Reputation.com CEO Fertik on How to Protect Your Online Reputation

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Most rational people would not level an unprovoked insult to another's face. But online it is very easy to type harsh or mean words without realizing that they are affecting a real person. It's like "road rage" -- people do things online they would never do face-to-face.

There are also thoughtless actions that start without an intended victim but end up hurting people just as much as intentional attacks do. For example, Dayna Kempson and Nikki Catsouras were both young victims of separate car accidents. In both cases horrific images of their bodies in the wreckage were sent around the Internet, sometimes as a prank, other times out of morbid curiosity. Once the images had gone viral. Mean-spirited and insensitive users worldwide began making comments about the victims' families, and some even sent the images to the victims' parents.

What are some of the most common mistakes people make online that can hurt their reputation? People assume that because they live a decent life, they have nothing to worry about online. This is just plain false. Anyone can wake up to find that search engines are highlighting inaccurate or misleading information about them, and anyone can be the victim of an attack from anywhere in the world.

Consider collateral reputation damage: Even if your name is spotless, you can still be associated with the negative content regarding a friend or colleague. Your pristine online image may be destroyed for you when a friend or acquaintance posts indiscreet photos from your trip to Las Vegas, or when your name gets dragged into a lawsuit about the company you work for. You may even make headlines you receive unsolicited pictures from a scantily clad politician (read: Weinergate). The list of ways to have your reputation distorted or destroyed by others is never-ending, the possibilities are infinite and unimaginable.

Another big mistake is going into "ignore mode." If a friend brought up your college police record at a dinner party or a colleague referenced your divorce filing at the water cooler, surely you'd respond. But on the web, we often resign ourselves to powerlessness. We assume we have no options for control. Although it's not a good idea to get involved in an online conversation regarding negative or unwelcome content, that doesn't mean you're without recourse. I encourage people to be proactive. Stay informed about how you appear online by setting up a ReputationAlert, a free service that notifies you every time your name is referenced online. Think of it as Google Alerts on steroids. And if there's content about you that's unflattering or inaccurate, know that you have options. You can't control this content on your own, but you can turn to online reputation management professionals such as Reputation.com for help.

What are your top three tips for maintaining a positive online presence? 1. Claim your name on as many websites as possible, including professional and social networking sites. Sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter offer custom URLs and often appear very high in search results. Reserving your name will make it easier for you to establish your own identity, and make it more difficult for others to impersonate you. Make sure you use your full name or real business name; being known as "Writergurl26" does not help establish meaningful search results associated with your name.

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