How to Protect (Or Destroy) Your Reputation Online will show you how to:
How to Protect (or Destroy) Your Reputation Online is an indispensable guidebook for individuals and businesses, offering in-depth information about popular review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Angie's List. John also shows you how to deal with revenge porn, hate blogs, Google's "right to be forgotten" in Europe, the business of online complaint sites, even the covert ops of reputation management.
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The Internet as Judge, Jury, and Executioner
Sitting in a restaurant with a friend recently, I asked a simple question: How many cameras are in this place? He looked up and immediately pointed out several domes scattered around the ceiling of the restaurant. While he had successfully identified the surveillance cameras and confidently guessed that there were about 10 of them, he had fallen right into my trap.
I asked, what about the cell phone cameras of the customers and employees? He frowned as we upped the count to likely north of 50.
At that moment, if a customer were to try to sneak off with a pastry, steal someone's wallet, or go on an epic rant about the price of an extra scoop of guacamole, there were dozens of people at the ready to document it. And this is true in nearly every restaurant and retail store in the United States. Whether we like it or not, at any given moment we are either being actively watched or could be the subject of someone's cell phone video.
We know that it is easy to publish information online, but today photographic and video footage of nearly everything proliferates. This visual scrutiny will only grow. By 2017 there will be more than 200 million smartphones in the United States. (The U.S. population is around 320 million, by the way.) And the average American can be caught on a surveillance camera more than 75 times a day.
Many people have installed video cameras outside their homes, enabling them to see who's knocking on their front door, monitor their yard or driveway, and presumably deter would-be thieves. I even know a guy who has cameras inside his home. They came in handy when his former girlfriend assaulted him. It was a he-said, she-said case until video footage showed her repeatedly hitting him, not the other way around.
Law enforcement agencies have widely adopted dashboard cameras on police cars, and wearable body cameras are next. A friend of mine who happens to be a federal law enforcement agent told me that many police officers initially objected to dashboard cameras, but over time, they have provided valuable evidence that has protected officers' lives and careers. Today, he said, many officers won't go on the street in a patrol car that doesn't have a fully functioning dash cam. Wearable cameras, he believes, will likely be treated similarly and also begin to proliferate.
And what about drones? Unmanned aerial vehicles continue to grow in popularity among hobbyists and security professionals alike. In 2016, the FAA announced that drone registrations in the United States eclipsed those of regular planes. Very soon, there could be more camera-carrying drones in the skies than piloted planes. For well under $100, you can purchase a toy drone equipped with a camera that's capable of spying on your neighbors. My son had one that he used to take footage of our home from about 60 feet up before a sudden breeze and a bad sense of direction sent it sailing off into the wild blue yonder, never to be seen again. We didn't spy on the neighbors, but we could have.
Restaurants, retail stores, banks, government buildings, and even your neighbors are equipped with cameras, so if you're walking your dog, depositing your paycheck, or just grabbing a cup of coffee, there may be video evidence of it somewhere.
As many of us have seen, camera phones capture fascinating still and moving pictures every day. In its advertising, Apple brags about the quality of its iPhone cameras, and Go Pro cameras document even the most harrowing situations in high definition brilliance.
Cameras capture the good and the bad, the cop and the robber, the perpetrator and the victim. Because of this proliferation, people get photographed and filmed doing bad things: underage kids drinking beer, of-age celebs taking bong hits, and stupid people doing what they do best. Accused murderer Aaron Hernandez was filmed by his own home security cameras holding a gun both before and after the killing of Odin Lloyd. The images became evidence against him.
Now don't get me wrong; I'm not anti-technology or a privacy zealot. Widespread usage of these cameras also does tremendous good. Following the Boston Marathon bombing, federal officials were able to compile surveillance footage that showed Dzhokhar Tsarnaev dropping his homemade pressure cooker bomb among the crowd. Between the camera phone and surveillance footage, the entire bombing was catalogued with convincing accuracy. In this case, the proliferation of public cameras helped capture and convict a murderous terrorist.
A number of cultural shifts have contributed to making it so much easier for us to be seen doing something illegal, stupid, silly, or just embarrassing. First, digital cameras with high resolution can be very small. With a device that can fit in the palm of your hand — or even be embedded in your eyeglasses — you can secretly photograph or videotape someone doing something criminal or just having a bad day, like the person who loses it at the post office, cable provider, office, or restaurant (regarding the aforementioned guacamole).
