January 28, 2010, 1:40 PM — Several months ago when Twitter introduced its lists feature, social media consultant Allen Mireles checked to see which lists included her. "I wanted to see if the lists I was on were a reflection of how I wanted to be viewed on Twitter," she says. She found two surprises: A porn star had included her on a list and another user listed her under "people I've seen naked"-a surprise, she says, because she had never met the person.
Mireles responded immediately. First she blocked the porn star on Twitter, which automatically removed her from the list. Then she sent a direct message to the owner of the other list and explained that she uses Twitter for business purposes and didn't think it was appropriate to include her on it. "He very kindly took me off the list and apologized, saying he had been trying to make some of his lists 'more interesting,'" Mireles says.
Joe Laratro, president of Tandem Interactive, an online marketing solutions company, experienced a similar situation. About a year ago, Laratro received a Google Alert that included a link to a post from a blogger who commented negatively on Laratro's handling of work with a client.
Laratro, too, decided to contact the source to respond to the blog post. "I thought I was being proactive with the blogger by engaging with him and being friendly and trying to continue the conversation," he says. "But once I had his attention, he wanted to further attack me. When I realized communicating with him had backfired, I stopped commenting and let it go away."
As social sites with user-generated content such as Facebook, Twitter and WordPress continue to grow in popularity, and with Google's announcement of real-time search, you must be aware of and manage your online reputation carefully now. "Social media has made our lives very transparent," Laratro says. "If you maintain a professional persona, this can be something positive, but if you're unaware of comments or pictures online that you wouldn't even want your mother to see, it can be terrible."
Several free tools can help you keep tabs on what's being said about you online. One of the most popular tools is a Google Alert for your name, which will automatically inform you when you're referenced on a website.
[For the lowdown on new tools that help protect your online reputation, read "Managing Your Reputation Online : 5 Essential Tools."]