Build Your Online Reputation Like You Build Your Credit History

Isla drawingHow do you view your online reputation? Do you embrace it or do you fear it? I am often asked by newbies and business owners if social networking is a necessarily evil from which they should hide as much as possible. Even off the clock, parents ask me if I allow my kids to create profiles and leave their online footprint.

The short answer: Social networking should be embraced.

The long answer: View your online activities strategically, but have fun. To an extent, establishing an online presence is like establishing a credit history. You want to be in control of how you are seen when someone looks you up. Be careful of how you present yourself. Try to strike a balance. Someone may be watching at any time, but also don’t worry too much. Don’t fret so much that you are afraid to be social, but don’t invest so much that you tie all of your feelings of worth into your connections, your likes, and your comments. You will likely make a mistake, and that’s not the end of the world. View your online social interactions the way you view those you have in person. Do your best, but the more you put yourself out there, the more likely you are to put your foot in your mouth.

When you post, do you have a nagging feeling that they are watching you? Parents. College recruiters. Future or potential bosses. Big Brother. The National Security Agency. Your nemeses. Who knows who else?

Like with a credit history, younger people start with a clean slate. Underaged youth should have their privacy settings turned up and be kept under adult supervision. That time is a learning period before being sent out on their own. Those who are entering social networking under the watchful eyes of guardians are lucky. The rest of us have been working it out through trial and error, so here are a few things to remember when it comes to managing your virtual history:

  • You are more than the sum of your friends and followers. You are a valued human being who will live on and maybe even thrive if your Klout score should fall to zero.
  • Your presence will let prospective employers, etc. see what you’re like, what you contribute, what’s important to you, and that you show good judgment and professionalism.
  • Use your privacy settings and good judgment.

Unlike credit score ratings, your online reputation is not calculated, stored, and shared by mysterious bureaus. Social networks are not to be feared, but used to your advantage. Log in and make yourself look good.