With Web 2.0, You Can Run, But You Can't Hide: Tools and Resources for Managing Your Online Reputation

In a few weeks I'll be doing a presentation on social media and public relations for the Philadelphia Black Public Relations Society, so this video via Escape from Cubicle Nation is very timely. It's from  Gary Vaynerchuck who argues that in the transparent world of Web 2.0 it will be impossible to have multiple identities. "You are who you are online," he says. No more can you be "one person for the chicks" and another person for your business associates. His conclusion? The "forces of good" can now win, because the best people will rise to the top, their actions and quality of work apparent to all.

That's a really powerful idea for both organizations and individuals. It's also a dangerous one if you aren't  careful. You have to be on top of your game because if you aren't, then people will know it. You have to keep learning, because if you don't, your outdated skills will show. That's not to say that you can't screw up, but if you do, then you won't be able to hide. It will be out there for people to see, so  you'll have to acknowledge and deal with what you've done. How you address mistakes will then become part of that public record too.

Monitoring and managing your online reputation becomes a critical success skill for both individuals and organizations in a global trust economy. In case you don't believe it, check out this survey. And don't forget The Transparent CEO.  So how do you do this? Below are some resources to get you started.

Tools and Resources for Monitoring and Managing Your Online Reputation

I'd love to hear from you about your favorite reputation resources and your thoughts on Gary's assertion that you can't have multiple personas in a Web 2.0 world.

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In a Walled Garden

Garden_wall As part of my Typepad account, I can see referring links to my blog as they happen. If it's a link I don't recognize, I'll often click through to see in what context a post is being referenced and to (hopefully) find someone new to add to my network.

Periodically though I'll click on a link, only to find that to get to the referring site, I must enter a password. In others words, my content--which I make freely available--is now in someone else's walled garden where I can't see how it's being used, what's being said, etc. What really bugs me about this though isn't so much that my work is being shared somewhere. It's that it's not being shared in the same open, transparent manner that I've established as a policy on my own blog. Maybe I'm just being crabby, but it seems to me that the only one who should have the right to put my content into a walled garden is me.

Part of this is my fault. I hadn't updated my Creative Commons license to include the Share-Alike clause, something I've now remedied. But 1) I wonder if everyone really pays attention to CC licenses anyway and 2) it's not entirely clear to me that the Share-Alike clause is saying to someone "you can only use this information in an open environment, not behind your organization's firewall." I would guess that it doesn't.

So I'm back to my original point, which is to say that it bugs me to have my work in someone else's house where I can't see it. I guess that's what happens, though, when you put your stuff out into the world. You can't really control where it goes or what happens with it when it's gone. Kind of like your kids.

What do you think about this? Do you care if your blog posts end up behind someone else's firewall or are you OK with that if it happens? And what about that Share-Alike clause? Do you think it implies you must share in an open format?

Photo by yuan2003

Is An Online Identity Necessary and What Should You Do to Maintain It?


In the past few weeks I've been thinking/writing about online identity. A few days ago, I posted on transparency and an excellent article in WIRED magazine on The See-Through CEO. In comments on that post, Christy Tucker shared an experience she had in a networking forum recently that I think deserves further discussion. She said:

I quoted both you and the Wired article in a discussion in an online networking group I'm in, and got some fairly nasty responses from the moderator. The moderator mentioned how she's advising college students doing job searches to not just clean up their Facebook profiles but to delete discussion board posts and contact Google to remove cached copies of unflattering content. I'd previously posted about the Wayback Machine and the fact that even if you can have something removed from the Google cache, it's potentially still out there somewhere. Besides the fact that I think trying to remove all unflattering content is a losing battle, I don't think it's really the right way to go. So you made mistakes--you're human. If you have enough good out there, the good outweighs the bad. It also gives people a chance to see you as a whole, complex person.

I was frankly shocked by the negative response, especially from someone who's all about online networking. Besides saying I was dogmatic for disagreeing with her approach, she argued that no one has an obligation to have an online identity. She says transparency is just a "goofy" philosophy based on "no data, but an ethereal presumption that people will like you more if they know more of your foibles -- and certainly no application of those free-floating impressions to the very specific and often brutal world of job-search." I think she really believes that transparency hurts people's chances in business.

