As a working professional, you know the social media rules – at least, I hope you do. No incriminating content: that means no photos of you partying hard and certainly no bashing current or former workplaces and bosses. Almost everyone who’s smart and ambitious understands these standards and keeps their social presence relatively clean.
At the same time, the Internet has a way of surprising us with content we never expected anyone to see. A college political paper defending a controversial position. Photos from a wild beach vacation with friends. An old online dating profile we forgot about. We might even find ourselves named in an unflattering article by a former employee.
In a world where everyone from clients to HR departments to rivals to new bosses will be Googling you, maintaining an intelligent and non-offensive digital presence is critical – and when you’re part of a global team, the stakes get even higher. I can guarantee that because they’re not working side by side with you every day, your remote colleagues will research you online. The higher up the ladder you go, the truer this becomes. People want an inside look at anyone influential in their career. Who can blame them?
And that introduces a whole new set of criteria when evaluating your digital presence. Take a second look at your LinkedIn photo. Maybe it’s appropriate for American businesses, but won’t pass muster in that other culture you’ll be working in. Your wish list on Pinterest – does it send any particular kind of message? How about your photos on Instagram?
Remember, interpreting cultural nuances correctly is the key to successful global business. Your digital footprint must be viewed through a cross-cultural lens, not just an American one. And while you might consider your personal Facebook and Twitter accounts private, think otherwise. If they can be linked to your working name, they will be found, shared and judged by other employees and professional contacts.
Building a good global reputation
There are four best practices for maintaining a globally positive online reputation: clean up, cultivate, create and monitor.
1. Clean-up: Start by cleaning house. Search under your name – maiden and married – and look for any embarrassing photos or written content. Maybe a blog you started under a pseudonym is linked to your real name in the WHOIS database. If you find something ugly or mortifying, go ahead and ask the site managers to take it down. Sometimes this is simple; sometimes you’ll need to be persistent. If for whatever reason you have a trail of not-work-friendly content out there linked to your name, you may want to invest in a professional service that cleans up profiles for a fee.
2. Cultivate: Once you’ve scrubbed your digital image, it’s time to cultivate your personal brand as you’d like industry influencers and global coworkers to perceive it. Do you want to be seen as active and friendly or distant and cool on social platforms? Are you quietly confident or bold and challenging? The idea is to decide how you can portray your best professional self across cultures, rather than posting willy-nilly content that may send a false impression.
3. Create: Next up: creating the content for that presence. This shouldn’t be a fabricated performance – it’s about being authentic and appropriate in all eyes. It’s also a golden opportunity to bury negative online content about you. Write articles and op-eds, take lots of work-safe photos and get active in community events. One quick trick for burying old search results: commenting under your real name on extremely popular blogs and web sites. It’s all about search rank. Take a look at your internal company profile too, and assess how you come across. Can you contribute to a company blog? Is there an internal social network where you can build an appealing profile?
4. Monitor: Finally, you’ll want to monitor your footprint. Establish a Google alert in your name. If your profile is especially visible, sign up with a social media hub service that tracks conversations across multiple platforms. Again, pursue the removal of content when you can, but if you can’t, take any opportunity to respond thoughtfully.
So there you have it: the roadmap to a good online reputation. I know the temptation to stick your head in the sand might be strong, but it’s always better to address what’s out there rather than be the last to find out about it. Take a proactive approach and you’ll avoid any embarrassing surprises – and you’ll build an impressive digital presence that can be a fantastic asset in your global career.