How Malicious Sites Benefit From Your Misfortune; Insights from Brand.com
In 2013, a group of 25 women won a victory against “revenge porn” site Texxxan.com, ultimately getting the site taken offline. However, that was a small victory in what online brand management firm Brand.com says is a lopsided war.
On Texxxan.com, disgruntled ex-lovers published compromising pictures of wives and ex-girlfriends. According to Brand.com, the entire predicament just draws attention to the fact that most people do not control what is written about them online. Lives, careers, and even families can be sidelined and permanently damaged because people are searching for you online, relying on uncontrolled user-generated content, and making important decisions about what they find.
Your Online Image Could Cost You A Loan — Or A Job
According to 2013 polls, 70% of employers have rejected job applicants based on information found online, reports Brand.com. If you don’t produce any original online content, what others users have posted about you online creates your definitive personal “brand.”
“We’re not just talking about criminal records,” says Brand.com company president Mike Zammuto. “People can say nearly anything they want about you anonymously. We see libel and outrageous lies posted every day online, but even ill-conceived pictures, comments, or jokes can hurt you if made public.”
Landlords, admissions officers, financial companies, and even the people you’re dating can, and likely will, Google you online. Anyone with Internet access can redefine your brand image to satisfy their own goals, whether benevolent or sinister. Disgruntled coworkers, livid clients, or that checkout lady you confronted at the supermarket — they can all negatively impact your image and thwart your online brand identity simply by posting their impressions on the Web.
Online attacks in any form are a constant threat to your brand. However, it is possible to control what people see when they search for your name online. Below, Brand.com's Zammuto offers his hardest-hitting recommendations for protecting and solidifying your brand online.
You Are Who Google Says You Are, Warns Brand.com
How To Monitor Your Personal Brand
First, find out what other people see by searching for yourself online. Make sure to search for different variations of your name. Try putting last name first, adding common misspellings of your name, or searching with and without quotations marks. Here are the five best places to start:
- Brand.com’s Command Center, which monitors your brand across all major search engines and social media platforms.
- Google Image search. Pictures of you posted to a public social network or website may show up here.
- Google Alerts. Google will email you whenever someone creates an article, blog post, or video that mentions your name.
- Google’s Me on the Web. See what other people see when they Google your name.
- SocialMention. This engine scans for your name across 100+ social media websites including Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube.
Focus on Positive Press
The best way to protect you brand online is to produce content about yourself that the search engines view as valuable and engaging to users. Brand.com claims that the best of this content is online news. If you do something newsworthy, try to get it reported on news, educational, or industry-oriented sites. Search engines consider content on these sites relevant to users’ common search queries. It can be difficult to secure news content publishing on your own. Brand.com solves the problem by maintaining their own network of news sites and by working with dozens of major online publishers.
Sign Up For Social Media Websites
When someone Googles you, the top search results usually points to one of your social media profiles. Sign up for all major social media websites with your name. Even if you don’t plan to use these accounts, by registering them, you prevent other people from hijacking the accounts to damage and misrepresent your brand. Use the free online service KnowEm to check for your name across 550 popular social networks.
Use Completed.com to Highlight your Accomplishments
Brand.com designed its social profile Completed.com to rank well in search results. Because the site focus on highlighting your accomplishments, it can be a great way to prepare for a job hunt or any situation in which customers will view you online. You want potential clients, customers, or HR managers to see your best self, so identify your achievements through Completed.
Build a Large LinkedIn Network
LinkedIn is the first social network that an employer will check. Upload a professional and appropriate picture of yourself and complete your profile. Never reuse pictures, because Google will only rank one of them, Brand.com says. Ask your former coworkers and employers for recommendations that focus on specific skills you want to highlight and the positive results you have delivered. Make sure you have unique content on all of the sites. Never directly reuse content: search engines will view the duplicate info as a copy, and the content will not show up in search results.
Register Your Name as a Domain Name
Any website address that exactly matches a user’s search term will show up prominently. If YourName.com is already taken, try to grab the .net or .org incarnation. If you expect to be attacked online, you can defend yourself proactively by buying up your name appended with negative terms as well, says New York Times best-selling author Joel Comm. Get YourNameSucks.com so someone else can’t own it and use it against you.
Create Your Own Online Image
Decide who you want to be online and be active and consistent. What kind of online image do you want to present to employers? If you want to be perceived as a dedicated professional, start blogging about the latest developments in your industry. Creating useful content that other people in your industry can use will not only improve your brand, but will also help you to position yourself as an eminently hirable, industry-leading expert.
Be Smart When You Post Online
Be the nicest version of yourself while commenting online. Never leave comments when you are angry. Assume anyone you’re chatting with online has the power to destroy your online brand (because they do).
Don’t Feed the Trolls
If you know the person who criticized you personally and he or she is attempting to be constructive, you may be able to contact the person who left the negative comment and try to resolve those matters privately. Clarify any misunderstandings, and apologize if you did something wrong.
In many cases, however, your attacker may have bad intentions, and will try to hide behind the anonymity of the Internet. Brand.com suggests that you not contact these trolls — they are nothing more than online bullies who feel gratified when they know that they got your attention. Work on fighting back with lots of highly engaging content, and seek professional help to fortify your online presence if you need further protection.
Contacting the site that hosts the attack likely won’t result in effective action: these sites are directly benefiting from the attacks on you. Review sites like Yelp, RipOff Report, MyEx.com and even social media sites all make money because people post content on those sites for free. Each visit to the website earns the company advertising revenue. The more juicy and negative the content, the more likely that clicks will increase — and the sites will gain additional revenue.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects these sites, Zammuto notes, which in truth feel no responsibility or motivation for helping you. Disreputable sites will even blatantly ask you to pay them to take inflammatory content down. Keep in mind that content that appears on one site can easily pop up on another site.
“To truly defend your online brand, you’ll need to recognize the potential for salacious sites, and angry individuals, to define you online. If the control isn’t fully in your hands, someone else will take charge of your brand,” Zammuto warns.