How to maintain a professional online reputation

In a world where nearly everything is online, your online reputation can make or break you. From job hunting to networking, what people find when they Google your name can either help you or hinder you.

Eighty-five percent of customers place as much trust in online reviews as personal recommendations. Whether you're a business, brand or individual, you must ensure your online presence accurately reflects who you are — and the best way to do that is to take a proactive approach to online reputation management.

What is a professional online reputation?

A professional online reputation is the sum of what is said or known about an individual online. It's the digital equivalent of a first impression; just like in real life, you only get one chance to make a good one. Your online reputation can be shaped by anything from your social media activity to online reviews, and anything else that appears when someone searches for your name online.

An online reputation isn't just for businesses either; it's also critical for:

  • Students — A positive online reputation is essential for getting into college and landing a good job after graduation. Monitoring your digital well-being for your mental health and online reputation management is key for your success in school and later in life.
  • Professionals — A strong online reputation can mean the difference between getting hired or being passed over for a job.

Ultimately, a good online reputation may open doors to new career opportunities, can help you network and build relationships, and may give you a competitive edge. Conversely, a negative online reputation can close doors, damage relationships, and make it difficult to achieve your goals.

Brand vs. personal online reputation

A brand reputation is what people think of your business, product or service. It's the online equivalent of your company's offline reputation, built over time through interactions with customers, employees, partners and prospects. A personal online reputation is what people think of you as an individual. It's the online equivalent of your personal offline reputation, and it's built in much the same way — through interactions with others.

While brand and personal online reputation are different, they're also interconnected. This is especially true for small-business owners who are the representatives of their companies. It's essential to focus on your brand and personal online reputation to ensure they work together to help you achieve your goals.

Personal reputations

Every time you post on social media, interact with someone online or even have your name mentioned in a blog post, you're shaping your online reputation. And while you may not think much about it day-to-day, the cumulative effect of all these online interactions is your personal online reputation.

While this is similar to a professional online reputation, some key differences exist. A personal online reputation is:

  • About you as an individual, not your business or brand.
  • Often more difficult to control because you can't always control what others say or write about you online. Therefore, learning how to protect your online reputation in the social media age is critical.
  • Usually more critical for individuals in the public eye, such as politicians, celebrities and business leaders.

However, even if you're not in the public eye, your online reputation is still important as it can impact your personal and professional life.

Professional reputations

A professional reputation is what people think of you in a professional capacity. It's built through interactions with colleagues, clients and others in your industry.

Like a personal online reputation, a professional online reputation is shaped by everything you do online — from the articles you write and the social media posts you make, to the comments you leave and the emails you send.

While a professional online reputation is similar to a personal online reputation, there are some key differences. A professional online reputation is:

  • Not about you but your professional capacity as a business or brand.
  • Often more important as it can directly impact your career.
  • Difficult to control because you can't always control what others say or write about you online.

However, your online reputation can have a direct impact on your professional online reputation — and vice versa.

Brand reputations

Learning how to manage your brand’s online reputation effectively is a must in the digital age. A brand reputation is what people think of your business, product or service and is built through good and bad customer interactions.

Your brand reputation is affected when a customer leaves a review, posts on social media or even mentions your brand online.

While a brand's online reputation is similar to personal and professional online reputations, there are differences. Your brand's online reputation:

  • Is about your business, product or service — not you.
  • Can directly impact your bottom line.
  • Often signifies trustworthiness to customers.

While a personal and professional online reputation are both important, a good brand reputation is equally essential.

The importance of a professional reputation

The internet has become an inevitable part of life. It's an excellent resource for finding information, communicating with others and even conducting business. But it can also be a minefield when managing your reputation. For example, in 2020, 87% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses before making a purchase.

Without a professional online reputation, you could be missing out on opportunities for advancement in your career or open jobs that are a perfect match for your skill set. Additionally, online reviews can impact your business's bottom line — one study found that a one-star increase on Yelp could mean a 5 to 9% increase in revenue

Therefore, it's best to expand your professional online reputation; for example, you could create a successful affiliate marketing program for your business to attract new customers and create content that promotes your products or services.

How to repair a damaged online reputation

If you've made a mistake online, the first step is to take responsibility for your actions. This means owning up to what you did, apologizing and making amends. Of course, you can't erase your mistakes, but you can work to improve your online reputation by being proactive about it, such as:

  • Focusing on the present and future: Don't dwell on your past mistakes, focus on making things right in the present and being mindful of your online interactions in the future.
  • Creating new content: Once you've taken responsibility for your actions and apologized, start creating new content that paints you in a positive light. This could be blog posts, articles or even social media posts that show your expertise and highlight your attributes.
  • Engaging with others online: Seek out conversations related to your industry and get involved. Showcase your knowledge and be a positive voice in online communities.

Likewise, there are several tools and resources available to help you manage your online reputation, such as:

  • Google Alerts — This free tool allows you to track your name's or brand's online mentions.
  • Mention — This free online tool is similar to Google Alerts, but it allows you to track online mentions of your name or brand across various social media platforms.
  • BrandYourself — A paid online reputation management tool that offers a variety of services to help you improve and monitor your online presence.

Many online reputation management (ORM) services can also help you monitor and improve your reputation. These services can be costly, but may be worth the investment.

You may have legal options if you believe your online reputation has been damaged on purpose based on false information. For example, if you've been the victim of defamation, you may be able to sue for damages. However, these cases can be complex and expensive, so it's important to speak with an attorney before taking legal action.

How to protect an online reputation

Protecting your peace and reputation is a full-time job, but there are things you can do to minimize the risk of reputation damage.

  • Be thoughtful about what you post online: Once something is online, it's there forever. Think twice before posting anything that could be construed as negative or unprofessional.
  • Regularly Google yourself: By Googling your name regularly, you can stay on top of what's being said about you and take quick action if necessary.
  • Monitor your social media accounts: Be sure to set your privacy settings as high as possible on all social media platforms, and be careful about who you friend or follow.
  • Be wary of account security and fraud claims: Be sure to choose strong passwords for all your online accounts, and look for signs of fraud or identity theft.

Moreover, it's essential to look for the warning signs of a negative reputation. These can include:

  • A decrease in business.
  • An increase in negative mentions.
  • Less engagement on your social media accounts.
  • More unsubscribes from your email list.

If you see any of these red flags, take action immediately to mitigate the damage and protect your small business's good name.

By taking steps to improve and protect your online presence, you can safeguard your reputation both now and in the future.