What if a highly successful 55 year old CEO with a stellar career running media organizations, doubling sales consistently along the way and was a at the forefront of innovative new revenue streams couldn’t get a new job. Instead, he was “untouchable.”
Because of what happened to him 19 years ago at a holiday staff party.
It sounds drastic and perhaps far-fetched, but true. It was not good, admittedly: he did something embarrassing at the fete. This haunted him online for years. Since it came up prominently on the first page of Google search results recently, he’s been unable to get another position as a result.
What to do? I helped build an online reputation repair program and strategy to move those few negative links down off the first page, suppressing them out of sight. Since searching on Google is one of the first things hiring executives and head hunters do, having those few damaging links meant he might get an initial phone call but rarely a follow up. Amazingly, he once even got as far as having a signed contract to start a new high level position only to have it rescinded after someone in the prospective company discovered his nearly two-decade old issue online.
So, we began to work together. I started, as I always do, by talking, asking questions, and listening–all three very powerful but sometimes little used tools in the repair process. I needed to know what he really wanted to do business-wise, what his goals were, and what he considered his most important accomplishments. It’s important to start with a clear biography, but more importantly, I need to understand him as much as possible to properly build an authentic online presence.
After a few weeks of talks, I came up with an initial approach. I would:
- Create subtle but strong presences on key media-related online platforms.
- Help generate content showing his multi varied expertise.
- Share this all on appropriate business-related sites very frequently.
Perhaps just as importantly is what I WOULDN’T do. Because my client held many highly visible positions, everything had to be perfect and of extremely high quality; producing sloppy work would hurt his online reputation and cause even further damage. So I wouldn’t create sites that did not fit directly with his goals or achievements.
One of the first things then was to come up with a brief three or four paragraph bio narrative summary. I could edit this down to a few sentences if necessary, depending on the use later. Integrated into the bio were a few well researched key search phrases to help appear in search engines as well
After the draft bio was created, I then looked for any and all existing content that was already online. Part of my process is to get my clients to fill out a series of about twenty or thirty survey questions, so I reviewed this for clues too (where he went to school, where he lived, clubs he joined, positions in organizations, etc.).
I then took a more deeper look at his goals. Although he spent years in a variety of related industries, I needed to know what his real direction was so I could craft an appropriate approach. Was it new technology? Cable television? Digital ad sales? Mobile media?
I looked more thoroughly at the bio, content and vision and came up with a final and detailed strategy.
The first step was to identify what platforms to create, focusing on sites most likely to show up quickly in searches. Generally, Google values sites that appear to be a good content match. With this in mind I looked again at my client’s background, experience and future goals and centered on media, web, print, cable television and related sites. The ones I came up with were:
- SoundCloud, and more
I then worked on standard business-related and widely used platforms:
I brought him these suggestions to discuss. He prefered to have minimal interaction on Facebook in order to keep his private life separate from his business.
Also, I suggested creating a personal website with his name as the domain, but he decided against it, again due to privacy reasons. Since a personal web site is a very powerful tool for the repair proecess, I had to look elsewhere for solutions that Google would rank highly.
Fortunately, he had many awards, participated in many charitable foundations, and was an active board member. So I focused on making sure his name was on all the respective Wikipedia pages, and updated his LinkedIn profile, which were large projects in their own right.
LinkedIn is, importantly, one of those highly valued sites by Google, so I spent time on getting this right; when done correctly, this should show up number one or two in searches. I updated the Summary and Headline; added links to his web sites in the Contact section; carefully reviewed his previous jobs and added them under Employment; made sure there was a good Profile Photo; updated Interests; joined additional Groups, etc. It’s time consuming but worth it.
A Wikipedia article came next. After LinkedIn, Wikipedia usually ranks well, but can be tricky to craft properly since only legitimate and well referenced articles are accepted. My client was well-known in the industry so I had no problem ethically creating a Wikipedia presence. If someone requests a Wiki page but lack the necessary documented sources, I usually turn them down (the Wikipedia editors would probably take it down quickly as well). Writing this was very time consuming because nearly every statement or paragraph was referenced by a published article, video, presentation or news item. The Wiki piece, unlike the LinkedIn or bio material, had to be written with a neutral and unbiased point of view to comply with strict Wikipedia standards–to do otherwise risks a take-down.
Quickly, after a few days or maybe a week, we nearly immediately began to see progress. These two–LinkedIn and Wikipedia–moved to the first page of Google searches, and thus pushed off two negative links, which was great.
Next, I focused on creating some of the identified social media platforms, such as Twitter and the others. Using the bio material, I was able to quickly grab pertinent parts and add them to, Youtube, Crunchbase, etc. I also was sure to add a bio photo, and most importantly, link back to my client’s LinkedIn account (if he had a website, I would link back there).
He was getting anxious because he had a few prospective talks and interviews coming up. But they fell through, perhaps because of the remaining negative links, unfortunately.
I went back to the extensive bio and other research, and identified pertinent topics to follow on social media which might be of interest to the potential audience my client was trying to connect to. A created a topic list which could be easily referenced. I then identified “key influencers”, such as business leaders with many followers, or old colleagues in each area, and followed them on Twitter, Slideshare, and the others. Some in turn would follow my client back. I then started to churn out content, first by re-Tweeting or sharing existing content that I think would resonate the most. This also was extremely time consuming since the process had to be replicated on nearly a dozen sites.
With the nascent platforms being constructed, I looked back at the list of existing positive content that I found online, which was a lot. This ranged from:
- New York Times articles written about him ten years ago or more.
- Several high-level industry specific trade magazine articles, where his name was prominently featured in the headline or article title.
- Images of him with celebrities.
- Videos of him at events he promoted.
In total, there were about one hundred of these.
However, the problem was they were buried. Many appeared on the second through 12th page of Google searches. How to promote them? Use the social media and other platforms I just created.
So, I carefully and thoughtfully began to Tweet and share on LinkedIn some of these older pieces that might get the most traction online. As more people saw them, the more they were be clicked on. This in turn began to move the good articles above the several remaining negative articles.
Some of these key links were also incorporated into many of the other platforms, such as IMDB, Crunchbase, Medium.com, Slideshare.net and more. Many of the articles were re-written or converted into presentations or videos, and were uploaded too
After another two or three months of constant social media sharing, following other industry leaders, and churning out other content, there was major progress in suppressing one of the hardest and last remaining negative link. All the damaging articles were off the first page–final success.
Perhaps not surprisingly, my client literally landed a mid to high six figure job soon after the repair process was complete. We both were happy.
So, here are some of the key tasks for the repair process:
- Research, research, research.
- Learn as much as possible about the client’s background and future goals.
- Develop a content strategy and start to implement.
- Identify key platforms–both industry specific and general business sites.
- Gather key followers.
- Update LinkedIn and write Wikipedia article.
- Identify and share all existing content and promote.
- Continue the above for about four months.*
*This usually takes longer. An average case such as this can last about six months.
It can be a long slog, but it’s worth it. The repair price represented only 2% to 3% of his first year’s salary so if he stayed in his position for years, the online reputation cost was negligible and provided a huge ROI.