Why Social Media Reputation Repair Is Big Business

Earlier this year, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the “eraser button bill” that required social networking sites like Facebook to allow underage users to remove negative images and posts from their profiles. The law, which goes into effect in January of 2015, is seen as a move by California to help young people who are entering the workforce or applying to college to clean up their online image as they simultaneously polish their resumes.

"Kids and teens frequently self-reveal before they self-reflect,” CEO of Common Sense Media, Jim Steyer, told the Huffington Post at the time the bill became law. "In today's digital age, mistakes can stay with and haunt kids for their entire life. This bill is a big step forward for privacy rights, especially since California has more tech companies than any other state.”

The California law signals a growing awareness by most people that one’s online persona is something that should be monitored and even maintained. While the “eraser button bill” helps only minors, it sheds light on the growing industry of reputation management. Although sites like Facebook and Twitter already allow users to delete photos and questionable posts, other sites can, and often do, maintain those incriminating photos from a college party keg-stand.

It turns out that such online content really matters when trying to gain a foothold in the workforce. New data suggest that 70 percent of recruiters have rejected a candidate based on a negative online reputation. More stunning is that only seven percent of Americans believe that their current online reputation can affect their chances of getting an interview. That is quite a gap.

To help close that gap, large companies have sprung up in the industry of online reputation management. They have big advertising budgets and some come with big price tags. The methods of wiping a reputation clean vary greatly. Some experts advocate a simple, independent do-it-yourself method, while others urge the serious job-seeker to pay one of the new companies to lend a hand.

The big boys of the industry are sites like Reputation.com. Their reputation polishing services can cost $1,000 to $15,000 per year or more. For the powerful executive or the famous actor, services can top $20,000 per month from various providers. These companies are more like reputation consultancy firms than anything else. The theory behind these businesses is that reputation equals marketing for people who are pulling down $1 million, or more, per year. To keep their images sparkling, they are willing to plunk down the cash.

Those are hefty price tags for a college grad trying to get a job so he or she can move out of their parents’ house. And, as is always the case in the world of business, other companies have stepped in to assist these would-be recruits. One such site is BrandYourself.com. That company was started by Jonathan Kistler and Patrick Ambron after Kistler claimed he couldn’t get a call back for interviews because another Jonathan Kistler kept popping up in Google searches. The problem was that the other Kistler was a convicted drug dealer. Unable to pony up the cash to get one of the bigger companies to help him out, he decided to try it himself and turn it into a business to help others.

BrandYourself focuses on promoting positive links to a person’s online presence rather than getting negative information removed. While there are legal means to get certain things removed from the internet, it is very difficult process. The key is to get anything negative pushed to the second or third page of the search results. That is what BrandYourself does; it promotes the positive or helps the user to do so themself. Their services range from $10 to $300 per month depending on the level of input one wants from a professional “concierge.”

That is still an ongoing service fee, though. While significantly less than the larger firms, it may be too much for someone who just needs to do a spot check before applying for a job. After all, most people don’t have deep, dark secrets in their past that they need to keep pushed down in the search results. The vast majority of applicants out there have likely just attended one too many toga parties or posted a few off-color jokes on their Facebook wall. Those are the things they would prefer a prospective boss never see. New sites like Repnup.com (still in beta) are trying to fill this niche as well.

RepNup is steppin’ up to offer users a onetime report so the user can do the work to remove the jokes and the pictures from their own profiles — or ask acquaintances to remove them. The idea is that most of the negative stuff occurs on social media sites. Such content can easily be removed, once identified, without the need to generate a lot of positive information to push it down in the search results. No one can expunge your arrest records or make the mention of such records disappear from the internet. But a site like RepNup can provide a heads up for items a job-seeker may want to personally remove.

Such an approach is more like taking a quick peek at a credit report before applying for a mortgage. Mistakes in a credit report can easily be repaired with a little diligence. It’s good to know what is lurking is those reports, and the Google search is increasingly becoming a “reputation report.” If there are photos out “there” of you passed-out in a dorm room with Sharpie all over your face, it is good to know that before your resumes start circulating. It is better yet to have the photo taken down before the human resource people see it. It might have been funny in college but it is not a shining endorsement of one’s personal responsibility.

Vigilance is key in the world of reputation management. Most of us don’t have major problems to sweep under the rug. For those of us who do, there are options, but they cost a pretty penny. For those of us who just want to promote the super-positive side of our lives, companies exist to help with that too. And for others who may just not remember some of those college nights, and want to make sure there is nothing lurking in the search results, new companies are providing the tools to dig up the past.

The need to monitor these things may seem like a quite a burden. It may even seem creepy that someone can see some of our more embarrassing moments. Like it or not, that is the world we live in today. The good news is, though, we still have a good deal of control over what people can see and know about us. No one is immune to slander and laws and processes exist to address slanderous situations. But we all have control over how many keg stands we choose to do.

Getting a few pictures of such antics taken down is not such a cumbersome task. And it is a task that is likely to become more routine as social media grows. If you want to avoid shelling out the big bucks to make your reputation sparkle, then remember the amount of money you spend is inversely proportional to the number of questionable antics. Knowing that and acting on it is the ultimate do-it-yourself approach.

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