(or, did you really mean to come across like that?)

A few weeks ago, one of the nGenera interns (and my very own mentee!), Brittany Creamer, wrote an insightful post on the Wikinomics blog on managing your personal identity online. Her main point was that you really can’t control what becomes attached to your name on the giant information superhighway known as the Internet.  But, what Brittany’s post doesn’t address is what happens when you make yourself look bad online.  And so, as a public service to the nGenera interns who will be leaving us this week, I’ve decided to share a little insight on managing your personal and professional reputation on-line.

I’m not going to go into details of the case in question, because, frankly, I don’t want to be a conduit for someone to continue to tarnish his/her own reputation, but I saw this Reputation Mangling (thanks, Barbara Ling for a new catchphrase, and hat tip to Maureen Sharib for the link!) in action last week, and was really disappointed by the levels to which otherwise professional-minded people will sink when they think no one else is watching.  

Rudeness, even under the guise of helpfulness, is still rudeness.  On-line rudeness is no better than in-person rudeness.  If you spend time working to cultivate a positive image for yourself on-line, you should do what it takes to protect that positive image, and rudeness is step one in the destruction of your personal brand.  Here are some things to remember:

  • No matter what any privacy policy might state, what you post on-line is very likely to be public, in perpetuity.  That means forever.  The internet does not yet appear to have a shelf life, and bits and bytes aren’t shredded after 7 years like your financial records are. You can safely assume that anything you put on-line is going to be available to anyone with the dedication and determination to find it. 
  • Your years of hard work building a solid, stable, positive reputation can be undone with just one moment of weakness.  By design, humans are emotional creatures, and our emotions sometimes get in the way of our judgement (and I am truly the queen of this, so I know of what I speak).  If someone denigrates you in public, the best course of action is to attempt to handle it privately, and with a lot of thought about what you’re going to say and whom you’re going to involve.  One mis-interpretation of what you’ve typed and your reputation could be severely damaged. 
  • Once your reputation is tarnished, it takes a lot more work to get it polished up again.  
  • If you want to provide advice to a specific person, do so carefully and in a private manner (emails, phone conversations, etc.).  When you’re directing advice to a specific person in a public forum, chances are you’re going to be interpreted in a manner you didn’t intend.
  • Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle

Since this is unsolicited advice, I feel obligated to point out that it is not directed at a specific person.  Instead, I hope that our interns, and other folks interested in their own personal branding and identity management, will find these tidbits to be helpful reminders that you are what you do.