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What Your Online Identity May Be Costing You

I have a confession. I Google myself. Not just every now and then, but at least once a week. This isn’t because I’m vain, or I’m fearful I might find a distasteful photo I don’t remember being taken. I “self Google” simply because I want to know what my potential and current clients may be reading about me or what I’ve written.

You’ve probably heard the horror stories of employers googling potential employees and who knows how many don’t get hired because of what they find. I was in a position to hire a team of web designers a few years back, and you guessed it, I googled them. What I found on their MySpace pages and in other forums was so repulsive they were never called for another interview. Our private lives are no longer private if we are active on the internet.

My current situation is a perfect example. The point of this post is to give a firsthand experience of dealing with your online identity and benig fully aware. I want to share the various points of my career and some decisions I probably regreat now. I’m a full-time freelance writer working strictly on the web now, so I have a lot of articles and posts with my byline attached to them floating around out there in the virtual world and depending on the Google algorithms of the moment who knows what might float to the top. When I started writing back in 2000, I pretty much took any job that paid sans anything inappropriate. I wrote mostly career articles for high school and college students for a few years, some of them are still showing up in Google after all of this time.

Of course my writing has improved considerably over the years, so these don’t exactly reflect my current skills and abilities. I wrote for every content mill out there while building a base of steady well-paying clientele. I even wrote as a celebrity reporter for a while, and yep, all of my content is under my real byline and not my proudest moment by far. I couldn’t care less about celebrity gossip or what JLo wore to the Grammys, but you would think so while I was covering it. So I have to wonder how many potential clients I’ve lost because of my breadcrumb trail of bad writing choices on the Web.

Then there was my one and only forum post where I stood up for one of the companies I was writing for at the time. Supposedly, an undercover vigilante was on the hunt to spread smut about any company they deemed to be a “content mill” (a company who pays writers very low pay for big word count articles.) I simply said I enjoyed writing for this business and that I felt they were fair. The pay was low but, I was able to turn out a lot of work quickly so I wrote over hundreds of articles for them in about 2 months and made a decent wage. The “ladies” on this forum jumped me and it wasn’t pretty, but I stood up for the company bowed out gracefully. But as luck would have it this forum post has been showing up page 1 on Google under my name for weeks now. It can’t possibly do a thing for getting quality new clients, especially if they think I work for peanuts.

Social media sites are notoriously the worst for creating a trail of bad web press for users. Blogs, Twitter and Facebook posts are getting employees fired left and right. Just Google it and you’ll read story after story of someone who griped about their boss or job and got the pink slip.

According to a study by Proofpoint, the internet security firm, out of companies with 1,000 or more employees, 17% have reported having issues with an employee’s social media misdeeds and 8% have actually fired someone for their activity on sites like Facebook and MySpace.

So I’ve learned my lesson and only write what I feel will reflect well on me down the road. Also, just remember big brother and sister are watching, and so keep anything that might be misconstrued as inappropriate or unprofessional offline if you want to keep your online identity worthy of your professional stature.

Do you have any online identity stories? Any thoughts on the best way to handle this best to avoid future issues? I’d love to hear your feedback.


Money Beagle August 3, 2010 at 11:48 am

I agree, I tend to Google my name and even screen names that I’ve used from time to time, just to see what’s out there. So far, I’ve never found anything damaging but it’s good to have that assurance.

Jesse August 3, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Ill admit – in my ‘real’ job in the software industry, every time I have a potential hire I check for them on every social networking site to see if I can find them and what they are about. I think a lot of people do not realize that anymore there simply is no hard line of separation between ‘personal’ and ‘professional’

Chihuahua Chatter August 4, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Since our online identity and “brand” can affect us for the positive or negative, I have Google Alerts set up for my name and social network nicknames etc, to arrive in my inbox “as it happens” so I can stay on top of any mentions of me or my blogs etc. So far nothing untoward has come up but you never know when someone may mention you or your blog(s) in a negative way.

Ana August 4, 2010 at 1:09 pm

I’m glad you wrote about this. I always Google my name to see where my name is being used. You make a good point by saying to keep track of where your name appears. The key is to make sure you create a clean online trail, that way when potential employers look up your name all they see are great credentials. This is especially important for those starting out, like students. Your online fingerprint will stay with you for many years so make sure the prints you leave behind speak well of you.

ross April 20, 2011 at 2:07 pm

it is pretty embarrassing when i come across some of the things that i wrote 10 years ago, but i think it’s going to get worse. There is a digital record of just about everything you do, and it’s permanent. There’s a whole business sprouting up around this called reputation management. These companies try to flood the google search that has negative information about you, with info or sites that you control. They actually get paid pretty well to do this.

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