When I interviewed for my first PR job, I never worried that an employer’s Google search would turn up incriminating evidence about me. Not because I led such a spotless life (we’ll just leave that subject there)—but because Google was a couple of decades away from being invented. So I have to smile and shake my head (sorry, SMH) at the origin story of BrandYourself, the online reputation management company whose youthful executives have, in just five years, raised more than $5 million in investment funding, hired 80 full-time employees, been honored as one of the top young startups of 2012 by the White House, and appeared on Shark Tank.
It all started when co-founder Pete Kistler was looking for jobs while still in college: Employers who Googled him were finding criminals of the same name. Kistler contacted several reputation management companies for assistance but discovered that they all wanted tens of thousands of dollars to help him clear up the online confusion. So in pure American DIY style, Kistler and his co-founders, Patrick Ambron and Evan Watson, launched BrandYourself to put the power of online reputation management in their clients’ hands—for free. (They also offer “concierge” services ranging from $400 to $900 per month if you want them to do the heavy lifting for you. More on that in a minute.)
I bring this up because as a publicist and marketing specialist in the entertainment field, I am googling my clients a minimum of once every single day—better yet, setting up Google alerts that feed me daily results automatically. If you’re not doing so already, I suggest you do the same. You may be surprised, even shocked, at what you find. It often seems that any bad-news story will leap to the top of the search results, while positive pieces or even matter-of-fact items get buried on page three or four. And how many Google searchers get that far?
“Google is the first place people look to form an opinion,” says Ambron, now the CEO of BrandYourself. The company works regularly with actors, reality stars and sports figures, who are “especially vulnerable to online attacks because they are in the news, are more likely to be scrutinized, and are a target for hackers looking to expose private information.” Think about the online abuse suffered by Saturday Night Live’s Leslie Jones last year, and the celebrity nude photo scandals that regularly pop up like gophers.
But you and your client don’t have to be helpless victims of a Google search. You do have the power to manage your online presence. So what is the best way to create and protect an image online?
1. Generate your own content. “The first step is to produce lots of search engine-friendly websites and social media profiles about your client or company,” says Ambron.
2. Keep it fresh. “Constantly update and add new content to ensure that the websites and social media profiles rank high in Google. While there is no guarantee, this will help ensure that only positive results show up on the first page and any negative results are suppressed or buried.”
3. Go social. “We recommend you have 5 to 10 active social media properties,” says Ambron. “Google ranks social media high because it’s an authoritative source of info and it’s updated regularly. For example, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram might be a better source of current information than a two-year-old news article on your ‘Press’ page.”
4. Fight negativity with positivity. What can you do to counteract a hostile story about your client or a bad film review? “Continue to create great content to show your side of the story or another side of you that’s not highlighted in the article or review.” (A film studio’s movie-specific website and social channels can go far in this regard.)
Does all this seem like a lot of work? You’re right, it is. That’s why, depending on your budget and/or your level of crisis, BrandYourself’s concierge services can include website and social media profile development, on-going content creation, social media activity and engagement, suppression of negative results, tracking and analytics, even a publicist to pitch and place by-lined articles in top-tier industry magazines. For average Joes—hello! *waving*—BrandYourself offers a DIY tool with proprietary software that analyzes your websites and profiles and suggests ways to help them rank higher in search results. In addition, if you create a BrandYourself profile, it will tell you who and when someone Googles you.
I’m not suggesting you forego meals, sleep, or family vacations in order to sit by your computer and track your clients’ Google results. But it makes sense for all of us to use every tool at our disposal to create the strongest image for our clients both online and, yes, IRL.