Online Reputation: How to Deal With Five Difficult Cases

In October 2011 I wrote Five Simple Steps to Improve Your Online Reputation, a simple method where you use popular social network and media sites to build a strong online presence quickly and easily. This method works for most people but sometimes there are complications and you need to take some additional steps. Here are the five most common cases and what you can do about them:

1.YOU HAVE A COMMON NAME. If you have a very common name like John Smith or Marco Rossi a simple name search will return mostly pages about other people so you can be hard to find. There are many ways to address this. One way to avoid this problem is just to be quick to register your name in new spaces when they become available: if you had registered the domain or the Twitter account @johnsmith were available you would have been nearer the top of searches. Don't miss the next big thing. Another solution is to associate your name either with a location or with a professional label. When people look for you they might try to restrict the search by adding a city or profession. Make sure these are in your profiles. You can also adopt  professional "brand" that you apply consistently, like "johnsmithconsultant". And if you have one or more middle names consider also choosing to use additional names in your "personal brand".

2. YOU HAVE THREE NAMES. Let's suppose that the name on your passport is "John Balfour Smith" and you have always used simple "John Smith". You could consider using the full name or Balfour Smith in your professional profiles. Check first that there isn't a conflict with the new choice and then be consistent in adopting the new "brand" in all profiles. This is best done at the start of the career or perhaps when you are changing jobs. Make sure you register an appropriate domain name and that you always request on social sites a username that is your real name brand. Nearly all social sites give you the option of choosing a "vanity URL" like

3. YOU OFTEN USE A NICKNAME/DIMINUTIVE.  For many years I used the short form of my first name "Andy" following a common practice in the UK and the USA. Moving from Italy to France I started to use the full name when meeting new people primarily for cultural reasons -- diminutives are not used in business in France. This saved me a lot of trouble later because I created most accounts with the full name and use this consistently. This means that I registered the domain "" though for brand protection I also registered "". If you are using a short version of your name this will complicate your online reputation management. You can address this by either always using the full name or by always using the short name. But if you always use the short name potential employers, customers and other people who only have the full name might not find you.

4.  YOUR NAME CONFLICTS WITH SOMETHING FAMOUS. This is one of the most difficult cases. If your name is really Michael Jackson, Richard Nixon or Marilyn Monroe then you have a serious problem since you will never be able to overcome their domination of search results. The solutions in this case are either to choose an entirely different branding strategy -- if you have a business you can use the business name -- to modify your name or to make sure you are at least findable on major social sites. Famous movie stars tend to rank highly on Google searches but they rarely have a LinkedIn profile. It can also help to have landing pages on sites like and

5. YOU HAVE A PAST BEST FORGOTTEN. Suppose that when you Google yourself you find something from your past that you do not want people to see now. This is not necessarily anything bad, but perhaps something that you used to do -- like being a movie star as a child -- that perhaps conflicts with what you are doing now, or is maybe just irrelevant. I assume that you have already removed all of the content that you control and all that is left is on sites that you cannot change, such as newspapers and fan sites. There are two ways to approach this case: the first is simply to adopt a new "brand", so if you were famous as a child as Balfour Smith then you could revert to john Balfour Smith or plain John Smith as an adult. A third solution could be to just accept that if you were a child star people are going to ask about it and just live with it.

If you have a problem that is not included in these five cases or in the original Five Steps article you are welcome to post questions in the comments section below, through Twitter (@andrewhennigan). And remember to Google yourself regularly because web content and search algorithms are always changing, so problems sometimes come and go by themselves.

Related posts on Reputation Management and Branding:

Why You Need an Online Presence Even if You Think You Don't
Choosing Pronounceable Brand Names: Lessons from the Cuil Saga 
Five Simple Steps to Improve Your Online Reputation 
Branding in the Age of Search Engines 
Why Having Accounts on Photo Sharing Sites Is Good for Your Image
Sign Up Now: Joining New Networking Sites Boosts Brand, Reputation 

Lectures, Workshops & Coaching

For one-to-one coaching, lectures and workshops on this topic -- especially if you have a tricky reputation problem that the basic guidelines don't solve -- visit or contact me directly at or by phone on 0046 73 089 44 75. 


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