We’ve all experienced that cringe-worthy moment in which someone tells you they’ve Googled you. Even if they can’t pull up embarrassing photos from your college costume parties, they might still be presented with an unflattering photo you wouldn’t otherwise choose to share. These unfortunate findings are hard to eliminate from the Internet altogether, but there are steps you can take to ensure your personal brand is represented online as best as possible. Here, 7 ways to rebuild your online rep ASAP.
Assess The Damage
Do a quick Google (etc.) search to see what populates under your name, but don’t bother going deeper than 3 or 4 pages. Next, view your public profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. If you really want to investigate yourself, try a site like Pipl to see what comes up, but just be prepared—we were a little creeped out by our results! You should also sign up for Google Alerts for your name, so you’re instantly aware of anytime you’re mentioned online.
Ask Google (etc.) To Remove A Page Or Image
Go here to get information on removing a page from your results and here to get information on removing an image from your results. However, Google won’t take down just any page or image, so your best bet may be to contact the person in charge of the site to whom the picture or page belongs.
Scrub Instagram, Facebook, Twitter & LinkedIn
Instagram: The best way to protect your Instagram posts is to keep your account private. You should also do regular sweeps to delete any past posts you may now regret, and to block any followers with whom you are no longer on good terms. If you share your Instagram posts to Facebook, check your Facebook settings to ensure the pics aren’t public. If you’re not sure if you should post a picture, consider sending it as a direct message to a smaller, more curated audience of your followers instead (this is especially useful if you do decide to have a public Instagram account but often want to share photos you wouldn’t want just anyone to see). Above all, realize that anyone can take your photo and re-post it as long as they credit you, so be wary of sharing anything you wouldn’t want to be publicly associated with.
Facebook: You can individually change settings on photos or content you’ve posted to Facebook, but if you’re really embarrassed by something on your profile, your best bet is to delete it. When the content belongs to someone else, your only option is to untag yourself—which will remove it from your profile but not from theirs—or to report it as spam, which could result in removal of the image or post.
Twitter: Twitter seems to be the social network most likely to come back and bite you in a big way. If your account is public, do a regular sweep to delete any tweets that now embarrass you or seem inappropriate. Think hard before you tweet, as people can screenshot your words and enable a misguided tweet to live on in infamy forever.
LinkedIn: LinkedIn has a bunch of potentially embarrassing features. We suggest you turn off the setting that auto notifies your entire network of each and every change made to your profile. We also suggest turning off the setting that allows people to see when you’ve viewed their profile. And finally, we suggest being as honest as possible with your profile—unlike the good old days of the paper resume, your former colleagues are now able to view (whatever you said you did at your last job) and debunk it if it’s an exaggeration.
Rebuild Consciously & Bury Old Results
While at the time you may not have understood the implications of the interview you gave to a reporter when you were 19 or the pictures you posted to social media in college, you should now aim to consciously create or contribute any Internet content associated with your name. Each time you post to social media, think about what the post says about your personal or professional brand—what would your employer or next blind date think of you based on the post? You should also think about which sites you’re posting to and be sure to join any site that might be relevant to your career (ie. Tumblr for a blogger, YouTube for an aspiring director, etc.). The more new content you have, the harder it will be to find the old embarrassing stuff.
Create A Vanity Site
You can also build a better image for yourself online by grabbing a personal domain (ie. www.yourname.com) and building out a website that best represents you professionally and/or personally. Even if your exact name is no longer available, you should be able to find a close variation that will populate in your Google results.
Some of the coolest people we know aren’t on social media at all, and are barely searchable as a result. In this day and age, not being on the Internet can make more of a statement than just about anything you could post. However, be sure this approach is right for your chosen career—not everyone can pull it off.
Even if you don’t want to fully ghost, however, you can hide certain things from search by using an assumed name. Say you are so passionate about Twilight fan fiction, for example, that you’ve dedicated an entire blog to writing it, but you don’t want colleagues at your law firm to know -- using a pen name is likely the way to go.
Enlist the Help of Professionals
If you’re really feeling skittish about your online reputation, you can hire someone to clean them up for you using companies like BrandYourself.