The vanity search: who hasn’t performed one? Type your own name into your search engine of choice; see what comes up. For most adults, the internet has become an essential arena of reputation creation and management. Personal blogs, profiles on social networks, and even message board posts can all provide windows into a person’s identity and activities, linked by the common denominator of a name. But this isn’t true only for adults. It’s true for everybody, no matter their age.
When we’re talking about young people, this gets to be a tricky proposition. As I was reading Lifehacker’s recent post on reputation management, I realized that teenagers and their parents need a parallel set of guidelines. The internet, so far, looks like it’s going to stick around. Everything you put up there—every blog post, every picture posted to Flickr, every video posted to YouTube—has the potential to stay up in the cloud indefinitely. And today’s teens, no matter how conscientious they are, probably don’t think long-term every time they click “post” or “submit.” With that in mind, here are a two tips I’ve found very useful in my own transition from teen to starter adult:
1) Avoid using your full name on the Internet at all costs, at least until you’re in college. Stick to nicknames. Your full name is definitely what future searchers will type into search engines, and as such, it’s incredibly valuable. If you can possibly help it, save your full name for a point in the future when you’re likely to be thinking about jobs, schools, etc. Nicknames or handles can still be tracked, it’s true. But you’ve only got one real name, and once you start using it, you start creating your digital “permanent record.”
And just as you wouldn’t want future employers rummaging through your elementary school records, you’ll be glad to have some barrier between your future adult identity and your youthful pursuits. Until I started college, I went almost exclusively by “d” on the internet—a nearly unsearchable letter!
2) Once you’re ready, become the source. Half of reputation management is protecting the information you’d rather people not see; the other half is publishing the information you’d rather they did. The best way to make sure that you’re the number one authority on you is to become a top hit for a search of your name on Google. And the best way to do THAT is to purchase your own domain name, if it’s still available. This is an incredibly worthwhile investment; you can easily purchase your domain through a service like Blogger, which will then automatically publish a Blogger blog to that domain name. It’s completely painless, and as of now costs only $10 a year.
I recommend this for even the parents of young children; assuming that domain names remain the address book of the internet for the foreseeable future, having a personal domain name is going to become more and more valuable. Having your own blog on your own domain name doesn’t mean you need to publish all the details of your life, especially if you’re still a teenager. What it does mean is that you have a wealth of options for managing your online reputation. You’re the number one authority on you; the internet should know this, too!
I just purchased my own domain name, www.dianakimball.com, through Blogger last summer. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to rise to the top of Google’s search results for my name. All of a sudden, the number one hit was no longer a team roster from that one season of Ultimate Frisbee I played back home, but a perpetually editable record of my endeavors and interests. I don’t update it every day, or even every week. But it’s nice to know that I could, that the internet—the everyman’s oracle—has the story straight, and that the story is mine to straighten.
How do you manage your online reputation? What should every young person know about the information they put up on the Internet? Horror stories? Success stories? We want to hear them all. Sound off in the comments!