Anyone who has ever worried about a Facebook picture a friend posted from that wild frat party or the blog he kept in high school might consider online reputation management when applying to business schools. After all, more business schools are admitting to Googling applicants to see if their online rep matches the presentation of themselves in the application. Recently, Todd William (screen name: ToddWilliam), founder and chief executive of Reputation Rhino, an online reputation management company in New York, took questions from Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Francesca Di Meglio (screen name: FrancescaBW) and the public about everything from how your online reputation influences business school admissions and employment to how to create a positive image online. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:
FrancescaBW: Tell us about Reputation Rhino and what you do for your clients.
ToddWilliam: Reputation Rhino is an online reputation management solutions company. We help clients promote, protect, and defend their reputations by offering reputation repair, monitoring solutions, and a unique way to promote a positive online identity by creating an optimized social media profile on the top 100 social media websites in the world.
FrancescaBW: What are some of the big mistakes people make when posting things online?
ToddWilliam: The most common mistake I see people make is thinking they are just talking to friends when they are talking to the world. And now the world has a transcript called the Internet. So, whether it is pictures from Spring Break, a blog post about an ex, or an indiscreet Twitter message, there are a lot of potential pitfalls.
FrancescaBW: What are some of the pitfalls?
ToddWilliam: The risk is that when you are applying to school or for a job or dating or trying to grow a business, you will have to explain something you wrote or posted years ago. It becomes a distraction and a disability in a very competitive job or admissions marketplace.
DWeston: I am assuming being on Facebook is completely off limits, right?
ToddWilliam: Actually, Facebook can be a great tool if you take the time to understand the privacy settings and audit your personal profile. On my blog, my most recent post will show you how to “go private” on Facebook in about a minute.
DWeston: Should we use anonymous names?
ToddWilliam: I think it is better to build your own positive image and use your real name as a tool for self-marketing and promotion.
FrancescaBW: How exactly can you promote yourself in a way that is professional? In other words, how can you use the Internet to impress the admissions committees at top business schools?
ToddWilliam: According to a 2011 Kaplan study, 80 percent of America’s top colleges and universities use social media in the recruiting process, and 70 percent of colleges [in a Schools.com survey] say that Facebook profiles of candidates are also a medium or high priority in the admissions process. To use the Internet to impress admissions, here are a few easy tips: “Like” the schools to which you are applying on Facebook, “follow” their feeds on Twitter, and “subscribe” to their YouTube channel. Most schools are using social media to build a community and share information, not to snoop. With LinkedIn and Facebook, you can reach out to alumni and faculty to create a powerful reference network. Social media allow you to demonstrate your expertise and experiences, highlight past accomplishments, and share achievements and innovations in a new way that a paper application cannot.
EHY: Should I build a website all about me?
ToddWilliam: Yes. You should build either a website or a blog that can be a digital business card. WordPress and Blogger are free and easy tools, and you don’t need to know any code to create a professional looking website in minutes. I usually advise clients who are trying to build a reputation online to “be the master of your domain”—and buy firstnamelastname.com. Or if you have a common name or happen to also be named Justin Bieber, use a middle initial or middle name.
FrancescaBW: What is it about a website or blog that can serve as a digital business card? What tips do you have for creating sites and blogs aimed at impressing business schools and employers?
ToddWilliam: Much as a résumé will highlight background, skills, hobbies, and activities, your website and blog can do the same thing. But you can use multimedia, include images and video, and upload newspaper clippings, published writings, drawings, and awards.
FrancescaBW: Do schools actually reject applicants for things they find when Googling them?
ToddWilliam: Yes. In [a 2008] Kaplan study, 38 percent of admissions officers say that students’ social media profiles have generally hurt their admissions chances. And the only thing worse than not getting into school is not getting a job when you get out. A Microsoft study showed that 70 percent of recruiters and HR professionals rejected candidates based on information they found online.
FrancescaBW: What are some of the things you post online that could hurt your chances?
ToddWilliam: The most common things that can hurt a candidate are images and videos or inappropriate or offensive blogs or posts and comments. Things that are posted about you by others are also dangerous, such as newspaper articles or blogs, Twitter and Facebook posts.
FrancescaBW: What can you do about these kinds of postings once they are up?
ToddWilliam: If they are from “friendly sources,” you can simply ask the source to take down the content or remove you from the tagging. You have some control over that with Facebook already.
FrancescaBW: And if they are not from friendly sources?
ToddWilliam: If there is personal information, such as Social Security numbers, credit-card information, etc., you can contact the webmaster or search engine to remove it. If someone has used your likeness or content without permission, you can also relatively easily file a DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] complaint; we have done that for many of our clients. Most often, if there is negative content from unfriendly sources, you will need online reputation management. Online reputation management involves a combination of marketing, public relations, legal, and search engine optimization (SEO) skills.
FrancescaBW: What do you do about content—such as a news article about you—that cannot be removed and is truthful?
ToddWilliam: At Reputation Rhino, our goal is to elevate positive content quickly and confidentially to the top of the search [results] and eliminate or diminish the impact of negative content by displacing the content from the first pages of Google and other search engines. With online reputation management, there are lots of promises and false expectations. And you are right: Some content cannot be removed, and some content should not be removed. What we really try to do is present a much fuller, more complete image for a client than one bad day or night by owning the first pages of Google.
Tako: If you own multiple Web domains and don’t pay for private registration, when an Internet search is performed, your name comes up for each—would employers see that as a negative? After all, it may appear that you’re pursuing other interests, such as entrepreneurship.
ToddWilliam: Private registration is a very small price to pay for privacy and information security. It also makes your domain a less likely [target] of spam.
Tako: Does the term “entrepreneur” hold negative connotations in the eyes of recruiters or employers?
ToddWilliam: I think entrepreneurship can be a pretty noble pursuit, and I think most recruiters and employers would value your creativity and vision.
FrancescaBW: Can you share examples of how online content prevented someone from getting into a school or getting hired for a job?
ToddWilliam: Most frequently, I hear from recruiters both on the HR side [in-house] and outside placement agencies. In some cases, they have simply refused to advance a candidacy based on online content. In one case, some pictures online were literally the subject of the person’s first encounter with his manager. I really think it is a double-edged sword. I have more examples of clients who went on interviews where their blog or video took up much of the first interview and created an opportunity to bond and connect in a very deep way.
FrancescaBW: In the article we recently published about online reputations, we mention an app designed to help people create professional and personal profiles that are separate from one another on Facebook. What do you think about this kind of app?
ToddWilliam: I think it is a good idea to try to separate your social network from your business or professional networks. In practice, it is much harder to execute, because the two are often very intertwined. Schools and employers like to manage risk. Social media [are] really just a new and easily accessible way to evaluate potential risk and make sure that the carefully edited résumé and finely crafted recommendation letters are consistent with the online “you.”
FrancescaBW: Any tips for successfully separating your social and professional networks online?
ToddWilliam: First of all, Google yourself. Do you like what you see on the first two or three pages of Google for your name? Check both search engine results and images. Check whether your social media identity is consistent with your school application and make the appropriate changes and edits.
Tako: Is there information available to employers/recruiters that doesn’t seemingly appear in an Internet search? For example, you have a Facebook profile and your privacy settings are set to the max. Your Facebook association can’t be found on the Web, and you can’t be found on Facebook either. It’s as if the profile doesn’t even exist. Can employers/recruiters/background check agencies still “crack” into that stuff?
ToddWilliam: Facebook is very serious about online privacy. My understanding is that without a court order or subpoena, employers, recruiters, and background check agencies will not be able to pierce the privacy veil.