Don’t Do What I Did: The Abbreviated Guide to Online Reputation Management

Since my post on transparency and authenticity for Mark Shaefer’s blog {grow} went up three months ago, I’ve received several emails from individuals who have either gone through what I did, or have had their reputations threatened with ruin.  Most of us have heard horror stories of a Google or Facebook search losing someone a prized position.  The bad guys out there know this, know that reputations and online identities are powerful and capitalize on that.

When I’m asked what advice I have to give, I usually begin the same way: Don’t do what I did.

I got scared, I felt alone, I felt a deep loss of identity and instead of standing my ground I hid.  This did the trick in the short-term, but in the long-term has caused significant problems.  I cannot be clearer on this: Do not do what I did.

Don’t Be Naive
The person who created fake profiles in my name online warned me ahead of time that they were going to “ruin” and “destroy” me.  I was naïve.  I thought, “how could they ruin me?  I haven’t done anything wrong, there’s nothing that I’m ashamed of.  What’s the worst they could do?”  I forgot they could lie.  Don’t assume that because you haven’t done anything wrong, that a threat like that shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Have A Plan
Every professional should have an online crisis communication plan.  I didn’t.  In the time it took between the threat and the first appearance of a fake profile, I didn’t create a crisis communication plan, because I didn’t think I had anything to worry about.  See: Don’t be naïve.
I don’t mean a crisis communication plan that exists in your head; I mean a full, written-out, researched, online crisis communication plan.  I have one now for a variety of different scenarios.  You will not only feel better once this is in place, but should you need it, you know how to enact it.

Be Your Own Advocate
I was raised not to question authority figures.  When the police told me there was nothing that could be done, I trusted them.  What I didn’t know then, is that there are laws in both Canada and the US that were in place at the time that not only would have removed the content immediately, but also would have allowed for the federal prosecution of the person who impersonated me.

What I’ve since found out is that police don’t like these types of cases.  They’re messy, they take a long time to close, require an extraordinary amount of investigation that’s technical in nature and often in the end they can’t lay charges.  More often than not, because the legislation is so new, they just don’t know that the laws are on the books.

If you aren’t being helped by the authorities, do some digging.

In Canada:

In the U.S.:

Be Transparent
I didn’t know how to respond when I was attacked.  The allegations made against me were fully false and hurtful, and I thought any response would seem like an acknowledgement that the allegations were true, and that was the last thing I wanted.  So, quietly, and without telling all but a few of my followers, I closed down my blog, my Flickr account, and Twitter account, removed my full name from my Facebook profile and locked down my LinkedIn Profile.

In hindsight, this was one of the worst things I could have done.  While it made the attacks stop for a while, there was no explanation from me, no one knew “my side” and I lost the followers I had built over several years.

I learned a lot from being impersonated online.  It was new territory in 2009 and I fumbled my way through it, perhaps not in the best way possible.  In the words of someone who also learned their internet lessons the hard way: BE YE NOT SO STUPID

Has something like this happened to you?  How did you deal with it?  What do you think you did right?  What do you think you did wrong?</span></strong></h3>

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s