Every parent knows: In the era of Secret and SnapChat, the struggle to help kids understand the potential dangers of the internet is a tough one. After all, adults love social media — it’s a crucial channel for marketing and business development, not to mention the personal practice of keeping in touch. And while adults love to chide kids about how to stay safe, the fact is that many grown-ups feel in the dark about the best way to manage their online reputation.
“The internet is like a small town with global reach,” explains Janine Warner, author of over 25 books, including Social Media Design For Dummies, “and it never forgets.”
That long memory is, it seems, the crux of concern regarding online and social media reputations — but other aspects, like spambots, which dupe Twitter users into clicking links that result in a hacked account (no, no one has a “really funny picture of you” that they decided to direct message to you) can also hurt your online appearance.
Janine recommends verifying accounts using tools like TrueTwit, which can help you figure out if the user you’re engaging with is a real person, or a spammer that’s trying to have your account. Similarly, if you receive an email that you’re suspicious about, you can run it through an email spam checker, like Contactology. It may sound silly — how can someone else’s fake account harm your online reputation? — but clicking on even one link from a spam account can get you locked out of your own account. Or worse, you could end up inadvertently sending a bunch of spam messages to your friends, family…and even your boss.
In addition to avoiding spam, it’s important to manage your online reputation with your own behavior, as well.
“Today, your online reputation is at least as important as a good credit rating or a well-edited resume,” says Janine. More than just a good way to connect with people, social media is also the way that potential clients and employers will find out more about you — and if they don’t like what they find, you may see very real consequences.
According to Janine, there are four main ways to maintain your online reputation:
1. Be honest
2. Be accurate
3. Be consistent
4. Keep your profiles up to date
“If you can do that, you’re way ahead of the game in terms of having a clean, strong reputation online. And that’s the answer to a lot of the questions I get from people.”
Keeping a close eye on your social media profiles by updating them regularly can help you detect if anything is amiss. Additionally, when you’re honest and consistent, you’re more likely to be viewed as a respectable, professional individual. Essentially, your goal is to be opposite of the spambots Janine cautions against, which means having a profile picture that looks like you, and a bio that is honest, accurate, and presents you in a positive, truthful light.
The final piece of advice is perhaps the simplest, but bears repeating: Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say to your friend, your mom, or your boss. Even if it’s just a comment that you don’t think is attached to your name, it’s easier than you think to trace things back to you. Because even when something is supposed to be secret or anonymous, very few things ever are — and once the damage is done, it’s done.
“You can’t build a good online reputation overnight, but you can destroy one fast,” Janine cautions.
For more information on how to manage your online reputation — and generally be great on social media — check out Janine’s course, the Social Media Design Tool Kit.