It should worry you. Just one negative posting can cost you a job
It's estimated that more than 70 percent of employers do a Web search on job applicants as part of their hiring procedures. More than half of them admit to not bringing someone on board because of negative information they found online.
It could be something you posted years ago, or something put into cyberspace by someone you know - or even a perfect stranger.
What can you do about it?
Michael Fertik, founder of ReputationDefender.com, had some advice on The Early Show Saturday Edition.
Fertik says he started the business two years ago with one person. He now has 60 employees. His service costs about $10 a month.
Fertik told substitute co-anchor Seth Doane that safeguarding your online reputation is "as important as your credit score nowadays. Every life transaction that you have, whether you're looking for a job, you're looking for romance, you're looking for a friend - people are gonna look you up on the Web and make conclusions based on what they find.
"One random, idiosyncratic piece of content about you on the Web could dominate your Google results forever," he said. "It's such an issue: It affects people who are undeserving, people who are sort of using bad judgment, all kinds of different people."
What's worse, legal recourse is murky at best, Fertik observed, saying, "The law hasn't caught up yet with privacy. The Internet has really changed the privacy landscape in a big way and the law hasn't yet caught up with it. It's lagging behind, so far."
Fertik stressed that, "You have to be on top of your (online) reputation. It's not about narcissism. It's about your personal brand. Especially in a down economy, people are looking you up, they're making decisions. They're denying you a job unless they find something really good about you on the Web."
He had three key pieces of advice:
First, never let anyone set up your reputation online. Establish yourself online to create a clear and positive image of you. Don't wait for someone else to destroy it. Use what he calls "Google insurance": Create a profile on something like Facebook that's positive and tasteful. Claim the real estate on your name. What is said about you on the Web isn't a function of you living a righteous life: Anyone can say something bad about you. "Write your own history," he recommended.
Second, if there's a problem with your online reputation, you have to find it. Constantly monitor the Web. Search for full names, usernames, etc. Be on top of the game. Go deep into the Internet to Web sites that aren't indexed by Google: "The deep Web - Facebook, MySpace, the pages where the content really starts to generate and become problematic."
"Monitor yourself assiduously," Fertik told Doane.
Third: The longer it's there, the more it spreads and can be archived. If you see a problem, deal with it quickly. Get in touch with people and tell them to stop, in a kind and thoughtful way, without getting a lawyer involved right away. Reach them on a human level. If you want professional help, companies such as ReputationDefender are available. As Fertik told Doane, "Nip it in the bud before it spreads and gets mirrored and replicated. If you can't do it, you want to hire the pros."
If you do find something bad about yourself, how do you get it offline?
"Sometimes," Fertik responded to Doane, "what we do is, we overwhelm the 'bad' with good to make sure that when people look you up, they see what you want them to see, they see your good videos, not necessarily the (bad ones)."