Your Online Reputation – Don’t Risk It! By Susan Sundwall

Two seemingly unrelated things happened to me recently; I joined Facebook and I watched an early morning news segment about guarding our reputations – specifically on the Internet. The first thing, joining Facebook, was a delight. Many of my family members, as well as friends, joined at the same time and it’s been wonderful keeping up with everyone on an almost daily basis. The second thing, the news segment, gave me pause. That’s because the expert being interviewed mentioned scary words like slander and libel. Yikes! The gentleman also pointed out that potential employers might have an interest in the things you’ve said in public forums, blogs or other social networks like Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook. I raced to my new Facebook page to see if I’d made any rash or ridiculous remarks in the public groups I’d joined that could be misconstrued – say – by an editor. Whew! Good for me – I had nothing there to alarm anyone considering my work. How about you?

The Internet is a wonderful tool for writers but there’s a flip side to every good thing. Here are some common and often risky topics to consider while keeping your own online reputation in mind. Remember, this is for any public places where you might post.

  1. Politics – Oh, gotta start here. You may be a perfectly reasonable person until a certain political subject comes up and then you’re a raving loon. My own very large family gets into it pretty good, especially around election time. However, I keep my own sizzling comments predominantly in the private zone via email. But writers of all political stripes who harbor strong opinions often find themselves wanting a favorable relationship with an editor holding different, or even opposing, views. Say she Googles you and finds your blog rant on this one hot button (for you) issue. She’ll have to consider whether her publication will be judged in a certain way because of your stance and rejection could be the result. Unfair? Maybe; but life is like that sometimes.
  2. Religion – Goes hand in hand with politics as two of the things we’re never to discuss at birthday parties, family dinners or weddings. But, oh, how we go at it anyway. Still, while you may enjoy faith sharing (or bashing), you might also want to rein in your most forceful arguments and thoughts when going public. Take a big breath and think of whom else might see it. Is that argumentative trait something you want that big glossy editor, for instance, to see?
  3. Foul Language – Even in public forums we can often post anonymously and that’s where this caution comes in. Think of the slop over. It could just be a “letting off steam thing” for you to use foul language when emotions and tempers run high, but that aspect of your persona could slop over into the social networks where you use your real name. I’m just saying …
  4. Dirty Laundry – We all have it. Families have secrets, financial troubles, black sheep, and outrages that need to be discussed. But keep it in the family laundry room. It’s just common sense.

So, say you’ve gone public and been found guilty in a couple of the above mentioned areas. How do you backpedal? If you can edit your comments in the public arenas you’ve chosen, do so. Now – stop reading this and do it – now. If you can’t edit what’s out there, you’ll just have to suck it up and change. Things stay on the Internet for a long time and you’ll only be able to alter a bad perception slowly, word by carefully chosen word, over time. Another option is to stop writing altogether.

One of my favorite old adages is loose lips sink ships (or lose sales). I love it because it rings true. Make it your mantra and guard future earnings by maintaining your good online reputation.

Susan Sundwall is a freelance writer and children’s playwright. She writes from her home in upstate New York and is currently working on her second comic-cozy mystery.