Christy's question to me was have I experienced anything like this level of negativity and what do I make of it?

What I'm thinking is that it opens up a large and interesting can of worms. I see two issues here:

Do you have an obligation to have an online identity?

To what lengths should you go to maintain that identity? How transparent should you really be?

I think the answers to these questions may differ depending on whether you're talking about individuals or organizations. For example, I think organizations, particularly nonprofits, do have an obligation to be online as part of being visible in the community.

Individuals, on the other hand, may not have an obligation to be online, but I do think that, as Christy points out, they should seriously consider the overall benefit of having an online identity. It's the first place many employers are going and in Christy's organization they've discussed having a preference for applicants who blog. How quickly might that start to happen in other organizations?

The issue of transparency is also different for individuals vs. organizations. Again, I think that organizations do have the obligation to be as transparent as possible. It's the way to build trust and loyalty with your various constituents and is increasingly becoming the way a lot of places are doing business. In the case of nonprofits, I think that it's particularly important as part of the stewardship of donor and grant dollars coming into your organization.

For individuals, I think the issue is a difference between personal and professional transparency. I think it's very good to have an online professional presence in which you are authentic and present yourself as a multi-faceted human with strengths and weaknesses. I don't think it's a good idea to post on how wasted you were last weekend.

So getting back to Christy's example, it makes sense to be cleaning up your Facebook profile if all that you have are references to all the partying you're doing. But should you be trying to erase all digital traces of yourself as the woman in Christy's story seems to be suggesting?

There's a lot to digest here--I'd be curious to get your ideas on the issue:

  • Should we be crafting an online identity? Is it necessary? Do we have obligations to do it?
  • What should we do to maintain that identity?
  • Are our responsibilities different depending on whether or not we're talking about an individual vs. an organization?
  • What, exactly, should we be sharing and what should we be keeping to ourselves?
  • Does transparency hurt or help us?

BTW--the graphic is from a flickr photo I found by Marc Fonteijn and I think it's a kind of interesting way to consider our identities with the core and then the add-ons. Makes you realize that it becomes increasingly difficult to have any kind of on-line interaction without somehow revealing yourself. Are we really thinking that it would be better to have a nation of lurkers instead of people who are creating? 

Let's Get Naked

Wired_cover Like Christine Martell I've clearly let my magazine reading fall by the wayside more than I realized, because the article I'm about to reference was published in April 2007, which in Internet time might as well be April 1997. At any rate. . .

Last week I finally got to read Wired Magazine's The See Through CEO, which is a must-read for everyone. Some choice quotes:

Google is not a search engine. It's a reputation management system. . . Online your rep is quantifiable, findable and totally unavoidable.

A single Google search determines more about how you're perceived than a multi-million dollar ad campaign.

Being transparent, opening up, posting interesting materials frequently and often is the only way to amass positive links to yourself and thus to directly influence your Google reputation.

The reputation economy creates an incentive to be MORE open, not less. Since Internet commentary is inescapable, the only way to influence it is to be part of it.

The entire premise of the article is that 1) your reputation is made and broken by your Google search rank and results and 2) the only ways to positively influence your results are to use social media (like blogs) to be as transparent and authentic as you can be--radical transparency as the order of the day.

What does it meant to be radically transparent?

  • Opening up the inner workings of your organization for other people to see. That means blogging about the goings on in your organization, allowing people to comment on what they've experienced, letting staff have a voice and putting leaders out in front, instead of behind the front-lines.
  • Publicly acknowledging when you screw up--and having a sense of humor about it.
  • Being willing to honestly share bad news without sugar-coating it or trying to spin it a certain way.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about online identity and it seems to me that a big part of it has to be about transparency. Some people think they can escape the need for transparency by escaping being online, but which is worse--having someone see you and know that you have some flaws or being invisible? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Transparent_2I know that it's really hard to be this transparent. It's scary--what happens when they find out you've screwed up? Or if you show them that the process of doing what you do is really messy? But the thing is, someone will inevitably discover it anyway, so it's better for you to put the story out there first and to admit where you went wrong or that you aren't perfect than it is for you to pretend like everything is always great. Then you control the message. You control how the situation is perceived and handled.

