What You Don’t Know About the Internet Might Kill You

Grab A Glass Of Wine and Google Yourself

Yes, at first blush, sitting in front of the computer or curling up with an iPad and a glass of wine or sherry sounds, to say the least, self-indulgently promiscuous. But in reality it is something that everyone – from high-net-worth investors to advisors, broker, business owners and garbage collectors – should be doing on a regular basis.

The reason is simple: In an age where everything about everyone is literally available at the stroke or swipe of a few keys, getting to know what information is out there in the public domain not only critical but essential to ensuring one’s reputation is as sound as possible.

In the “olden” days before the Internet, if someone said something about you, reputation management was fairly easy. It was more controlled.

Chances are it happened in a business meeting/cocktail setting or if it were corporate or socialite related, radio, television or print. This was easily monitored and circulation was limited. It was very siloed; what was reported on TV was not always picked up by radio, and vice versa. While they might report the same story, it was generally differentiated content, i.e. it wasn’t repeated from print, to TV to radio.

That has all changed. Social media platforms enabled by the Internet today allow the exact same message to be “echoed” and repeated indefinitely, and by an infinite number of people.

Whether positive or negative, news can go “viral” and be repeated may times over without the “permission” or knowledge of the subject of the story. By not taking hold of your own online reputation, you are allowing others to put information into the “court of public opinion” instead of creating your own story. 

The simple exercise of “Googling” yourself lets you know fairly quickly who and what is being said about you. You will need a least one glass of wine for this experience, and we haven’t even discussed “Googling” images/pictures of yourself yet!

For the pre-social-media set, the idea that information can just suddenly appear without knowledge or consent is a little infuriating. There were rules and boundaries, things like slander, libel and other legal precedents to keep people from doing that.

Today, all bets are off. For one, good luck tracking down the person or people who said something bad about you. For another, there is all kinds of information out there – “public information” – that lives with or without your express permission. This is a broad class of data including details of all public stock sales, real estate sales, political contributions, charitable donations, and lots of other data you may have thought was “private.” 

UHNW/HNW or the average person should be “Googling” himself or herself as regularly as they visit the dentist: At least twice a year!

There are also a group of people who believe that they are not “on” the Internet if they do not have a Facebook account, and that’s by design. It’s riskier for your online reputation NOT to have a Facebook account which you use for specific messages, and control the privacy settings carefully. There is a common perception that doing nothing is the best strategy. I am here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth.

If you aren’t proactive with your online reputation management, you might need two glasses of wine once you see the results of your first Google search. There are many factors that influence the resulting search information including how unique or common your own name may be, and so on. But I still recommend grabbing a glass before you do your first Google search of your name. 

At the moment of truth, you will see the first page (and thus the most important) occurrences, many of which may be without your permission or knowledge. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have very high search rankings (many times 1,2,3) so those of you who eschew social media thinking you are really being more “private” are making the wrong choice.

What would you like someone to see first? A Facebook page about a philanthropy or group that you are passionate about, or your divorce certificate? Divesting yourself of a million shares of stock might elicit a response from unwanted product companies who see the wealth event.

Pick yourself back off the floor, there is hope. Be proactive, and not reactive.

While seemingly counterintuitive, you should be executing and engaging in active online presences.  Instead of avoiding Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other platforms, you should be devising your own online presence. In this way, you will be posting information that you will want “Googlers - who isn’t one these days - to see ahead of other information. This is effective online reputation management.

There are also many other benefits to creating your online personae, and managing it actively. Not only will you create positive visibility for yourself and your passions but also create important like-minded connections. This can be used for personal relationships, business relationships, and all other combinations in between.

So remember that old-fashioned game of operator where you whispered something from one person to the next, and then laughed about how garbled the message was at the end of the line? Well imagine that with 50,000 or 500,000 or 5 million people, and no one cares what the correct message was in the first place.

A proactive and consistent social media presence is the only way. And then you can sit back, Google yourself and enjoy as many glasses of wine as you want.

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