Friday, February 01, 2013

Don't Be Ashamed to Google Yourself. It's Perfectly Natural.

"Googling yourself." I know. It's almost become hack double entendre, but there's something to it.

It used to be that if a reporter wanted to know something about you, he or she had to ask you and people who know you things about you. In other words, he or she had to put in the legwork to research you.

Today, it’s much easier for media members -- or anyone else -- to get the scoop on you.

Yesterday, after I finished testifying before a South Carolina House subcommittee on a new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) bill, I returned to my seat – which just happened to be next to a reporter. For the record, I wasn’t being nosy, and I wasn’t spying, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw MY name on her laptop screen. I saw MY WIFE’s name on her laptop screen.

This reporter Googled me during my remarks. She was checking me out.

I didn't have anything to hide, but while part of me was flattered she thought enough to research who I am and what I’m about, there was another part of me that was frankly a little creeped out at the thought of her researching me with such ease. No. The irony that this was happening during a hearing on FOIA legislation wasn’t lost.

Anyway, what she did wasn’t wrong. She’s a reporter. Her job is to report facts for her stories, and by virtue of my testimony during this hearing, I was becoming a part of her story. She wouldn’t have been doing her job if she hadn’t tried to get some information about me.

More than anything, this was a reminder that information about you, almost any information, is no more than a few mouse clicks away.

What will people uncover about you if they do something as simple as a web search? Is the information correct? Does it paint you in a positive or negative light? Have people published things about you that are designed solely to hurt your reputation?

Reputation management is becoming more and more important as anyone with a laptop and an Internet connection can post anything about you for the masses to see. If someone has an ax to grind with you, it’s incredibly easy for him or her to tarnish your name by placing negative information about you in the webosphere.

Is readily available information about you that important, even if it's not true? Of course it is. After all, "if it's on the Internet, it's gotta be true." Right?

Think about it. That Internet information could impact a college admissions director reviewing your application. It could impact that new job you're trying to get. It could impact a voter's opinion of your candidacy. It could impact how people view issues you're promoting or opposing. It could impact your company's stock.

I tell my son, “There are two things you own that no one can take away. One is your word, so always make sure to keep your promises so that people will trust you. The other is your name. Guard it, and defend it. Make it something to be proud of, not ashamed of.”

Controlling your name and reputation takes effort. You have to keep a close eye on what people say about you and work to keep your reputation clean. You can do it yourself, or you can hire someone who offers reputation management services to keep watch for you and spring in to action when something negative (whether the information is true or false) hits the Internet.

We offer reputation management services, and so do a lot of other firms, but if you have the time, you can do it yourself (I probably shouldn’t have said that.). Whether you’re a student, a suburban parent, a politician, a corporate executive, or anything in between, it’s imperative that you keep track of the information floating out there about you. It’s important how you handle that information – either promoting it or pushing it down several pages on search results (Remember, once it’s on the Internet, it’s there forever. Just ask the folks who wrote the Facebook Terms of Service policy.).

I’ll tell you the same thing I tell my son. You have your word, and you have your name. Put in the effort to make sure they stay valuable. Oh, and if you’re a reporter, it’s fine if you Google me. Please just keep your laptop screen where I can’t see it so I don’t get unnecessarily paranoid.
Taft Matney is a partner with TM Public Relations, a strategic communications and governmental affairs firm in Greenville, SC. Follow him on Twitter ( and "like" TMPR on Facebook (

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