One of the great advantages to this kind of transparency is that people like you more. They see you as human. They want to help, to provide you with their advice and good ideas and support. It's crowdsourcing at it's best. I think it's because we relate more to people who share their vulnerabilities, rather than to those who pretend they always have their act together.

I think we learn more from transparency, too. One of the things I find is that when I'm trying to hide things from other people, I'm often trying to hide them from myself, too. If I don't want others to know my process, then I'm also not thinking very much about it. A policy of transparency helps me become transparent to myself, too--I'm more willing to take a hard look at what I do and how I do it because I'm trying to make it comprehensible to others. In that process I help both myself and other people. It improves my learning.

So here's the question--do you and/or your organization have the courage to get naked? The rewards are rich, but it can also be a pretty painful process, especially when you first start to expose yourself.

Transparent photo via raindog.

Want to Comment on What People Are Writing About You? Google News Can Help

Gossip You know when you read a news story about you or your organization and it looks like they REALLY blew it? Maybe you were misquoted or quoted out of context. Or maybe they didn't tell the whole story. To this point, you've had little recourse other than letters to the Editor, which may not be particularly helpful, especially when they appear at a later date on an entirely different page.

Now, at least, you'll be able to do something about Google News stories. Via Lucy Bernholz, Google has recently announced a new experimental feature (only in the US for now) that may give you and your organization a chance to fight back:

We'll be trying out a mechanism for publishing comments from a special subset of readers: those people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question. Our long-term vision is that any participant will be able to send in their comments, and we'll show them next to the articles about the story. Comments will be published in full, without any edits, but marked as "comments" so readers know it's the individual's perspective, rather than part of a journalist's report.

Should be interesting to see how it goes. Seems like with a combo of Google Alerts and this feature, you might be getting a little more control over your reputation on the Web.

Photo via ercwttmn on Flickr.

Blogging and Transparency Build Trust: A Case Study

Relationships between nonprofits and the public are based on trust. I'm not going to give your organization money if I don't trust you to use it well. I won't volunteer for your cause if I don't trust that you are working for it. Trust is an essential relationship ingredient and transparency--making your organizations visible to the public--is a critical component in developing trust.

I was reminded of the importance of trust and the ways in which blogging can help you build public trust this morning when I saw this this post on Live Journal (via Lee LeFever) It's from Six Apart CEO Barak Berkowitz who is addressing a screw-up they made yesterday in suspending several accounts. A few things come to mind here:

  • Having a blog gave Six Apart an already-established, up close and personal venue for addressing a community problem. Without the blog, they would have had to resort to things like press releases, etc., which place a layer of disconnection between the organization and the members of their community. If you value the relationships you have with constituents, blogging is an essential way to stay connected, particularly for those times when you need to admit you screwed up.
  • Note the title of the post--"Well, we really screwed this one up. . . " There's a very human voice here, not an institutional robot well-versed in organizational jargon. I already have a higher degree of trust in someone who is willing to be human, rather than hiding behind organization-speak.
  • Six Apart publicly admitted they made mistakes and went on to detail exactly where and how they screwed up. They don't try to hide the mistake or explain it all away. They just say, this is what happened, this is what we thought, this is where we went wrong. . .
  • And--they had their plan to fix it. This is as important as admitting they made a mistake.
  • Note the updates, admitting additional mistakes ("It seems that people are very upset that I did a phone call with cNet before posting here.  Probably a mistake but I did make it clear to them that we were still looking in to this and that I would have a better answer by the end of the day.  Sorry but it really took some time to figure out how messed up this was.") In a crisis situation, people want to know how things are evolving and, again, the blog provided a good venue for this.
  • Note also that they left the post open for comments so that the community had a voice and could be heard in the discussion. Making the post and then shutting down comments would have been a BIG mistake.

This is a textbook example of how blogging and transparency help you build ongoing relationships built on trust. Sure, some people won't be satisfied with the explanations, some people will still be critical. Nevertheless, most will generally feel better knowing that you're willing to publicly acknowledge and address your mistakes and that you're willing to listen to their thoughts on the issue.

