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You might not think about your online reputation very much.

Your friends on Facebook like you, you have a professional profile How To Make Your LinkedIn Profile Irresistible How To Make Your LinkedIn Profile Irresistible If social media has turned us into digital narcissists, then we should be building up our resume on LinkedIn all the more as it is a valuable platform for professional networking. Welcome to the digital... Read More somewhere that people can see, and maybe your company has some good reviews on Yelp.

But how people perceive you online can make a big difference in your life. Especially if you own a small business or present yourself as a brand, as a freelancer might.

The stakes can be very high.

Companies might look at your Facebook profile Clean Up Your Facebook Account Before You Go Looking For Work Clean Up Your Facebook Account Before You Go Looking For Work By now we’re all aware that it’s important to be professional online, that employers have the ability to do background checks based through our social media accounts. And also that many people, though they know... Read More before they hire you. Potential dates could Google you before they agree to go out with you. Credit companies most certainly look you up online before giving you a loan. All of these things can affect your life, and if there’s negative information about you out there, you need to know about it and take steps to fix it.

How Can Your Online Reputation Get Tarnished?

Your online reputation has a lot of different pieces, whether you’re representing yourself as an individual or a company, so there are many ways in which your reputation can be damaged.

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Let’s take a look at some real-world examples.

Zoe Quinn, the game developer at the center of the misogynist fiasco Online Harassment Is Your Fault; Here's How To Fix It Online Harassment Is Your Fault; Here's How To Fix It What happens to harassment victims who aren't good at interacting with the press, or do or say unpopular things? Read More known as “gamergate,” was the subject of an angry blog post by her ex-boyfriend, who claimed that she had slept with five other men. Regardless of the truth or falsity of this post, and whether or not it was warranted, her reputation was destroyed in short order.

Dr. Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist and trophy hunter who violated Zimbabwean law and killed a tourist-favorite lion, has been the target of constant attack reviews on Yelp and other sites that slander his person and business. (Many businesses have been attacked with negative reviews having nothing to do with the business’s service or product.)

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Lindsey Stone decided to take a photo that she thought would be funny at Arlington National Cemetery — her friend posted it on Facebook and the Internet didn’t stop clamoring for her head until she lost her job (some are still clamoring for it, I’m sure).

When Ashley Madison was hacked 3 Reasons Why The Ashley Madison Hack Is A Serious Affair 3 Reasons Why The Ashley Madison Hack Is A Serious Affair The Internet seems ecstatic about the Ashley Madison hack, with millions of adulterers' and potential adulterers' details hacked and released online, with articles outing individuals found in the data dump. Hilarious, right? Not so fast. Read More , and the details of users posted online, many people’s reputations were ruined, both online and in real life. The aftermath was a firestorm.

Sometimes it’s just an unfortunate coincidence: Aja Frost, a writer at The Muse, happens to share a name with a former pornographic actress, adult film director, and exotic dancer. If you ran a search for “Aja Frost” a few years ago, you’d get three pages of the other Aja Frost. So Ms. Frost had to do some work to make sure she came up first in search results.

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The list goes on and on. The point is that your reputation can be damaged in a wide variety of ways, including many that you might not expect. Sometimes it will be a malicious attack; sometimes an overreaction; sometimes a misunderstanding; and sometimes you just won’t know why it happened.

But it’s important to be aware of the types of things that can happen to your online reputation and understand how to identify and remedy them.

Monitoring Your Online Reputation

To know that your reputation has been damaged, you’ll need to monitor it. The most basic way to monitor your reputation is just to Google yourself The Google Yourself Challenge [INFOGRAPHIC] The Google Yourself Challenge [INFOGRAPHIC] They call it "ego surfing" - when you sit down in front of the computer, go to Google (or whatever search engine you prefer), and find out what information there is about you online. I... Read More  and see what comes up. You might be surprised what you find; it could just be links to your social profiles and websites, but you may find reviews, mentions in other blogs, or even personal information available online.

This is one of the best ways to monitor your personal or brand reputation, as this is how most people will first interact with you — if there’s a negative result on the second or third page of Google, potential customers or employers might see it, and you need to be aware of it.

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Google Alerts 6 Personal Alerts You Should Set Up Today 6 Personal Alerts You Should Set Up Today We receive a swarm of notifications which, to be honest, are often useless. There are some useful notifications however, that are easy to set up and help us keep tabs on what actually matters. Read More is a common tool for keeping an eye on what people are saying about you How To Monitor What Is Being Said About You Online How To Monitor What Is Being Said About You Online Read More , and it has a lot of other great uses 10 Uses of Google Alerts For A Freelancer 10 Uses of Google Alerts For A Freelancer Read More , as well. Set up an alert for your name, your website, or any other issues that you think may be relevant to you. You can also put Google’s search operators How To Make Good Use Of Google's Search Operators How To Make Good Use Of Google's Search Operators With operators, you're able to display results that pertain only to certain websites, search through a range of numbers, or even completely exclude a word from your results. When you master the use of Google's... Read More  to good use here by setting up an alert for your name and any relevant issues that you’d like to know about.

