Protecting your reputation in a world gone viral

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Each year, corporations spend billions of dollars burnishing their image with crisis communication and reputation management tactics. What job seekers need to understand is that using similar public relations tactics to maintain their good reputation or repair a battered image could be just as effective.

Many crisis communications experts say the best strategy is to live a life beyond reproach.

“We always tell people never to get into a situation where you need to manage your reputation,” says Louis Richmond, CEO of Richmond Public Relations in Seattle.

Privacy is non-existent today

Richmond, a 30-year public relations veteran, tells eFinancialCareers the digital era has practically wiped out privacy. “You always want to be aware of the fact that everything you do today is out there and available,” he says.

Here are some strategies to help you maintain your reputation.

1. Manage your online reputation aggressively

“You need to develop a digital strategy,” says Donald J. Marotto, senior managing consultant of the New York region of the Impact Group, a career services firm that specializes in career coaching and development. Marotto tells eFinancialCareers that employers frown at online pictures of job prospects doing things they deem inappropriate, such as drinking or engaging in loutish behavior.

2. Tell your story online

It’s just as important, Marotto says, to police what’s being said about you online and to toot your own horn, particularly on social networking sites that are frequently monitored by hiring managers.

“You should be putting positive stuff about you on there,” he says. “The more positive stuff you put on there will eventually outweigh the negatives. You have to take note of where your name appears. You have to look at postings that may be attached to your name. Don’t put any photos other than snapshot. If you put a photo out there, make sure it can’t be Photoshopped.”

3. Address issues head on

Admitting past mistakes and talking about what you’ve done to address them always goes over well.

“You might be able to rehabilitate your reputation if you’re willing to be honest about what happened,” says Gerard Corbett, CEO of the 32,000-member Public Relations Society of America and president of Redphlag LLC, a San Bruno, Ca. strategic communications and career consulting firm. “What I would advise people trying to recover from bad situations to do is to always take the high road about what occurred and what they’ve done to ameliorate the situation and try to come across authentically. It always pays to be honest and tell the truth,” Corbett explained to eFinancialCareers.

4. Be scrupulously honest

Richmond loves to tell the story of a real estate client who used to correct people who described the size of his office as 800,000 square feet. “No, it’s 749,000 square feet,” he would often say.

“We’re doing a series of crisis communications next week for a very visible organization in Seattle,” he says. “The first thing we have in our handout is ‘do not lie.’ Then we say two plus two is four, not four and one hundredth. Don’t put yourself in a position to get caught telling a lie.

The important thing to remember, the experts say, is that there are often opportunities for a second chance.

But, says Corbett, you rarely get more than two.

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