A crisp new button-down. A sharp-looking haircut. A plate of home-baked cookies.
If you're meeting your significant other's family for the first time this holiday season, those gestures could certainly win you points when you arrive at their doorstep.
But if your would-be in-laws have already Googled your name, they may already have a very different first impression, formed from the digital dirt about you scattered across the Internet.
Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Yelp and countless other websites and blogs, it's not just potential employers who can form opinions about you armed with only your name.
Your boyfriend's parents, your girlfriend's siblings, any one of your potential spouse's relatives can hit the Internet to dig up information about you. And, experts say, you should assume that they do.
"You no longer make the first impression when you walk in the front door. Your first impression is preceding you," said Michael Fertik, CEO of the online reputation management service ReputationDefender. "Certainly the siblings, if not the parents, are going to know a lot about you online… They'll dress you in their minds based on what they see on the Internet."
Julene Newlin, a 28-year-old from Denver, said her boyfriend Nicholas will meet her family for the first time this Christmas. But Newlin's family already knows plenty about him, thanks to what she's told them -- and some independent online sleuthing.
"My dad researched him on the Internet and he didn't tell me, until he came to me saying, 'Hey, did you know that Nicholas holds the school track record at his college for the 10,000 meter race?,'" she said.
Newlin said she was surprised, but not disappointed.
"What comes up on the Internet are his racing scores from running. That's not something I necessarily talked to them about because it's from his past and not something you would necessarily know about him." she said. "My parents were impressed."
But digital first impressions aren't always so positive. If you're about to meet your significant other's family (or plan to bring someone home to meet yours), online reputation and etiquette experts have some tips for you. Click on to the next page to check them out.
1. Do a vanity search.
First things first: Whether you like it or not, you are Google-able.
So look to see what others can learn about you online.
Look at yourself through a potential in-law's eyes and leave no stone unturned. Twitter posts, pictures on Flickr, blog posts from years ago, Facebook commentary from a particularly public friend – these all might have been funny once upon a time. Make sure that the most visible information about you online reflects the way you want to be seen in the present.
"If you don't control your virtual real estate… like the top 10-12 results, you're leaving yourself open to interpretation," said Fertik.
2. Beware of sibling due diligence.
For younger members of the family, Facebook is likely to be second nature. So be prepared to be be friended.
"Younger siblings are going to be very likely to friend you to find out who you are," said Fertik. "It's part of their sibling due diligence, so to speak."
But it's not just the comments you write on your wall or the pictures you post that leave an impression, he said, it's also the way other people interact with you.