How to Protect Your Reputation Online
What to Do When There's Dirt on You
But what do you do once you've found an accusatory comment or inappropriate picture online? As Laratro discovered, connecting with the blogger -- or the webmaster, if that's the case-may not always be successful. And don't look to Google for help -- it won't remove content from its search results (but does make a few exceptions).
Instead, you can attempt to bury the search results, says George Brown, an online media consultant who has worked with clients to improve their online reputations. "The goal is to get the negative results from appearing in the top 20 hits," he says. "People rarely look that far down when they search for you."
There are two easy ways to do this, Brown says, and they're applicable not only to people who have been associated with inappropriate or false content, but also to people who wish to proactively manage their reputations.
First, Brown says, "grab your name" on social media sites. That is, sign up for a Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube and LinkedIn account.
For Facebook and LinkedIn, learn how to claim your vanity URL here and here, respectively. With YouTube and Twitter, be sure to choose a username as close to your real name as possible. MySpace will give you the option of obtaining a vanity URL when you register.
If you're concerned about the time it might take to keep up with all these profiles, don't be: Brown says that in updating them only once a month, Google will consider you an active member and will consistently rank these results high, since they're some of the most-visited sites on the Web. In addition to joining these social media sites, Brown also recommends creating a Google Profile, which also will rank high.
Another way to increase your "positive" search results: Purchase a domain with your name (which can run around $5 per month), Brown says. He recommends "shelving" this site-i.e. design it to say, "This site is being held for Your Name. To contact me, e-mail me at YourName@domain.com." If you discover online content with which you don't want to be associated, you can use this site to build additional pages, all of which will rank high on a Google search of you, since it contains your name in the URL.
"The bottom line is that you need to be aware of your personal brand," Mireles says. "Think about what you stand for, and determine whether that's what other people see when they search for you. You're going to create controversy in life because you can't please everyone, so taking the time to see what's out there and acting accordingly can be worth it."
Staff Writer Kristin Burnham covers consumer Web and social technologies for CIO.com. She writes frequently on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google. You can follow her on Twitter: @kmburnham.