If you’ve got unwanted information online about your cancer, what can a new breed of consultants do for you?
During cancer treatment and recovery, reaching out for support — via online support groups, Facebook or other social media — is common and healthy.
But when your focus returns to work, you may regret the reams of information online detailing your diagnosis, treatment, complications, frustration and recovery.
If you have already shared information online about your cancer experience or something else you no longer want to be public, there are steps that you can take to lessen the impact it may have.
There are many firms that specialize in online reputation management, or ORM. For an often-hefty fee, these firms promise to reshape your image by controlling what information appears most prominently when people search you online. However, all the reputable firms agree that making information disappear completely is not possible.
In some cases, an ORM company may contact sites and ask them to delete information. But the sites have no legal obligation to do so, unless the content is proven untrue and defamatory. The main goal is to push down undesirable information so it appears much lower in search results.
To push down information, ORM companies post positive information. To generate the positive information, some companies conduct a lengthy interview with a client, then compose (or help the client compose) an online profile for several professional sites. ORM firms may also help the client create blog posts or new websites. Posting many different forms of content to take the place of information you want pushed down is crucial.
Reputable firms that offer to create content say the new content must be relevant to you, as well as original and honest. It should also link to other relevant content. If a website links to irrelevant content, its ranking will be lowered in the search engine, defeating the purpose for which it was created: to replace negative information with positive information.
Hiring a Pro: Choosing a Company
The ORM field is relatively new, beginning to boom only about five years ago. These “veteran” operators say the field has attracted many fly-by-night companies, and it’s buyer beware. As yet, there is no professional organization or accreditation for ORM. So it’s especially crucial to shop around and be smart about choosing a service.
Among the ways to do that:
- Look for some indication the company is legitimate. For instance, does the website post a Better Business Bureau seal of approval? Does it offer a money-back guarantee if it doesn’t deliver on a specific action — for example, clearing negative information from the first few pages of a search? How long has the company been in business? Is it ORM certified? Keep in mind this is a relatively new field.
- Pay attention to exactly what the company is providing. If a company says it can definitely clean up the information you want gone very quickly — let’s say, in a matter of weeks — that’s usually a red flag. Managing and changing information online is not a quick process. Beware of a company that promises to make all the information you don’t want online disappear. Impossible, the experts agree.
- Expect a proposal or package of services geared to you and your needs. How long the process takes depends on a number of factors — e.g., how much you posted on how many sites, and other variables. Many companies offer a contract of several months’ duration; some offer a year. After that, companies may offer maintenance packages to ensure your reputation stays as you want it.
Hiring a Pro: Costs/Considerations
The fee range is broad (from several hundred to thousands of dollars), so you’ll need to determine whether the company’s price is worth it. For instance, a fee of $10,000 may not hurt as much if you’re up for a six-figure job or have one you want to keep.
Do-It-Yourself Reputation Improvement
- Find out how much information is actually out there that you don’t want floating around. Make sure you search Bing and Yahoo as well as Google. Also, search not only from your desktop but also from your mobile and tablet, as results can differ.
- Keep track of what information is listed where. If medical information you want deleted is on a site that you can contact, an email, asking for the information to be deleted or blocked from being searchable.
- Delete what you can from your postings on Facebook and other media that talk about your cancer. The more active you’ve been on these sites, and the longer ago you posted about your cancer, the more likely it is that the information is already buried.
- Set up a Google alert. Plug in not only your name but your company’s name, your name and title, or other ways people in your industry or profession might search for you. You can keep track of that information as it floats up in the alerts.
- Increase your presence on key sites, especially professional sites such as LinkedIn. Don’t just fill out the basics. Build your profile. Be active on the site. Ask for recommendations. Give recommendations.
- Think beyond LinkedIn. Include Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook and others, spreading yourself around.
- If you can post a picture on professional sites, post a professional head shot, not a photo of your dog or your favorite vacation spot. A picture will produce more rankings in a search.
- In site profiles, focus most on defining who you are professionally. (This will also help you focus more on what you want professionally during your next job interview, review or meeting about a promotion.)
- For more do-it-yourself tips, see CAC’s Guide to LinkedIn and “Building and Protecting Your Online Image.”
Whether or not you hire a professional to help manage your online reputation, keep careful notes about conversations and other actions with your boss or interviewer that may be related to your online medical information. For instance, if you posted medical information about your cancer, and shortly afterward, a job offer you were expecting doesn’t come through or a promotion is canceled, recording that on your timeline might be valuable if you decide to talk with your boss, interviewer, HR person or an employment attorney about discrimination.
The do-it-yourself steps may be enough to reconstruct your professional image online. If so, you can repeat these measures in a few months, then decide if you can still go it alone or your need the pros.
Editor’s note: Information on reputation management firms does not imply endorsement by Cancer and Careers.