Online, Your Reputation is Everything

04/18/2017 12:10 pm ET

A conversation with Shannon Wilkinson, founder of Reputation Communications, about managing your personal brand on the Internet

Personal brands are complex, shaped by our skills, our interests and the content we create, from our tweets to our blog posts.

But at the foundation of any personal brand is a singular – and paramount – trait: our reputations.

Without a positive reputation, no personal brand can flourish. If you’re not viewed as a dependable and trustworthy professional, your skillset, interests and output – no matter how impressive – won’t matter much.

And in today’s digital world, where photos, social media profiles and news stories are immortal, upholding a sterling reputation is more important than ever. One hiccup, whether an awkward photograph, or unforgiving article, can haunt a professional for years.

Shannon Wilkinson, Founder and CEO, Reputation Communications
Shannon Wilkinson, Founder and CEO, Reputation Communications

Few people know the nuances and importance of modern reputation care better than Shannon Wilkinson, a leading expert on online reputation management, or ORM. Wilkinson’s NYC-based firm Reputation Communications serves a suite of international clients and offers services ranging from reputation-building and reputation research to reputation repair. Wilkinson is a familiar byline in the Wall Street Journal’s “Crisis of the Week Column,” a seasoned speaker and regular blogger at her website, You(Online).

I recently caught up with Wilkinson about ORM and polishing and protecting reputations in the age of the Internet.

The nuts and bolts of ORM

Wilkinson defines ORM in simple terms: “It’s the management of the publicly available information about an individual, an organization or a brand on the Internet,” she explains.

That information is wildly diverse: it can include legal notices, defamatory blog posts, gossip column items, mistaken identity, news stories, Yelp and employee reviews, social media posts and everything in between. Alone, these items may seem inconsequential. And they may not be negative. But together, they create a detailed picture of who we are, how we conduct ourselves and how others perceive us.

Due to the amount of personal data online – and the increasing amount of business that’s conducted on the Internet – managing online reputations is no longer optional, nor should it be an afterthought. “It is a new industry,” Wilkinson says.

The legal landscape

Compounding the sheer volume of information about us online are the rules and regulations governing it, Wilkinson says. The Internet, in many ways, remains a Wild West of sorts. As a result, it’s up to individuals – and not the government, or corporations – to ensure our reputations remain sterling.

“In the U.S., there is no law governing Internet speech,” Wilkinson explains. And while some European countries have “right to be forgotten” laws that can erase information online, no such protections exist in the U.S. (Worth noting: last March, Wilkinson authored a fascinating blog post about the campaign to bring “right to be forgotten” rules to the U.S., and interviewed European attorney Dan Shefet, founder of the Association for Accountability and Internet Democracy (AAID). Wilkinson supports the right to be forgotten, and believes it can be reconciled with the U.S.’s commitment to free speech.)

Privacy can largely seem a relic today, with no dearth of websites that aggregate and publish our home addresses, ages, family relations and other personal data for all the world to see. If we don’t manage and curate this content best we can, our reputations can suffer, and professional opportunities can be missed. Worse: We may open ourselves up to hackers and identity theft.

What to do

Wilkinson paints a vivid picture of just how important ORM is in today’s world and shares guidance on how to best navigate this new realm.

First, assess what’s already out there – and resist the belief that you can be invisible online. “The digital age ensures that each of us have an online reputation, whether we want one or not,” Wilkinson explains. If we throw up our hands and surrender, our reputations will be determined by “bots that scrape, index and republish the publicly available information about you,” Wilkinson warns.

Next up: Start creating content that accurately represents, and enhances, your reputation. “Counter-balance third-party content and replace it with new, positive and authentic material,” Wilkinson says. “This is a key ORM strategy.” Ensure the items you do have control over – your LinkedIn profile, your company bio, your blog and your Twitter – carry the right messaging.

There’s lots more to ORM than just this, and mercifully Wilkinson is quick to share her agency’s most popular blog post, “The Essentials: Online Reputation Management FAQs.” It’s a useful inventory of strategies and tactics you can use to start burnishing your online reputation today. If you have a presence online (and remember, everybody does), it’s worth the read.

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