Archive for June, 2008

Reading about something vs. actually doing it – it’s the curse of social media. People love to talk about it, but sometimes we can analyze and conference it to death without ever actually taking 5 minutes to sign up for an account on that next big social thing everyone’s buzzing about. What about actually using social media?

Regular Geek recently had a great post about required reading in social media. While Rob has some excellent recommendations, it’s important to remember that for the average professional or regular joe who wants to control his or her image online, an hour’s worth of actual usage of social media can have far more dramatic results than 20 or 30 hours reading about it.

A lot of marketing professionals talk about “social media” and “Web 2.0” in vague hushed tones. I’ve seen agencies pitch full social media plans without anyone on the team actually having an account or any experience using any of the sites or communities they’re talking about.

If you want to take control over your online reputation, one of the easiest ways (besides SEO on your own site) is through social media. Public profiles, blogs, and community participation can quickly work their way up the top 10 results for your name in Google. Note that the key word here is participation. It can seem overwhelming to get started if you spend too much time reading social media theory, however.

Here’s a basic list of places to get started that will help your personal SERPs and give you a crash course in the big players in social media.

MySpace – Create a public profile. Choose a professional template. Use your real name or your real business name. Use your name in your “About me” section as well. Use a real picture of yourself.
Facebook – Create a public profile. Don’t add a bunch of ridiculous applications (unless you want to). Add personal and professional contacts. Again, use your real name and real picture.
Twitter – Create an account. Use your real name in your bio. Update at least once a day.
Forums – Create an account on forums related to your business or your professional interests. You can even join forums related to personal interests if you’re comfortable with that. Use your real name and title in your forum signature, and post on several topics per week.
Start a blog – Use WordPress or Blogger. Choose a topic and stick with it. Don’t mix personal and professional stuff on your blog. Post 2X weekly for at least 3 months. Add it to your calendar. Get in the habit of taking notes on things that might make good blog posts. Have an About Me page that uses your name and your business name.

This is a basic plan of attack for creating some new results for your screen name, your name or your business name. This also gets you involved in the major activities in social media – profiles, community and blogging.

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There are a lot of agencies that offer reputation management strategies and assistance in purging undesirable results from your Google search results, and many of them have a hefty price tag attached. As with most things, what you’re paying for is the convenience of outsourcing.

You need five basic things to manage the search results for your name:

– Basic search engine optimization knowledge (check out SEOmoz for a great start)
– A set of keywords you want to focus on (your name, your business name, and a few variations of each)
– An action plan of sites where you’ll place content (social networks, vanity domains, professional domains, and resume sites)
– An RSS reader filled with reputation-tracking feeds (blog searches, news searches, etc.)
– The time to devote to managing your online reputation

There are a lot of services that offer to monitor the web for any mention of you, your name, and your business. The fact is, this is something you can easily do yourself if you have the time to get set up.

Search for yourself or your business in these locations for a good start:
http://www.technorati.com/
http://blogsearch.google.com/
http://news.google.com/
http://summize.com/

For each search above, subscribe to the RSS feed of the results. This will give you a custom set of feeds to monitor for mentions of your name and a heads up for potential problems.

To monitor your SERP results for your vanity search, try a tool like SERP Monitor. This updates you when new results rank for your search.

When you combine news, blog and social monitoring with a close watch on your SERPs, you already have powerful (and free!) insight into your online reputation. The tools already exist to provide you with valuable information.

Don’t just assume that people who are searching for you online will only search for your given name exactly as you have it on your resume. A savvy employer or media professional will Google everything related to your name, including nicknames, email addresses and usernames. If you use the same username for everything, Google it to see what comes up.

For instance, I recently Googled the Twitter/AIM/Gmail username of a colleague. This led to his Twitter, snarky comments left on a chat transcript about a professional presentation, as well as Digg, StumbleUpon and random forum posts.

If the results you see when you Google your username or email address are all public facing, professional accounts, then you have nothing to worry about. However, if your social media history is spotty or you’ve been using the same username online for a really long time, you might see some things that you’d rather not show off to a potential employer.

Cleaning up:
– Log into old accounts and change details to those radically different than your real ones (age, birthday, sex, occupation). This creates reasonable doubt that the account belongs to you.
– Choose a personal username and a professional username, and never cross the streams.
– Sign up for some new sites with the username you’re trying to tidy up, and update those profiles or forums frequently for a few weeks. Hopefully you’ll see them rise in your username search results.

Social media is a popular buzzword, and it can be tightly integrated with an SEO strategy for your personal brand. As an individual or a small business owner, you can approach social media in a couple of different ways, depending on your attitudes about Web 2.0.

A. Social media as a means to an end

You’re busy, and you don’t have the time to spend all day updating MySpace, Facebook, a blog, Twitter, and a vanity site. You want to make sure your Google results say the best possible things about you and/or your business, but you aren’t interested in social media outside what it can do for your Google results.

First of all, this attitude is a perfectly acceptable reason to pay attention to social media. Not everyone can be an early adopter who endlessly evangelizes about the latest social media widget. What’s important is to create a presence on a few key sites, and target that presence to the keywords you want associated with your personal brand (your name, your business name, and possibly some local search terms related to both). Set them up and let them go out into the wild. You can get great results on some long tail terms when you combine this approach with SEO on your main site.

B. Social media as a hobby

If you’re into social media for social media’s sake, you’re going to have to make some decisions about what to keep public and what to make private. You want to be sure that your personal accounts (crazy Flickr photos, an old Livejournal, some embarrassing Yahoo! Answers queries) are under a different username that’s unconnected with your professional brand. If you sign up for all the latest and greatest social media sites, make sure you take a moment to think about whether you want your profile on the site to be public or private.

What to target?

Whether you fall into category A or B, make sure you know what terms you’re targeting as you’re creating profiles. Don’t refer to yourself with a nickname and don’t forget to include local search terms. “Midtown Market, an Austin grocery” is much better than “Midtown store.” Don’t be afraid to really work the local angle, especially if you’re a consultant or a retailer.

Social media is a powerful tool for managing your personal Google results. Even if you’re not as “into it” as others on the web seem to be, don’t discount it as an option for personal branding. And if you’re beta testing 5 fresh new startups right now and have profiles on every one, be aware of how it will affect your personal SERPs.