The Digital Divide Comes Home

NOTE--I've had this post in draft form for several days, debating about whether or not to post it publicly. I've typically used my blog to share information I find or ideas I have. Only a few times has it veered into more personal realms. But lately I've also been using my blog to document my learning, to delve more deeply into my own thoughts, and to gain greater clarity about things that I've experienced and what they mean. What I'm about to share is in that vein.

In my work life, I stay on top of issues related to the digital divide. I work with organizations that serve the disadvantaged and lack of access to technology is a real issue in terms of getting equality of opportunity and developing self-sufficiency work skills. It's an issue I care deeply about and that has caused me to engage in some heated debates with several people. But for me, the digital divide has basically been something "out there." Something that happens to other people, not to me or my family. That is, until recently.

To understand what I'm about to say, you need to know some things about my personal life.

I am a white woman, remarried a few years ago to a Black man. I have two daughters from my first marriage, 19 (in college) and 15, both white. My husband has a 17 year-old son, who is Black. My 4-year relationship with my husband has given me some first-hand, inside experience with the realities of the racial and socio-economic inequities that exist in our society as I've looked at what my daughters have had in their lives vs. what my stepson experiences. Now we can add technology to the mix.

Some Context
My daughters have had the good fortune to attend upper-middle class suburban schools for the past 7 years. The median income in their community is $92,336.

My stepson attends an urban high school in a smallish city where he lives with his mother and stepfather. There, the median income is $28,637.

At Home
All of our children currently have access to personal computers and the Internet at home. However, my daughters have had it since 1995, with broadband access since 2003. From a young age, they've been on computers and online, at first with our guidance and support to show them the possibilities, and as they got older, on their own.

In contrast, my stepson did not get access to a computer with Internet until a few years ago. And when he did, it was with little support or guidance from his mom and stepfather, in large part because they've had little experience themselves. 

As a result of having such easy access to the Internet from home, my daughters are avid users of IM, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. They've both had extensive experience in uploading media to the web, using the Web for research and in using blogging software (first Livejournal, then Blogger). And both have had email for several years.

My stepson, on the other hand, just got an email account and has only begun to browse through YouTube. He does not have a MySpace or Facebook account and he doesn't use IM. The only reason he's progressed this far in using technology is because my husband and I realized in the past few months that if he wasn't getting it from us, then he wouldn't be getting it anywhere.

At School
At school, my daughters have always had access to up-to-date computers and technology is integrated into many of their class projects. They work with a librarian who has achieved a national reputation for excellence in using technology for research and content creation. Many of the tools they've learned how to use were introduced to them in their classes or by their friends, who are equally comfortable with and conversant in technology. We've had to do very little to help them with this stuff because it has become an integrated part of their educational landscape and the experiences of their peers. While they may not know all the latest tools, their prior exposure to technology has made them very comfortable with technology and put them in a good position for expanding their skills, which they do daily.

For my stepson, on the other hand, there appears to be nothing done with technology at school. We see no evidence of technology-enabled projects or  use of the Internet. Part of the reason he didn't have an email account or use IM is because his peers haven't been exposed to those things either. Social networking generally starts locally, at least for kids, who begin connecting with their friends after school online. If no one you know is doing this, then you probably won't be doing it either. And if no one is showing you what's possible and how to navigate the vast world of the Internet, then it quickly becomes overwhelming and hard to use.

What Does All This Mean?
Until a few months ago, my husband and I hadn't really paid attention to or thought about the different technology worlds in which our children lived. We obviously knew that there were economic and racial disparities that impacted our children's lives, but we hadn't thought specifically about the differences in technology use.

Like a lot of people, I think we assumed that my stepson was getting exposure to technology in school.  I'm not sure why I thought this because it's not like schools have been out in front on technology adoption, especially poorer urban schools. I guess what happened was that we just didn't pay attention. We assumed that he was getting what he needed. But then my husband started helping my stepson apply for jobs and we realized that he didn't even have an email account. As we delved deeper, we began to see the huge digital divide between my stepson and my daughters, and this in a family where we are more educated, more aware and have greater access to technology than a lot of other families.