Social Mention is a free service that searches blogs, microblogs, bookmarks, images, videos, and questions for mentions of a specific search term; if you want to know if you’re showing up in people’s social media, this is a good way to do it. You can also set up an RSS feed to stay up to date on what’s being said about you.

There are plenty of paid tools that offer this service as well, like Topsy and MentionIceRocket is another great tool for seeing what people are saying about you or your company online.

If someone has complained about you online, there’s a good chance that it’s on a complaint site 5 Complaint Sites For Pissed Off Consumers 5 Complaint Sites For Pissed Off Consumers Read More like Ripoff Report and Pissed Consumer.

Fortunately, Go Fish Digital has created a free search tool that you can use to see if anyone has mentioned you on any of these sites.

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You can always use the search function built into social networks, too — run a search on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn on a regular basis to see if people are mentioning your name.

And while you might have trouble finding free options, there are plenty of sites dedicated to online reputation monitoring that will look at Google’s search results for your name and help you make sure that the pages you want to be ranked higher show up first. BrandYourself.com provides a free monitoring service, which can be very useful, though they’ll charge for helping you fix any issues you find.

What to Do When Someone Talks Bad about You Online

Now that you have a good idea of how to keep track of what people are saying about you online, you’ll know as soon as someone talks bad about you. But what do you do then?

That’s the tough part. And what you need to do depends very much on what kind of negative information you find.

1. Apologize.

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Sometimes a sincere apology is all that’s needed.

For example, if someone just posted a bad review of your business on Yelp, you could get in touch with them to say you’re sorry and see if there’s anything you can do to help the situation. That’s an easy solution. The same is true if someone complains about you on their blog. Get in touch, see if there’s anything you can do to ameliorate the situation, and hope that you at least get a positive follow-up blog.

2. Share the facts.

In many cases, your reputation can get damaged when only one side of a story gets out.

For example, a while back, I had a rather bad interaction with a client. Fortunately, nothing about this was posted publicly, but this client could have posted a blog or a review somewhere saying that I was constantly pestering them and trying to contact them through their full-time employer, even using a different name. That would sound pretty bad.

But there’s another side of the story: they stopped paying me for my work and cut off contact. That’s crucial information to understanding the whole story, and could have had a big effect on my online reputation.

3. Make sure there’s positive information out there.

When someone searches for you online, and they see something negative on the first page of Google, that’s bad.

They say that first impressions are the most lasting ones, and that goes for search results as well as face-to-face meetings. Unfortunately, sometimes there’s just nothing you can do to get rid of a bad-looking search result.

What you can do, however, is make sure that there’s a lot of positive information that will outweigh the negative one that’s not doing you any favors. We’re not talking about burying the past here — if you did something wrong, you need to own up to it — but if there’s something misleading or unfair How to Remove False Information about Yourself on Internet How to Remove False Information about Yourself on Internet Read More about you out there, you can try to balance it out using positive, accurate information.

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When you look at online reputation management services, it’s clear how they go about doing this. They get a lot of social accounts in your name and start building them up. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger, and many other services are set up in your name and populated with content. These start moving up the ranks of the search results, and let you get the first word in when it comes to your own reputation. Getting people to link to these pages through guest blogging or being interviewed for publications helps a lot, too.

Positive social interactions, answering questions on Quora and Reddit, creating high-quality content, encouraging positive reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor, and doing anything else you can to get more positive mentions of your name out there will be beneficial in painting a more accurate picture of you or your brand.

4. Hire an online reputation management service.

This should be done only in the most drastic of situations. These services are crazy expensive — Reputation.com’s most basic plan for personal use is $3,000 per year. You can pay up to $15,000 for a personal plan, and they also have custom plans where they work with you to develop a specific strategy for altering the perception of you as a person or a brand online. Obviously this is overkill in the vast majority of cases. But it’s certainly possible that it would be worth it.

If there are dire consequences on the line, consider a service like Reputation.com, ReputationManagement.com, or BrandYourself. Just be ready to pay for it.

Keep an Eye on Your Online Reputation

Your online reputation can make a big difference in your life, especially if you run your own business or you’re looking for a job. Most of the time, monitoring your reputation doesn’t take much effort — Google your name once a week or once a month, make sure everything looks good, and that’s it. Other times, you’ll discover something that’s easily fixed.

But if you come across something that could seriously harm your reputation, you now know what to do about it. Don’t let a bad review, a misunderstanding, or a coincidence ruin your reputation.

Have you had to do any online reputation management? What tools or strategies did you find most useful? Share your experiences below!

Image Credits: mtkang via Shutterstock.com,

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