The Web is a viral breeding ground of rumor and scandal. Here’s how to keep your own place on it untarnished. In Pictures: How To Protect Your Online Reputation The good, the bad, the ugly … anything that’s posted about you on the Web will likely come up in an online search or with a little digging. And that can mean trouble. Erik Kopelman, a business development professional for a New York City Internet company, was haunted by an accusation that appeared on the Web in 1997, when he was on the board of the student association at the State University of New York at Binghamton. “It was an accusation printed in the student paper about the misuse of funds,” he says. “I knew I could explain it away if it ever came up, and nothing ever came of it, but for the first two years I was job-hunting, I was worried.” In Pictures: How To Protect Your Online Reputation Kopelman says over time he fretted less about the blip. “Today, my resume speaks for itself, and in the intervening years, no one has ever mentioned it.” Twelve years later, the post doesn’t rise above the second page of search results when Kopelman is Googled. He didn’t actively do anything to get rid of it, but there are ways you can build a positive reputation for yourself online and crowd out negative search results that potential employers might find off-putting. The best way to manage your online reputation is by generating positive search results that will rank as highly as possible in a Google ( GOOG – news – people ) search and edge out anything negative on the list of search results. Related Stories How To Manage (and Protect) Your Online Reputation Your Brand Reputational Value Is Irreplaceable. Protect It! David M. Ewalt On Education Innovation Tips For Tough Times Networking From Home Stories Videos Rate This Story Your Rating Overall Rating Reader Comments Many people think that reputation management is only for the rich and the famous, those who are in the government, those who are celebrities. But reputation management goes beyond that. As we continu…. Read All Comments (7) Post a Comment Some of the top hits for Erik Kopelman now include his LinkedIn profile and items connected to his involvement with charities including the American Cancer Society and American Liver Foundation. According to Andy Beal, co-author of Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online, personal pages on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all rank highly in Google searches. LinkedIn especially sends a positive message to potential employers, since it’s widely viewed as a highly professional network. Beal says that 78% of recruiters use search engines in their research when they screen new candidates. Jason Fleischer, an executive recruiter with the Abacus Group, says he finds networking sites like Facebook and, to a larger degree, LinkedIn useful in some of the searches he handles. “Your resume is usually your first impression, but Facebook can help turn a cold search into a warmer lead, if you have a shared interest or a mutual friend. And LinkedIn offers even more specific professional information,” he says. In addition to signing up for social networking sites, Beal advises a series of actions that will help you protect your personal brand and online reputation. Much as you would protect your credit, check for activity connected to your name. Set up a news feed for your name so you can monitor when and if you pop up on blogs or in news stories. He says you should do that even if it’s the only thing you do. But it shouldn’t be. Also register your name as a domain name, and sign up for every social network that you can think of. Those moves will ensure you have a presence and won’t be mistaken for someone else. Then, take seriously what you post on the Web. Often enough, the negative item about you can be something you published yourself. “Just because you can tell the world what you’re doing doesn’t mean you should,” Beal says. He adds that a startling 35% of recruiters say they have eliminated a candidate because of something they found on the Web. Fleischer says he hasn’t seen anything on LinkedIn or Facebook to disqualify a candidate, except when they’ve clearly not taken networking seriously and have been sarcastic about their jobs and experience. Still, some people use the Web more effectively than others. Once you’ve established yourself online, use buzzwords that appear in job postings to describe what you do. Fleischer says, “Always check the boxes on LinkedIn that say you are open for opportunities. And be as specific as possible, using words that show up in job descriptions, especially if you work in a niche industry. Don’t shy away from being upfront about who you are and what you’re looking for.” Even if you make all the right moves to create a positive online reputation, some things will remain beyond your control. Newspaper or magazine articles that document or even just allege a transgression–like the report that surfaced about Kopelman–can tarnish your reputation online. In Kopelman’s case, the article was written by student journalists who, he says, were sensationalistic in their reporting. “The Web is so much more powerful now than it was then,” he says. “I am really careful about what I do in a social networking context and what people post about me.” Beal advises you to take it very seriously if something untrue is posted about you. He says that 90% of bloggers will correct something they’ve posted that’s not factual. He recommends requesting that the error be removed entirely or corrected in the context of the original post, rather than just mentioned elsewhere as a correction. The offending material will still surface if it’s still out there. You can crowd out damaging or embarrassing search results, pushing them farther down in your search list results, by generating positive content with a personal blog, Web site and networking profiles. Also, Google recently launched a tool that lets you create profiles and direct what appears first when someone conducts a search. It lets you put your best foot forward by linking your name with URLs and photos, contact information and employment information. It’s at google.com/profiles. Fleischer says not to worry if there is a photo on Facebook showing you, say, drinking a beer at a wedding: “It’s also important in the professional world to show you have a personality. You can always add security to your profile if you’re nervous, but just because you like to have fun doesn’t mean you don’t work hard.” Erik Kopelman says that as an Internet advertising professional and with his past experience, he’s extremely aware the power of the Web. “I’m always telling people that their name is their brand, and they must be careful what they post.” Amanda Berlin is a writer in New York City.