How to Repair a Damaged Online Reputation

Several months ago, as a favor to a friend, I did an informational interview with a recent grad — a nice young woman with an Ivy League degree. At the end of our coffee, she leaned in and lowered her eyes. “There’s something else I should mention,” she said. “I’m not sure if you Googled me before we met, but… there are some negative things being said about me online.” Her distinctive name and a deranged ex-boyfriend conspired to create a reputation nightmare that’s taken years to resolve and crippled her job search efforts.

So what can you do if your online reputation has been damaged, whether by others or your own mistakes? Here are four strategies to hasten your comeback.

1. Be upfront. Let’s face it: any sane employer/customer/prospective date will Google you the minute they’re serious about doing business with you. It’s far better to control the terms of disclosure — like my young “informational interviewee” did — than wait for them to discover the negative information on their own. Let them know what’s out there, what the truth is, and what you’re doing to respond to it. (I advised the recent grad that she could even spin her experience as a positive: since she’s looking for a communications job, she knows personally the power of online branding and reputation management.)

2. Apologize if necessary. Sometimes — alas — you’re responsible for the mistake. A central tenet of crisis communications is to apologize as quickly as possible, so you don’t inflame the public or your bosses by appearing clueless or defiant. A good example is Washington Post columnist Mike Wise, who earlier this year bizarrely decided to tweet out misinformation about an NFL quarterback (see the Post ombudsman’s coverage). With a one month suspension in hand, he manned it up and took responsibility, tamping down the furor over his breach of journalistic standards: “I’m paying the price I should for careless, dumb behavior in the multi-platform media world,” he announced on his radio program.

Read the rest at the Huffington Post.

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of the forthcoming What’s Next?: The Art of Reinventing Your Personal Brand (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, the National Park Service, and Yale University. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.