Second, you can share your video or photo with the world. "Citizen journalists" can speedily upload an interesting photo or video to the web or send it to a bona fide media outlet. Many of us are guilty of paparazzi-like tendencies when we see a famous person. Friends of mine have posted images on Facebook of celebrities including Ashton Kutcher and Paul McCartney. I have to admit that if I saw a Beatle on the street, I would try to get a photo too. Lastly, we are in the middle of the era of viral marketing. Many would consider it a badge of honor for one of their photos, gifs, memes, or videos to get shared with thousands of people. So we are seeking out and even manufacturing opportunities to grab our 15 minutes of fame, even if it's at the expense of another human being.
The Internet: Where Bad News Can Stay Forever
Did you know that David Geffen lied on his first job application? The 2012 documentary Inventing David Geffen details the life of the billionaire entertainment mogul who has many legendary accomplishments, including putting the Eagles and Jackson Browne on vinyl, Cats and Dreamgirls on Broadway, and Risky Business and Interview With the Vampire on movie screens. One of the many anecdotes Geffen shares in the documentary is about his first job at the William Morris Agency in New York. He lied on his application for a mailroom position at the talent agency, stating that he had graduated from UCLA. The agency hired him and put him to work, but they did this before they had checked his credentials with UCLA. With Geffen already on the payroll, the agency sent an inquiry to UCLA via old-fashioned postal mail.
After learning that a fellow employee had been fired for lying on his application, Geffen began inspecting every piece of mail coming into William Morris. (After all, he was working in the mailroom!) When the incriminating letter from UCLA arrived, he steamed it opened and altered its contents. The rest is blockbuster history.
Today's job applicants can't use the same solution as Geffen. Employers may instantly check credentials by using Google searches, and they're looking for a lot more than proof of matriculation. I have fielded dozens of calls from individuals, both young and old, who have had problems getting jobs due to online issues.
I once heard from a dentist who had been happily leading his life. In his past there was a very small criminal offense that had long been forgotten. He chose to apply for a job with a major corporate player in the dental world, and while checking his own online profile, he found reference to the misdeed from 20 years earlier: He and a few of his fraternity brothers had been charged with smoking marijuana during a protest on the Washington Mall. The dentist feared that if his prospective employer learned of the listing, he might have lost out on the job.
An attorney was fired from a law firm job and disbarred for overbilling clients. He tried to reinvent himself as a consultant but couldn't hold a job because web listings of his problems were easily found online. As soon as he started to climb the ranks at a new company, a copy of the story of his disbarment would be slid under the door of his employer, and he'd find himself out of work. He dealt with this for more than 10 years.
A young lady reached out to me because there were some unflattering (yet thankfully not pornographic) photos of her online. Debbie was still in college and appeared to be a bit of a party girl. When you searched her name, a number of photos showed up that looked as though they were taken at night clubs. In one photo, she had her tongue out and was giving the "double bird" to the camera. In cities with active club scenes, roaming photographers move about clubs taking photos of the guests, which they later post online. If the club-goer wants to memorialize their night out, they can purchase a picture. In most cases, the photos are posted without names or other identification. So, if you were out last Friday night at Club XYZ, you can visit the photography website and see if you like the photos. If you don't like them, your eyes are shut, or you just don't want to pay for a picture of yourself, you don't buy them.
For the young lady, it turned out that one of the photographers knew her and had tagged her name to one of the photos. That's all it took. Google did the rest. Photo identification technology may have contributed to it, and so may have Google's love of images in search results.
Regardless, on page one of her search results, an image appeared of the young lady flipping both middle fingers. Fast-forward a year or two, and she was preparing to apply for summer internships. It was not a good situation. I urged her to contact the photography company and to be relentless about it. Eventually the photo came down.
You Will Be Googled
If you're applying for a job, it's best to assume that prospective employers will be checking you out online. You will be Googled. I've seen statistics stating that up to 90 percent of employers research applicants online, and they don't stop with Google. A CareerBuilder study in 2014 found that more than 40 percent of employers review applicants' social media accounts, and more than half found information that caused them not to hire an applicant.
Here's a sample of what recruiters most commonly find on social media that knocks a prospective employee out of contention:
* provocative or inappropriate photographs or information
* information about them drinking or using drugs
* posts that bad-mouth previous employers or coworkers
* posts displaying poor communication skills
* discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion, etc.
* lies about qualifications
* unprofessional screen names
I spoke with a friend who runs a successful executive search firm. He told me that negative online information can remove a candidate from contention for jobs at the highest levels. He said that when you see that type of information online, "sometimes you just have to punt" and move on to the next applicant.
Anyone in the workforce who wants to have a long and successful career needs to look good online. We can't all be David Geffen and be worth nearly $7 billion, but we can start at the bottom and work our way up — as long as we can get that first opportunity.
