Online marketer and reputation management expert Andy Beal talked with us during the spring of 2008 about Radically Transparent, his new book about online reputation management. Andy also shared news about a new web service designed to help consumers and businesses manage their public persona.
RL: I think a lot of people are going to be surprised by the depth of what is meant by “radically transparent” and reputation management. Can you tell us a little about what you mean when you say, “You’ve got to maintain an online reputation throughout the course of your life and not just during a crisis.”
Andy Beal: That is an important thing to point out. What we talk about in Radically Transparent is the concept that you’re being discussed online. The Internet has really enabled anyone to post opinions, share their thoughts or even offer criticism about individuals or companies.
Your reputation just isn’t what you put in your resume or isn’t just what you have on your company’s promotional materials. You’re being discussed online via news items, blogs, social networks and video images. It’s important to not only monitor those things, but also to jump in and help craft your reputation so that if someone goes to Google or do any kind of research on you as a person or how your reliable your company is you want to put your best forward and show a really positive reputation.
RL: What kind of mistakes do people make when the Google or Yahoo results start coming up, and what you had clients tell you are issues that needed to be addressed?
AB: I often find a lot of people who have something that has occurred in the past, maybe even before the Internet was a popular vehicle for checking on someone’s reputation. They might have had something ten years ago when there was a court case against them or an employer fired them.
Ten years ago it wasn’t easy to find that information. Now, thanks to Google being able to index just about every piece of content known to man, you type in their name in Google and it’s sitting on the first page. That’s hurting their chances of getting a new job. I’ve had instances where companies have struggled to get venture capital funding because the founder has something negative that shows up.
It’s really a shock to some people who have problems and regularly search their names on Google. Most of the time it’s because Google is looking for the most relevant piece of information it can find for your name, and if it can’t find something that you have carefully constructed to present you in a positive light, it’s going to look for whatever it can find and if it finds a scandal, Google is agnostic. It doesn’t really care if the information is positive or negative. If it finds something about you, even a scandal, it’s going to show that on the first page.
RL: So people may not even be aware that if events occurred in college a generation ago that the college could be digitizing and actually giving those results to an employer today?
AB: It’s not just what you happen to put online today. One example is we’re seeing newspapers – The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal – opening up their archives so that content previously behind a user name and password is now available on the web. We see a lot of instances where people were written about negatively in mainstream media and that was buried deep in the archives and you had to be a user to find it. Now as we see those media companies open their archives to the web, it’s starting to bubble up to the top of Google’s results. It’s really understanding that any action you have could have a future repercussion.
One of the trends we see is college-aged people with their Facebook and MySpace accounts talking about drinking binges they’ve had or maybe even experimenting with certain drugs or lying to a professor or cheating on an exam. All that can sit out on the Internet and come back to haunt you and hurt you ten years further on when you’re trying to get that promotion.
We want to empower Radically Transparent readers to know how to go online and build a great reputation.
RL: People are out there defining you themselves, and it sounds as though you’re now empowering people to define themselves instead.
AB: Exactly. We want you to understand that in the absence of any information that you put together, that result is going to be filled with whatever else is available online so you have an opportunity even if it’s something as simple as making sure you’ve registered the domain name that matches your personal name. One of the other things we recommend is registering your name plus your profession or registering your name plus your city. Creating profiles on sites such as Linked In. There are free blogs you can set up. If you don’t take action yourself, you’re at the mercy of whatever content happens to be floating around. You really don’t want to take that risk.
RL: One of the things that ties into Radically Transparent I found fascinating is a new website you’ve developed that goes hand-in-hand with the book.
AB: The service is called Trackur.com. It’s an online reputation monitoring tool. Any user can type in any identity that’s important to them, whether it’s their own name, their company name or their products. Trackur will then scour the web for you 24/7 and alert you the moment it discovers any blog posts, news items, images, videos – you name it – that matches the identity. It’s great for individuals who just want to put their name in and keep track of anything that comes up. It’s like an insurance plan. For the cost of a venti Starbucks a day, you can ensure that no one is going to trash your reputation. Between myself and Dr. Strauss who wrote the book with me, if you were to hire us to handle this, you’re probably looking at $20,000 worth of consulting fees.