I see some major implications in this and they've made the digital divide even more concrete and worrisome to me.Very bluntly, my girls already have tremendous advantages because they are white and they come from a higher socio-economic bracket. This gives them access to greater educational resources and in a world where "who you know" is just about everything, they already have a leg up. Now let's throw in the fact that they have much greater comfort with and exposure to the technologies that mean better-paying, higher status work in the future.  That's creating some virtually insurmountable odds.

My stepson is fortunate because his father and I have now realized the extent to which we need to very intentionally expose him to and teach him about the technologies that are available. Now that it's hit us-- like a large hammer to the skull--we can do something about this divide in our family. But what about those kids who don't have parents who know what we know? What about those families where the only way to get online is at school or the public library where your access to sites and time online is restricted? These are the kids who go to schools where they don't have books, let alone computers, so thinking that they will develop the same skills as their more fortunate peers is delusional.

I know that I'm not saying anything new here. Of course we know that there's a digital divide. News of it is everywhere.  I wanted to share what I've learned, though, because I think it adds another layer, at least for me.

This experience  shows me how insidious this divide is. If it can happen in a family where we know the divide exists, it's that much easier for it to persist in the larger world. It also shows me even more explicitly that it's not just about putting a computer in someone's home or having a lab at school. If there's no one there to model how you can use the tool, or show you about the possibilities, you've only done part of the work. If none of a kid's peers are online, technology doesn't become integrated into life in the same ways it does for kids who do have that option. Digital natives become natives because there are others to show them the way.

Access to technology isn't enough, although it's a big part of it. What we really need are people who can show those on the other side of the divide what's possible with these tools and how they can help them build a richer life. We need to recognize that it's only through ongoing coaching and exposure that people can truly become "natives." And we need to realize that the digital divide is not going to solve itself. At least that's what I've learned.

On Transparency

I read a lot of educator blogs. Most teachers and administrators who blog are thoughtful men and women with great insight and I always learn from them. Via Stephen Downes tonight comes a post from teacher Clarence Fisher on a recent experience he had with a class project:

As part of the International Teen Life project (or ITL as we are now calling it, see the trendy new logoJamie Hide of Colombia) one of the groups was working on a project about terrorism. A balanced perspective on a complex issue created by teenagers from three nations, their research was fairly in - depth and detailed. designed by

As part of the creative work surrounding this topic, one of the students from Kuala Lumpur wrote a powerful, moving piece of poetry from a terrorist's point of view. It was about a person who has given up hope, who has tried to become something with his life, but in the end, feels he has no choice except to become a suicide bomber. The students debated on the wiki regarding the appropriateness of this poem and it was decided to let it stand. My personal feeling is that it is a powerful piece written from an original viewpoint. While I don't condone the action, I think it is a valuable piece of fiction.

When the students in my class began putting their creative video together, they quickly found videos on YouTube of the World Trade Centre tragedy and wanted to use pieces of it. They also found a voice over of George Bush calling terrorists "faceless." Wanting to segue into the poem from the Trade Centre tragedy, they found a picture of Mr. Bush in front of a cloud from a nuclear explosion and placed the words "But if you look at it from their (people in oppressed nations) point of view, who really is the faceless one?"

Clarence goes on to write how he wrestled with whether or not to let his students leave in the offending picture. Ultimately he decided to have his students remove it (like Stephen, I would have left it in), but that's not the point of this story. What strikes me here is the learning that's occurring through Clarence's willingness to be transparent about the process. Transparent not only to his class (he writes on Anne Davis' blog that this sparked a great conversation with his students on censorship), but also transparent to the world of his peers. In many ways, this is harder than anything for most people.

Because of both the nature of new technologies and changing expectations, most organizations are dealing with the dilemma of whether or not to "air dirty laundry." There are questions about what to share, how to share, and when to share it. Should we let people see our moments of confusion? Should they know that although we made a decision, we're still questioning whether or not we did the right thing? If we look uncertain does this mean we're incompetent? What will they think if they see how things REALLY work?

For me, transparency is a struggle. I know that I learn more through the process of questioning. At the same time, I want to seem as though I have all the answers. Having teenagers is teaching me to let go of some of this. So does time spent on the Internet which makes it clear that I'll NEVER have all the answers. I find it helpful and refreshing, though, when someone else models what it is to show when you're uncertain. We need more of that kind of bravery in the world. And I want to acknowledge it when I see it.