While most entrepreneurs diligently monitor their companies' reputations online, I have found that many fail to do so effectively on a personal level. For serial entrepreneurs who rely on their reputations, this could be very detrimental.
I have spent the past few years developing and protecting my reputation online, not out of vanity but rather out of necessity. You see, a number of years ago, I had a run-in with a special-interest group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), that resulted in some unfavorable (and, I might add, untrue) content about me online. About this time, I also discovered, to my dismay, that I shared a name with a number of rather unsavory people -- according to Google search results.
Since I could not control content that others were posting online and associating with my name (even if it's not me), I started posting content with positive search results that I controlled.
What I have learned over the past few years is that controlling your online reputation has become a necessity for everyone. Nobody is invisible, and now more than ever, if you do not take control of your online reputation, someone else will.
Building a personal brand takes time, but just getting control of your reputation online can be done in a few straightforward steps.
1. Identify your personal goals.
You first need to have personal goals for your reputation or personal brand. Creating a constant "theme" will help you with search-engine optimization (SEO) and create organic search results.
Write down three to five words that describe how you would like to be seen -- business leader, thought leader, adventure seeker, intercontinental balloonist -- then use these descriptions to guide how you develop your profile and create and curate content.
2. Settle on a consistent username.
To optimize your SEO, you need to have a consistent and unique username across the web. Uncommon names should be easy to secure, but if your name is more ordinary and, hence, already taken on many platforms, then you need to settle on a username that you can use consistently across platforms.
For instance, if your name happens to be Robert Smith, then consider either an iteration of your name (TheRobbieSmith44) or finding a unique name altogether (DonutsAndMarketingGuru). You will use this username across platforms to generate better SEO, though you will set up the details in your profile with your actual name.
3. Secure your personal URL.
Once you have found a name that you can use across platforms, invest in the URL (DonutsAndMarketingGuru.com). Stick with a ".com," if available and avoid getting carried away with the dozens of iterations and domain suffixes you could come up with -- it can get extremely cost prohibitive quickly.
Once you have your URL, consider creating a simple website with SquareSpace, Wix or Weebly. You can also opt for sites such as About.me or Flavors.me for setting up a basic personal landing page and can have it directed to your personal URL.
4. Secure your username on as many platforms as possible.
Start with the big sites, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. If you are already using these sites for personal reasons, consider setting up a separate account or separate page (Facebook or Google+ pages, for example) for the username (personal brand) you have created. Next, secure your account with any platforms in your industry or areas of interest, then move on to any other platform you can think of -- Quorra, Disqus, Tumblr, GitHub, SoundCloud.
Now it is completely reasonable to feel that this strategy is overkill, but I am not advocating that you become active on every platform, only that you secure the account with your username before someone else does. For the most part, most sites allow you to create an account with a Twitter, Facebook or Google+ account, so it should not be difficult to get started.
Again, the goal is to create an online presence that Google will use to boost your content and information to the top of searches.
Lastly, you may keep a spreadsheet with logins and passwords, though you should never use the same password for all the accounts. Instead, opt for a password strategy that will help you remember each one.
5. Set up a basic profile on each of your sites.
Take a few minutes to fill out the basic information in your account profiles. Associating your name, location and a consistent description with your username will help your SEO. Also, choose one photo or picture to represent you across platforms, which will help others identify you quickly.
6. Secure your social-media-profile URLs when possible.
While some platforms automatically create custom URLs for your profile ( www.twitter.com/petergasca), others require you to set it up. When possible, follow the platform instructions to set up your specific URL.
All of this may seem like a great deal of work -- and it is -- but for the most part, you only have to set up accounts once. The only ongoing work needed is to create profiles as new services and platforms become available and to monitor your name and reputation online.
With that said, if your goal is to build a strong and reputable personal brand, the work does not end with creating online profiles. It is a continuous job to build and maintain your personal brand online, and the result you get out will be directly correlated with the work you put in.
Developing a personal brand is not for everyone, and some may find it vain and not a valuable use of time. As someone who has seen firsthand how a few bad apples can spoil an entire bunch, I can say confidently it is worth the effort.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs trying to get control of their online reputations? Please share your thought with others in the comments below.