companies are using social media. They are using social media to indentify people whose claimed illness does not match their portrayed lifestyle and to find people involved in perceived risky activities and unhealthy behaviours. Having your health insurance dropped because of things posted to social media is a new reality.
There is no doubting the popularity of social media. As social beings, we have a strong desire to communicate with those around us, including virtually. There are critics of social media that claim the overuse of social netorks is causing people to neglect their real world personal relationships. This has resulted in a number of negative societal consequences. One of the more sobering statistics is the number of failed relationships that cite social media as a key reason for the failure. Personal problems can become very public (and ugly) on social networks.
So, what are you to do about managing your digital reputation?
First, each social networking community comes with a set of privacy settings and policies, explicit or not. Care and diligence must be exercised to fully understand the sometimes complex and nuanced nature of these privacy features. Correctly implemented, you can ensure some reasonable amount of privacy for your digital life. See the reference section below for links to the privacy policies of several leading social media sites.
Second, a healthy dose of common sense can help make sure you do not say something digitally that will come back to haunt you.
- Remember that what you say/do digitally lives on, possibly beyond your control.
- Words can be misinterpreted, and more importantly, have consequences.
- Before posting something in the heat of the moment, consider sleeping on it. If you still feel the same later, use your best judgement.
Last, the Internet is a big place. Someone might make an inaccurate or negative comment about you without your knowledge. To help solve this problem, there are a number of easy to use monitoring services that can alert you about references made to your name. See the reference section below for links to several popular monitoring sites.