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What does the web say about you?

Even just 5 years ago your brand would have stood or fallen according to 'word of mouth' stories about you, but the news - good or bad - tended to fade away after a few days or weeks. Today, that word of mouth can travel across the globe in an instant via email and web sites, and it doesn't go away. Once a comment is up, it's there pretty much forever.

I recently spent a few days in Toronto, Canada. While I was there, one news story in particular caught my eye.

A canadian academic had been refused entry to the US by immigration officials, even though its a journey he makes frequently to visit his grown up children. He has now been put on a list that prohibits him from ever entering the country.

What had changed since previous trips? Google. One of the border guards ‘googled’ him and found an article written 30 years ago for an academic journal exploring the psychological effects of hallucinogenic drugs. Since the article was written from ‘personal experience’ the guard invoked new anti-drug legislation to bar the academic from the US.

Now I’m not going to debate the rights and wrongs of taking drugs, or of banning people for something they wrote, whether it was 30 years ago or last Tuesday. What caught my attention – as it should yours – is the use of Google in this case.

The fact is, it’s not just border guards who are googling strangers to get background information on them. Research in the last few years suggests that employers are now highly likely to do a web search on applicants, and that every time you have a business meeting with a new contact they are likely to do a search on your name before they meet you. Personally, I was surprised to find that Google has 3 pages of links for me – fortunately all good!

Now, before you go off and Google yourself (or me!) think about the role of the web in your personal brand. Even just 5 years ago your brand would have stood or fallen according to ‘word of mouth’ stories about you, but the news – good or bad – tended to fade away after a few days or weeks. Today, that word of mouth can travel across the globe in an instant via email and web sites, and it doesn’t go away. Once a comment is up, it’s there pretty much forever.

We don’t have much control over what other people say about us, except to live by our principles and values, and always act honourably in business and personal life. We do, however, have control over what we put out there ourselves.

If you have a web site or a blog, take time to read back through the content – does it live up to your brand and your personal values? When you send an email, do you think carefully about what you are writing, or do you click send and then get an instant feeling of remorse? If you have profiles up on social networking sites, do those profiles fit your brand? Have you updated them recently? Are those sites ‘on brand’ for you?

The worldwide web is just that – it’s worldwide; and it’s a web, linking billions of people you’ve never heard of, but who one day might hear of you. What do you want them to hear?

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