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March 01, 2010

The truth is, online reputation management has been important for some time. But it’s really in the last year that people have caught on to how truly crucial it is to landing and keeping a good job, and to keeping a brand untarnished. In 2009 a wide range of new applications appeared to better assist people in managing their online reputation – not coincidentally, 2009 was also the year that the social networking platform went truly mainstream. While in 2008 these platforms were still to some extent the province of the highly tech-literate, by 2009 it had become virtually unheard of for people not to have an account at least on Facebook, and sites like Twitter also became pervasive parts of the business world.

Even before this sea change, however, online reputation management was already critical. In 2007 the Ponemon Institute performed a comprehensive survey of businesses, and discovered that more than half of the businesses polled used the internet to screen potential employees. A similar study reported a third of all businesses used a basic web search to see what information came up first on applicants. These numbers have continued to grow. 

At the same time technologies like Twitter and Facebook continue to encourage people to share more and more information about themselves. While these technologies offer some great opportunities for online reputation management, they also have the danger of allowing people to share information that would not be appropriate for a potential or current employer to discover. Uploading pictures of a wild night, posting angry missives about a past employer, or demonstrating undesirable viewpoints in a blog post might all seem perfectly reasonable in the moment, but in the long run they can damage career prospects, and even result in a lost job.

There is a growing awareness that what is said on the internet does not, in fact, stay on the internet. There is a dawning understanding that things posted are permanent, and can be found by anyone. These realizations have provoked the need for some way to deal with lapses in judgment, the innocence of youth, or simply changing desires and expectations. If things cannot be easily removed or shut off from a public search, some alternative measure is needed to minimize the chances that someone important will stumble upon them, or discover them while searching.

Online reputation management attempts to solve the problem using the tools at hand. By maximizing the visibility of positive materials, either pre-existing or contrived for this sole purpose, less desirable material is buried deep in search results, far beyond where most employers will ever look. It is a simple and elegant solution, and one that is becoming more and more necessary as more employers turn to Google and other search engines to vet candidates.

So while the need for such tools certainly existed prior to 2009, the understanding was not yet fully there. 2009 was less the year online reputation management was discovered, and more the year most people caught on to how critical it is to securing a good job, and maintaining positive reviews at an existing job.

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