In a nation where one in 10 is unemployed and countless others are underemployed, during a time when people are networking like next month’s rent is riding on it (because it often is), what could cause a recent college graduate to pull herself off every social networking site she ever joined? Ask Karen Owens… if you can find her.
In May Owens received a degree from prestigious Duke University, where she received “An Education Beyond the Classroom,” or so she titled her faux-senior honors thesis. With a wink, a nudge, and a subtitle of “excelling in the realm of horizontal academics,” you can probably guess what it was about. Not only did she name the names of her muscled Adonises in her 40 plus page presentation, she even included G-rated photos of them, and gave each a score based on looks, the entertainment value of the affair, and other, ahem, personal attributes, by which she later ranked them.
Though she submitted her thesis to “The Department Of Late-Night Entertainment,” otherwise known as three of her friends, what happened next was predictable. One of those three sent it to someone else, and they sent it to someone else, and before Owens had any idea what was going on the whole world knew about her “tempestuous frolicking.”
I’m not linking to any of the many places you can find this PowerPoint presentation online for the sake of the unwitting men mentioned in it, but try doing a Google search of “Karen Owens Duke.” I’m sure every employer she ever applies to will, and they won’t find a list of recommendations for her on LinkedIn. They won’t find her a display of her expertise and a sample of her reading list on Twitter. They won’t even see a Facebook or Google profile of her.
Instead, all they will derive about her from the web is that she compared seeing a certain Red Sox prospect naked to receiving a “beautifully wrapped present on Christmas morning” only to have your “smile plummet to the floor… as you thanked your grandpa for the single practical pair of coarse, grey wools socks.” She can turn a phrase and create a mental image, I’ll give her that, but when it’s about the equally drunk guy she met at the bar the previous night, it loses some of its appeal.
Owens has expressed remorse for creating the list, and I’m sure she is mortified, but at some point she will have to emerge from the rock she is undoubtedly hiding under. When she does, she will have to take control of what’s being said about her online.
Forget Big Brother, the bigger concern today is Big Google. Managing a brand – personal or corporate – in the 21st century increasingly means managing what the search engines say about it. The internet never forgets, so the trick is to be constantly feeding it new memories that convey the message you want to put forward.
Fortunately for Owens, there are a few steps she can take to restore, or at least repair, her online reputation. For a price, ReputationDefender.com says they can help control what is said about you around the intertubes. You will never be able to scrape the internet completely clean, however, and you can’t stop others from writing negative things about you (or publishing the embarrassing things you yourself create).
What you can do is flood it with good news about yourself or your business, and with strong SEO hope that it pushes the bad coverage down in the Google listings. The web is often the first place prospective clients will turn for information, and all too often they won’t scan beyond the first couple links their favorite search engine provides.
Scott Fayner, a former journalist covering industries not spoken about in polite company, for example, has gone on the offensive in trying to cover up his sordid personal and professional history. Google him now and you can still find tales of his debauched past, but before that you will find pictures of cute little puppy dogs. Seriously. The erstwhile Hustler reporter is now publishing an online magazine dedicated to canines and featuring pictures of dogs at rescue shelters in an attempt to rebrand himself online.
His strategy has merit: to those who need to do a little online damage control, or even want to get out ahead of the curveball that will inevitably be thrown, the answer is clear. Write blog posts, and comment on other’s. Tweet. Be a thought leader and publish in trade publications and journals. Get your name in the press and on message. Do great things and tell the world about them. Give Google plenty of positive things to say about you, and watch as they crowd out the negative ones.
Most brands don’t have the same level of grime on them as Fayner’s and Owens’ do, but everyone’s could use a little polish. As Fayner says of his puppy dog strategy, “It’s the start of my very long, very slow battle against the Internet — one that I realize I may never win.” He may not, but by being proactive he gets closer every day.