Your online reputation is reflected by people’s opinions about you when they see or read anything about you online. For the most part, this can be seen through your social media posts, the comments you’re leaving on posts and even the posts you drop a like on.

Your online reputation affects how people think about you or behave towards you. While you may not feel the effects of this at the moment, it could all come back to haunt you in a few years’ time. Your digital footprint will not vanish easily.

This can go a little further for organisations and institutions, such as businesses and schools.

Think about why parents choose a specific school for their children. The decision is unlikely to rest solely on the rating of government body inspectors, but will also include thoughts on how that school is perceived in the local area.

Therefore, understanding the long-lasting effects of what is shared, as well as empowering yourself to take control of how your online reputation is created is key. This is particularly crucial for children.

Children have bright futures ahead of them - and it would be a total shame to see that being lost all due to their online reputation.

The importance of online reputation

A 2021 report by Ofcom looked into the media use and understanding for children and young people in the UK, aged 5-15. It’s fair to say that the results were surprising. Of course, we won’t be delving deep into all of them, but these were the one that stood out to me the most:

  • Nearly all children aged 5-15 went online. Laptops, tablets and mobiles were the most used device for going online: they were used by 7 in 10 children.
  • 45% of parents were concerned about potential bullying in online games.
  • 87% of 12-15-year-olds used social media apps or sites, with a third of them using Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook.

While some of these statistics may not link directly to online reputation - it’s fairly obvious that, given the exposure to the online world, ruining online reputation is something a lot of children could run into head-first if the online space is not used appropriately.

Online persona vs. online reputation

‘Online persona’ and ‘online reputation’ may feel like meaningless buzzwords, but they both vary in their definitions.

Your online persona is the type of person that you appear to be online through the content you present. This can be something as simple as the content you post on Instagram or a blog you wrote ten years ago. It could even be a Twitter comment you’ve forgotten about or anything else that could contribute to the way you come across online.

Your online reputation, on the other hand, is what people think about you (or your school or business) when they read things about you online. Your online reputation can consist of anything from an online review of your school or business to an article in the mainstream media that mentions your name. The single most important understanding to take away is this: anything that is posted online is in the public domain forever. When it comes to posting online, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Assume everything is here to stay and that people will make up their mind about you based on what they have read about you on the internet.

It’s a good idea to check your digital footprint. How exactly can you do this? Google your name. What do you see on the first page? This is the online equivalent of a front page of a national newspaper.

Who falls foul of reputational crises?

With the rise of social media and our lives turning digital, it’s never been more important to manage our online reputation. However, this is not easy for everyone - particularly those who are unaware of just how far-reaching their online persona is.

Even if we aim to be careful when posting without obvious controversy, the online trail we leave behind can have major consequences down the line. Something you posted ten years ago is still out there in the digital space. All it takes is a Google search by a potential employer and you may find you have lost your chance. Your online reputation can lead to job losses and hastily issued apologies.

We have all witnessed the damage this can cause in relation to celebrities and other public figures.

US presenter, Chrissy Teigen, has a substantial social media following across multiple platforms. But she often finds herself running into trouble on Twitter.

In 2021, old tweets by Chrissy Teignen resurfaced and caused her reputation to dive. The tweets (which she had most likely forgotten all about) were directed at another less well-known celebrity called Courtney Stodden. The tweets, from 2011, urged the then 16-year-old Courtney to take her own life.

Chrissy Teigen immediately issued an apology, admitting she had been an “insecure, attention-seeking troll” when she was younger. But these kinds of reputational crises tend to stick in people’s minds.

So, you might want to think for a moment: as employers start to assess whether you would be the ideal fit for any future roles, do you want people making a decision based on an inappropriate photo from a night out or a holiday years ago?

Give it a thought.

What can you do about it?

Think before you post something on social media, a blog or a forum. Consider what your family and friends would think if they saw your post. Would you be embarrassed?

Avoid sharing personal information or content that might upset or offend others. Think about the content being shared today and whether it could come back to haunt you in the future.

Keep on top of social media trends and ensure that all privacy and security settings are optimised. Remember that platforms often make changes, so it is worth regularly checking these settings. Depending on your position, it can be a good plan to use a variation of your name so that others can’t find you. Above all, lock everything down so that only curated lists of users can see what you post.

Deactivate and delete social media when no longer in use but be aware that information can still be found. Build a positive online presence from the start. A good way to link positive content to your name is to start a blog. Buy a URL that reflects your name and create positive content around a specialist subject. Write about your favourite topics and use your social media to post things you are interested in: photography, nature or even your pets.