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Beware: Your Reputation Is Now Being Googled

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- As Facebook became more popular, teenagers were taught not to put embarrassing pictures online. But some of their parents have yet to learn the lesson.

"We used to say to folks don't tweet something your mother wouldn't approve of, now we have to say grandmother," said Paul Debettignies, the co-founder of HireCast Consulting.

If you scroll through Facebook and Twitter, you'll see many users manage their reputations naturally by only posting the good stuff.

There's a term for that. It's called "success theater."

"If you look at your Facebook and Twitter feeds, our friends lead amazing lives...that's not real life, that's success theater, that's us perfectly orchestrating that," said Greg Swan, a digital strategist at Weber Shandwick.

While some folks may be gilding the lily a bit -- bragging online -- the alternative is worse, particularly for job seekers.

"Surveys show that 70 percent of job candidates were rejected by recruiters just from a pure search engine perspective, of seeing what comes up," Swan said.

Some companies use search engines, like Google, to do "backdoor" reference checks, Debettignies said. But job seekers can use them to be proactive.

Debettignies, who built his own reputation as Minnesota Headhunter, says recruiters now use online profiles to find folks who haven't even applied for jobs. He says 20-and 30-year-olds have learned to post the positives, and leave embarrassing pictures behind.

This is something many parents haven't learned.

"There are times when you really want to say 'Dude, what were you thinking?'" Debettignies said.

If you need some social media 101? Start by doing what the recruiters do.

"It used to be that you'd ask someone, 'Have you Googled yourself lately?,' and we'd all giggle. But now that's a real thing," Swan said.

Typing your name into the Google search box will show what you look like online, whether you've posted anything truly embarrassing, and whether you have a "digital doppelganger."

"A digital doppelganger would be someone with the exact same name, who comes up when your name is Googled," Swan said.

If that happens, you may want to use your middle initial to set your name apart. Other tricks include filling out a complete profile on LinkedIn, the business networking site, and making sure your Facebook settings keep your pictures as private as you want.

Swan also uses an app called Time Hop to look back at his posts from the past. It's mostly for fun, but also serves as a gentle reminder of what's been put up.

And if he has to send an embarrassing picture, Swan will use Snapchat or Facebook poke. Those apps make the pictures you send disappear in 10 seconds or less.

There's also concern about hackers. After all, this is the Internet, where you never know who might be watching.

"This is a lot about reputation," Debettignies said. "We talk about online branding now. It's just a new way of calling reputation."

And what if you Google yourself and find an embarrassing moment captured on the Internet forever? The experts say skip the temptation to delete it. What's more important is to be aware of it and ready to explain it.

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