One day, Susan, a client of my public relations firm, called in a panic. One of Susan's college-aged children was peripherally involved with a crisis at her university. A group of students had been accused of some overly raucous behavior at a school-related event, and it eventually received national media attention. The allegations, later proved largely false, had drawn the ire of the university as well a number of opinion leaders and commentators. It had potential to get completely out of control.
Susan and some of the other parents were wondering if it would be beneficial to engage a public relations expert. They had many questions. Should they reach out to the media? How might their kids be perceived?
Before we dug into the details of the incident, I told Susan that the very first thing that needed to be done was to ensure that the students did not say anything about the incident that might end up online. I cautioned her: Don't post anything about it on Facebook, don't tweet about it, and absolutely do not speak to anyone from the media. I told Susan that the most important thing was to guarantee that her child's name was in no way associated online with this situation. She needed to keep her kid's name shielded from this crisis so that the student would not be associated with it in any way — pro, con, or indifferent. This crisis, I counseled, would eventually pass, but an online connection to it could last forever.
Because the internet is now king, we're in a whole new world of crisis management.
More and more situations arise where people are literally in the wrong place at the wrong time and end up crucified online. They find themselves with a massive problem that they are in no position to solve.
Here's another example. I spoke with a young man who, while in college, worked as an assistant manager for one of the university's shops. While Charles worked there, the full-time head of the shop passed away unexpectedly. A subsequent audit found that money was missing, and the police were called to investigate the embezzlement.
As part of the investigation, they questioned Charles. It's important to note that he was questioned, not arrested. He complied with the police and even turned over his laptop for their review. After they checked him out, the cops determined he had no connection to the missing money, and he was completely cleared.
Meanwhile, the university newspaper wrote a story about the embezzlement and mentioned that Charles had been questioned by police. Fast-forward a couple of years. Charles had graduated and was trying to get a job, but he couldn't even get an interview.
Here's the problem: When you searched for his name, the online version of the story appeared on the first page of the search engine results. Charles was in finance, and whenever he applied for a job, he was researched online and prospective employers saw his name associated with an embezzlement case. Charles was screwed.
If you were a human resources manager, would you give him a fair shake? All things being equal among candidates, which applicant would be more likely to get an interview: an applicant with a spotless reputation or one who had been questioned about embezzlement? What if you had to quickly screen dozens of candidates? When left unchecked, the internet can be the judge, jury, and executioner of your reputation.
The important thing to understand is that yesterday's public relations strategies aren't sufficient to combat the damage done by the internet. Charles had a crisis of perception on his hands, and it was nothing like any of the classic case studies covered in a public relations course syllabus. Perhaps the most significant characteristic of online negativity is that it can be viewed by anyone forever. It doesn't fade away.
When we encounter a crisis, we need to quickly determine what the online legacy will be and then develop a strategy to prevent negative coverage from the onset. Understanding that something stated online (whether true or not) can be damning for years to come is absolutely critical.
Negative online articles and stories can be mitigated and, in some instances, completely removed, but this process is expensive when done after the fact and not always possible. The big takeaway is that if you are associated with something negative, either directly, indirectly, or just by accident, the online reporting of it can affect you for years to come. The problem must be managed as quickly and aggressively as possible.
The Tweet Heard 'Round the World
Late during the evening of December 20, 2013, I took a peek at my Twitter feed and noticed that a marketing guy whom I follow named Peter Shankman was pleading for some internet sanity regarding a woman named Justine Sacco. The woman in question was at that moment comfortably seated on an 11-hour flight from London to Cape Town, South Africa. Even as her plane was in the air, all of Twitterdom was exploding. Peter said in his tweet, "Yes,[Sacco's] tweet was awful. But she's landing to death threats. Come on, Twitter, let's be better than that."
Intrigued, I typed her name into the search bar and began decoding what was happening. Sacco had indeed written an awful tweet. The exact words were "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white." She had apparently written it just before leaving on her flight from London to South Africa. As the plane cruised at 30,000 feet, Sacco had no idea of the firestorm her tweet had created. Many on Twitter were rightly offended and started to attack her online while she was still mid-flight. Her employer disavowed her before her plane touched down. It's quite possible that Sacco, who was indeed fired from her job as corporate public relations pro, was sacked in mid-air, and hundreds of thousands of people knew about it before she did. Talk about a collision of old world technology and new world communications.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "How To Protect (or Destroy) Your Reputation Online"
Copyright © 2017 John P. David.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Internet as Judge, Jury, and Executioner 21
Chapter 2 Preventing and Addressing Online Problems 51
Chapter 3 Policies and Tools for Businesses 95
Chapter 4 Understand and Manage Online Review Sites 135
Chapter 5 Build Your Reputation with Ongoing Marketing Activities 181
Conclusion: The Ever-Changing World of ORM 207
About the Author 224