“Glass, china and a reputation
are easily cracked and never mended.” 
 
– Benjamin Franklin

ACTUAL CASE HISTORY*: Over a 25-year period Megan, 43, had climbed her way up the “fashion ladder” from department store salesgirl to Visual Director of one of the world’s most famous fashion houses. Somehow, along the way she managed to pick up a Masters Degree in Design, several prestigious fashion design awards, and frequent invitations to speak at fashion expos.

Her gradual climb, though, took a bad step in 2009 when – for some unknown reason – an anonymous blogger wrote that she thought Megan had incorporated ideas and images from other Visual Directors into her own visual displays. The allegations were 100% untrue. Nonetheless, the world of visual fashion display was abuzz about these blog postings. Megan was crestfallen.

Things only got worse. First, in Megan’s defense, several of her good friends posted blog articles of their own defending her, which seemed only to further spread the “poison” all around the internet. Second, though time passed, Megan noted that, when she put her own name into Google and other search engines, she seemed to find more and more mentions of this allegation. Then she received a telephone call notifying her that an invitation to speak at a fashion design dinner had been withdrawn for no apparent reason. Finally, she received an email from an executive recruiter she knew asking her if she knew what was “all over the internet” about her.

Megan requested our “reputation repair” help in addressing the situation, a situation we are seeing more and more of our clients experience. We have learned over time that there are steps a person can take to decrease the chances of such a thing happening, and to take if something does happen, despite precautions. We helped Megan clear up the negative references, and have now expanded our law firm practice to include these “reputation repair” services. 

LESSON TO LEARN: In this “internet era” it is all too easy to lose a good reputation. Everyone who is employed or wants to be employed needs to both be vigilant about their reputations, and aggressive in repairing their reputations if damage takes place. Entire careers can be lost in a moment in this way.

Because so many of our clients have experienced the loss of their good reputations, and have asked us to assist in repairing them, we have learned – and are learning more and more each day  – about what can be done in terms of “reputation repair.”  

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Here are ten (10) steps you can take to both (a) monitor and (b) repair, your own online reputation so as to ensure that your employment and career remain undamaged:

1. Monitor Your Online Reputation: Online reputation risk exists for everyone. It costs nothing, though, and can only help you, to periodically put your own name into search engines such as Google and Bing to see if any negative comments, photos or postings appear. This could happen by intention of someone who does not like you. It could happen accidentally, too.  One  attorney we know had his name mistakenly linked with child molestation allegations – regarding someone with the same name. Of course, this would make a person near unemployable. This first step is easy, without cost, and perhaps the most important step you can take to protect yourself.

2. Reserve Your Own Name as a Website Address: To ensure that no one else does this for (or against) you, and just in case you need it (see Section 9, below), we recommend everyone reserve their own name as a website address, or what is called a “URL.” For example, if your name is Woodrow Smith, we recommend you use one of the internet name reservation companies to reserve www.WoodrowSmith.com. Costs are rather minimal, something in the neighborhood of $25 for two years.

3. Build Your Online Profile, Bio and Brand: Provided you first gain the written permission of your employer to do so, we suggest you prepare articles for posting on your own website or the websites of others, submit intelligent comments on professional or trade blogs and websites, and in other such ways make yourself known – in a most positive way – on the internet. Don’t wait for the negative before doing the positive. Don’t forget to get your employer’s prior written approval.

4. If a Negative Reference Appears, Promptly and Gently Contact the Writer, If You Can: If you can identify the source of your negative reference, DO NOT contact them in anger or in a threatening fashion. First try friendly persuasion, appeals to their sense of fairness, using gentle persuasion. You can always “go nuclear,” but once you act in  an adversarial manner, you really can’t be effective in a friendly sort of way. Our experience is that many bloggers and other internet writers will correct negative references – especially if their postings are in error – if asked to do so politely.

5. If You Can’t Identify the Source of the Negative Posting, You Can Ask the Search Engines to Help: In cases of negative, hurtful or mean internet statements damaging to your reputation, if you can’t identify the person who posted the negative information, you can appeal to Google and other search engines to remove the offensive material. Search engines are more amenable to removing negative information than you might think. That’s probably because many people have threatened to sue search engines, some aggrieved people have sued successfully claiming the search engines have kept knowingly false, negative or damaging information posted. 

6. For Uncooperative Bloggers, Search Engines and Other Sources of Negative Information, Consider Hiring Legal Counsel: There is a saying that “If the power of persuasion does not work, try the persuasion of power.” Lawyers are to be avoided as much as possible. However, sometimes they can be helpful, even necessary. They are the only people licensed to sue in court, so they are the only people who can write truly convincing “Demand” or “Cease and Desist” letters. They are also able to take action by suing for defamation, “injurious falsehood,” and other legal theories. Lawyers can be expensive, but may very well be worth the price you pay for a revived professional reputation.

For registered securities representatives, lawyers with knowledge of the subject may also be able to “expunge” incorrect or critical Forms U-5 filed with FINRA.

7. Commercial Services are Available, as Well: In recent years, some commercial “reputation management” and “reputation repair” companies have opened. While we have used the services of some, none have seemed to offer zeal and dedication in what they do. Also, their lack of legal understanding and legal abilities seem, to us, to limit their potential effectiveness. We’ve also found many of these services to be expensive, especially as to monthly monitoring services. 

8. Don t Keep Clicking on a Negative Reference: We are advised by search engine representatives that the more you (or anyone) clicks on a negative reference, the more most search engines direct others to it. The message: leave it alone.

9. Instead, Try to “Bury” It: Rather than keep clicking on a negative reference, instead try to bury it in a sea of positive references. This is where having your own name in a website address would be helpful. This is also where posting intelligent articles, comments, press releases and postings on respected websites of trade or professional websites or discussion groups would also be helpful. In this way, the positive references will be seen, and the negative references will not be on page 1 of any Google search of your name, but perhaps on page 21 – where no one will likely notice it.

10. Have Explanations Ready If You Are Applying or Interviewing for Jobs: “Forewarned is forearmed.” If you have upcoming job searches or interviews, you might be wise to be prepared with things to say or even to write, to preemptively rebut the untrue or incorrect information employment “background checks” may stumble across. Some people even suggest being more pre-emptive: that is, you might raise the subject of an unflattering internet mention in an interview, before your prospective employer is even aware of it. Of course, your own decision in this depends entirely on your own unique situation.

It is by using these ten (10) steps, and our own experience in these matters, that we are providing effective “reputation repair” for our clients. You can do a lot for yourself.

In fact, we offer a “Model Letter Reputation Repair Package” for your own use in helping yourself in this way. If interested, simply [click here].

No matter what you do to monitor and repair your own reputation, we suggest you start your efforts today, if not yesterday.

SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Navigation and negotiation of work and career issues require that you think preemptively and “out of the box,” and avoid risks at every point in your career. Knowing ways to prevent problems before they arise is the most precious knowledge there is. Now that you know them, the rest is up to you.      

Always be proactive.  Always be creative.  Always be persistent.  Always be vigilant. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about.

*A Note About Our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.    

Please Note: This Newsletter is not legal advice, but only an effort to provide generalized information about important topics related to employment and the law. Legal advice can only be rendered after formal retention of counsel, and must take into account the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Those in need of legal advice, counsel or representation should retain competent legal counsel licensed to practice law in their locale. 

© 2010, Alan L. Sklover All Rights Reserved. Commercial Use Prohibited.  [Attorney Advertisement]