Why individuals are turning to reputation management companies to clean up their digital histories

If you think online reputation management is just for major corporations and big brands, you’d be wrong. Increasing numbers of people from all kinds of backgrounds, and for all kinds of reasons, are turning to reputation management companies to clean up their digital history.

And for the millennial generation in particular, this is critical. Anyone who’s written a casual comment or posted a picture or video on a social media profile, may well find it comes back to haunt them at the least opportune moment. This is why personal online reputation management is just as important as business reputation management.

Why are people turning to online reputation management companies for help?

Although he’s not quite a millennial, Toby Young’s swift resignation from his brand new role at the Office for Students (OfS) in 2018 was directly due to online comments unearthed from the past. Twitter comments made by Mr Young were seized upon after his Government linked appointment to the Board of the OfS in 2018. Soon there was a petition calling for his removal, which garnered almost a quarter of a million signatures.

And despite the fact that Mr Young had deleted the homophobic and misogynistic Tweets, it was too little, too late and is a perfect example of just how unforgiving the Internet is. If someone like Mr Young, a journalist already known for his political views, is forced from a role due to their past comments online, what does that mean for everyone else?

More than two-thirds (70%) of employers use social media to screen potential employees. This means they look at your profiles, at what you write, what you say and what you think – or what you appear to think. A whopping 93% of recruiters use LinkedIn, and more than half (54%) of employers are not going to hire you if they see something they don’t like on your profiles.

You don’t have to be in the public eye to suffer backlash

You don’t have to be famous to be fired for controversial social media posts that you make today, tomorrow or have done in the past. Ordinary people outside of the public eye routinely lose their jobs for posting or commenting on ill-advised jokes, off-the-cuff comments, sexist, racist or misogynistic views, political opinions and historical offensive Tweets. There is also evidence to suggest that prospective employers are put off by people with no social media presence at all. That may sound contradictory, but not having an online profile somewhere is considered out of the ordinary, and potentially ‘secretive’ by some recruiters. In fact, 57% of employers may not even interview you if they can’t find any online presence.

It is totally legal for employers and recruiters to look at your online presence at any time. Everything you put out there on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and myriad other social media profiles is in the public eye, if you haven’t locked down your privacy settings.

As long as no discriminatory decisions are made by the employer, there is no legal precedent to protect your public posts. For example, if an employer looks at your profile photo and based on a disability you have, they decide not to offer you a job, that’s against the law under the Equality Act 2010. But, if they see something you wrote as a post or Tweet that they consider unacceptable, that doesn’t align with company values or brand image, then it’s perfectly legal to discount you. This is true even if the Tweet you wrote is, itself, legal.

Launching your career in an online world

When people are starting their careers, employers have little to go on. If they don’t have a CV full of career history and references from peers, then even more emphasis goes on what’s posted on social media profiles.

It is extremely easy to overshare material that could be potentially damaging in the future. If a single Tweet is picked up by a celebrity, for example, your post could reach thousands of people in a very short amount of time. Every time your name is ‘Googled’ by a potential employer, customer, client or peer, guess what comes up? Yes, that Tweet. No matter how long ago it was, or how much you’ve changed since then.

If this sounds unfair, that’s because it is. The online world takes no prisoners and is a very unforgiving environment. There is often resistance to this truth by people who want to see social media as its original incarnation – a fun platform for banter and jokes, where everyone should be able to be themselves.

Since Facebook and Twitter launched in 2006, the online world has completely revolutionised the way we all consume media, think about the world, analyse politics, our friends, our family and communicate with people. That is 2019’s reality, and it’s essential that the importance of your online persona is carefully managed.

It pays to remember that who you are online is who you are offline

There is no separation between what you would say in real life, and online. Using your online presence to strengthen your positives and present a profile that is welcomed anywhere is a good skill to have in your arsenal while job hunting, working or climbing the career ladder.

All of this is why from all kinds of backgrounds, at all levels of their career and working in all kinds of places asking for help and advice to clean their digital profiles. A few years ago, much of our work involved managing crises and putting out fires caused by online gaffes, but today it is more of a balance between that and people who want to hone their online presence to be the best it can be.

For someone looking for a high-status professional role, it makes sense to engage professionals to advise on how to, not only clean up their existing digital profile, but to craft one that better reflects their real self.

Remember that Google controls up to 72% of all search engine traffic online. And should an employer search for you, they will stop at the first page of results. Stats show that around 90% of people will only look at the first page of results, and that is how they make their decision. Core clients for online reputation management companies fall into these categories:

  • Service industry businesses, such as holiday sites and restaurants, many of whom rely on online reviews to maintain their reputation.
  • Buyers across every industry, including B2B, who use online searches and digital content to make decisions.
  • Start-ups and entrepreneurs concerned about potential investors making decisions based on their online presence.
  • People at all levels looking for a higher-level role, promotion or to shift industries.
  • Public figures who are under intense public scrutiny at all times.

There are many ways your online persona can work against you, and many ways it can work for you. What’s for certain is that you need to take control and manage it and that’s where reputation management companies are invaluable.

Simon recently spoke to The Sunday Telegraph about this issue.

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