Protecting your Internet identity

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Students today face many challenges. In a brutal economy, jobs are difficult to come by, and the last thing new graduates need is to have their Facebook profiles deny them a job.

Social networking has brought the world together, but it has also exposed people to outlets they might not want to be exposed to.

According to a 2009 study done by careerbuilder.com, more employers are using social networking profiles as part of background checks. The study conducted by the job search website found that 45 percent of employers that were surveyed reviewed the contents of social networking profiles to make a decision to hire a staff member.

A 2008 study by careerbuilder.com revealed that 33 percent of employers decided not to make job offers to potential candidates based on their social networking profiles, and said that postings of “inappropriate” or “provocative” photos were the top reasons that they retracted their offers.

That should be considered a potential red flag not just for new college students, but also for everyone that has a profile on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other of sort of online activity.

Although this new movement of profile monitoring has caused some to lose job offers, there is a silver lining to the phenomenon.

A new industry was born: online reputation management.

Online reputation management, the industry that has developed from the need for a positive image, has become a hit among people that have posted an inappropriate party picture or have used a little too much profanity.

A number of online companies have surfaced, and a simple Google search reveals websites such as profiledefenders.com and reputationmanagementconsultants.com that are taking charge of helping people restore their reputations.

Using a technique called “inoculation,” these websites can help users track down negative posts and articles about them on social networking websites, online marketplaces, review sites, forums and blogs.

The main focus is search engine results, as most basic background searches start with a Google search. If an employer keyword searches a potential hire, and the candidate has a negative listing on the first page or two, his or her chances of landing that job are reduced.

The websites offer a multitude of services that are able to mold the search results and online content to their preferences.

For example, profiledefenders.com has a feature in one of its service packages that will analyze the content of the website and sort the favorable, positive sites to the top of the search engine results, while pushing the negative sites to the end of the results.

Other services include a personal profile adviser to answer questions and guide users’ profile movement and trend reporting, which analyzes changes in online profiles.

Though many think of reputation management as a safety net to land a job, there are many other positions and organizations that expect a positive online reputation from their members.

When Collin Huerter, sophomore in political science and international studies, got elected as the Central Region Chief of the Boy Scouts of America, one of his responsibilities was to stay clean online.

“It’s very important to maintain an image that upholds the high standards of scouting,” Huerter said.

Huerter, who has thousands of scouts around the nation reporting to him, said it is his responsibility to remain professional.

“I try to promote and instill our ideals into people that I work with, and even the simplest thing of setting the example online can go a long way.”

Though online reputation management websites offer a variety of services to remove negative comments and records from the Internet, they can also increase positive results by increasing the amount of positive social media or creating a unique website that shows the user in a favorable light.

Social networking sites can also make a positive difference in a job search. Using Facebook, job candidates can search for different employers, view and like their Facebook pages and connect themselves with people who are already within the organization.

Using social networking to form relationships is considered the new way of connecting to a rapidly shrinking world.

For those who want to maintain a positive image in cyberspace, online reputation management can help build a favorable reputation, and just might be able to get thousands of people the jobs of their dreams.

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