Online Reputation Management in the Future

    June 17, 2009
    Chris Crum

There is no question that people are putting a lot more of themselves out there online these days with the rise of social media. At this point, it seems that generations will be born into this lifestyle. Who knows what other tools/services will be popular in the future?

Right now, online reputation management is critical, and social media has certainly made this both easier to manage, but also easier to dismantle at the same time. A question that has bounced around in my mind on occasion for quite some time has been – will we ever get to a point when reputation management actually becomes less of an issue, simply because the web is so saturated with everybody’s dealings (many of which are bound to be negative by today’s standards)?

I’m thinking about this more from the perspective of the individual rather than the brand. I think about kids in particular that don’t necessarily consider the potential consequences of posting questionable things online. At what point (if any) will employers, schools, etc. accept the fact that questionable material is simply the norm, and let it have less of an impact on decisions like hiring and admission? What is more likely – this kind of tolerance, or an increased sense of responsibility among people (especially the young)?

I thought it would be interesting to find out what some of the experts in the field think about the subject, so I got in touch with Andy Beal, creator of one of the most popular online reputation management tools – Trackur, as well as Greg Jarboe from SEO-PR, Lee Odden from TopRank Online Marketing, and search marketer Dave Naylor.

Following are some thoughts they shared with me, some of which are actually pretty amusing.

Andy BealAndy Beal: While I continue to see evidence that any negative Google result can hurt your career prospects, at some point employers may find that every candidate has some kind of skeleton in their closet. If this starts to happen, then we’ll likely see employers shrugging-off minor infractions and instead only worrying about those negative events that provide a significant reflection on the candidate’s suitability.

Greg Jarboe: We are all living in a digital fish bowl.  Anybody and everybody can see what we’re doing, or they can find out with a little bit of searching.  So, we’re had better be doing things that we can explain to our family and friends. It’s like living in a small community, where everyone knows who you are.  If you rent a video at Blockbuster, your neighbor’s kid is working behind the counter and the town gossip is standing behind you in line.  So, I’d recommend watching a comedy.

On Kids:

Greg JaboeYes, but they learn about the dangers of that just as quickly as the other dangers that we had to learn about growing up.  I’m more concerned with the business executives who don’t know what is being said about their company online.  Just because they don’t know about it doesn’t mean it isn’t hurting their business.

On Employers/schools/etc.

Maybe a generation from now they [will] be more forgiving, but for the next 20 years, the first thing someone will do is Google you.

It may take a generation before those who are making hiring or admissions decisions remember what was posted about them on Facebook or YouTube when they were younger.  In the meantime, imagine that your mother is reading every post you write and watching every move you make.  By the way, she already is.

Lee Odden: On the one hand, I do think some of what we consider gray area behavior documented in photos, status updates and even video will not be seen as so controversial as far as personal content on the social web. It makes me think of the contrast of how bands like the Clash or even Elvis seemed so controversial long ago and are quite tame by today’s standards.

Lee OddenThat is not to say people won’t need to mind their social Ps and Qs. Blatant, overt and inappropriate behavior is timeless when there’s context. Sticking a French fry in your nose and farting on pepperoni before serving them to a customer, for example, is inappropriate in a timeless sort of way. Holding a drink at a party or mentioning generalities about a wild weekend are not as much of an issue.

Competition to get into a great school or a great job should motivate active social web participants to manage their online reputation in whatever way that will give them an advantage. Those that don’t pay attention may find themselves in a timeless search for something better despite loosening standards or more liberal perspectives about what’s ok and what crosses the line.

Dave Naylor: I think it could be an issue. I had a parent call me once to see if I could help get her son’s comments removed from a public forum. In the heat of a flame war, he left a very out of character comment, which in turn ended up ranking for his name. The kid was about to start looking at which university he was going to apply for, when he had some quite major panic attacks and came clean to his mum.

Dave NaylorWhen I spoke to the kid’s mum it was only too evident that both where mortified by one heat of the moment. We all make mistakes in real life but on the net they can stick around forever. Of course these comments didn’t after a few emails backwards and forwards.

I tell my kids and other younger family member that once you hit that send button or that picture gets online it’s damn hard to remove, so just don’t do it. The last thing you need if you are a 16 year girl is appearing on (nsfw) or another site like that. Kids are kids and will make many mistakes! The Internet is not designed to protect them.

It took me weeks to clean up the naked bull riding I did in New Orleans at a conference :)

Wrapping up

There you have it. While nobody can be certain of how the future will go, all we can do is pretty much be careful and educate our children on how to handle themselves online. As for those looking to be the next generation’s Elvis, you can probably let the times dictate just how far you can appropriately push the envelope.

I’d like to thank Beal, Jarboe, Odden, and Naylor for their contributions to this article. What do you think about the matter? Do you think employers and schools will become more open-minded about what is considered tolerable online behavior in the future? Discuss this here.