Thursday, June 28, 2012

Reputational Management, Vanity Searches and Ego surfing

I thought I would do an article about the art of searching for your own name on search engines. (And if it gets a good response here, on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn where my blogs are all reposted to, thanks to TwitterFeed, I will adapt it for more general use in my business and other professional work perhaps.)

I recommend it to everyone in the public eye as an important tool in reputational management, although I know that it has been fashionable to belittle the practice, calling it "vanity searching" and "ego surfing".

What do I mean by reputational management? I am talking about being aware of what is being said about you on the world wide web so that you can challenge, affirm or explain the detail.

Imagine for instance someone on an online forum has written a post about you, or commented on a post mentioning you, which claims that you have behaved in a certain way or taken a particular action. And that this post has attracted the attention of lots of other people who have gone on to comment, share the link etc. And imagine that you have been misrepresented in that post - for instance it accuses you of not turning up to something that in point of fact you were never invited to and knew nothing about, you would want to know about that post and submit your own comments to the forum, setting the record straight.

Or imagine that you have been quoted as believing in a certain policy (this library should close) when in fact you have been leading the campaign to keep it open. You would want to be able to put your own argument across.

And of course sometimes the basis of the article or post might be correct, but there may be more to it than meets the eye, and you need the opportunity to expand on why you made the decision that you did.

Occasionally someone has libelled you, or at the very least said something very rude about you, and it is important that you see this and take whatever action you feel is appropriate. A politician of another party once wrote something about me on their blog that was inaccurate and unfair and misrepresented my position, and when he refused to change it following a polite request, I instructed a solicitor to ask him to withdraw it - and he did. Thankfully, I have only felt it necessary to take this action once. A lot of stuff you simply have to take on the chin.

And of course, occasionally (but don't hold your breath), someone may have said something really positive and welcoming about you, and wouldn't it be lovely if you could read that, along with all the less positive things?

So, searching for your own name is a must if you care about your online reputation.

I suggest that you search for it in a variety of ways, to ensure that you capture all the variables. So for instance, in my case, I might search for "Louise Baldock", "Councillor Baldock", "Cllr Baldock", "Councillor L Baldock" "Cllr L Baldock" or Baldock, Liverpool.

And for those of you who are not so familiar with searches, please note the quotation marks, or speech marks as we often call them, in the examples above, they are key to a search of this nature.

If you search for Louise Baldock without speech marks then the search engine will return a list made up of every page that contains the word Louise and the word Baldock, irrespective of whether they are together on the page. So if Louise Rednapp visited Baldock Town FC and there was a story about it on the internet, that entry would be included. So in order to limit your search to those pages where the words are next to each other, you need to use the speech marks which then limit your search to precisely this term.

To explain the difference, if I search for Louise Baldock without speech marks, Google currently returns 292000 entries. But if I put the speech marks around my name then that drops to 25400. That is a much more manageable number to check out. Are they all about me? No, there are some in the first few pages which relate to Different Forename/ Middle Name Louise/Baldock for instance. And there are some pages which relate to genealogy - which is a huge generator of webpages about ancestors with the same name. And of course I am not the only Louise Baldock in the world, believe it or not. So there are some relating to a lady in Canada who raises dogs for instance, good luck to her!

Searching for yourself online is definitely not for the faint-hearted. You will quite possibly see all sorts of things that you were not aware of and which make you feel uncomfortable, but if reputational management is important to you, then you have to learn to bite the bullet. And sometimes, no matter what you find and read, you can do nothing about it, and there are no changes you can make, but at least you know it is out there.

It wont surprise you that I am notorious on certain Far Right websites as a stated enemy, in entries which contain my name, address, photograph (both official and taken illicitly), telephone numbers, facebook profile and a whole lot besides. They of course will take no notice of any request I might ever make to remove those entries, and indeed I wouldn't bother to ask them to, but it is useful for me to be aware of them in case they ever advocate any particular action against me, and where I might need to contact the police for instance.

You should not just search the "web" for your own name, you should also search "images" (which is a different tab on the Google Search, have a look on the tool bar now, it will revolutionise your world if you didn't know it was there. You can now find images of anything you like, your favourite singer or a flower in bud or a shop logo...) It may be the case that someone has identified you in a photograph, or used a photograph to illustrate an article about you, which you might have concerns about. Imagine if your mate took a photo of you on their hen/stag night looking the worse for wear and put it on their blog, or on a Facebook account that is not protected,  using your name. You would want to become quickly aware of this and ask them to remove the mention of you, or to take the photo down, perhaps.

Personally I use Google for all my searches, given that it is the biggest search engine in the world by a very wide margin, but if you are absolutely serious about keeping up to date about what is being said about you online, you should probably bookmark a whole host of search sites, like Bing, Yahoo, AOL, etc.

Just a word about reputational management on Twitter. I also have an account with MentionNotifier that emails me whenever my Twitter Name is mentioned in a tweet - I also get an email from Twitter, which gives me two emails every time, so perhaps I could cancel my free subscription to the former, although MN is a bit quicker than Twitter's own, which is vital in reputational management. But whichever you use, it is again really important to know when someone has tweeted you, or tweeted about you, you need to be very fast on the rebuttal, or to acknowledge the praise, or to take up the issue, whichever it may be. If you have a Twitter account then the expectation is that you are actively monitoring it, not leaving it for weeks on end.

And finally, to ensure that you are doing your best to capture everything that is being posted about you online, it is well worth setting up a Google Alert. This will generate an email to you, every day (or less often depending upon how you set it up) for any entry anywhere on the internet that is spidered by Google where your name occurs. I have dozens of Google Alerts set up. Not just for my own name, but for some of my councillor colleagues, our MP, my marketing clients, my own business, my ward name... even if you don't take anything else from this blog, I hope you will at least find this useful. Maybe you are mad keen on steam engines, Tranmere Rovers or Newsham Park, if so you should set up an alert and stay on top of all the news about that.

Good luck with your search, try not to get too upset when people say unkind things about you. It is a natural consequence of being in the public eye. And I will leave you with this thought....

There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about. Oscar Wilde

Illustrative photo drawn from

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