Reputation management has now become a defining feature of online life for many internet users, especially the young. While some internet users are careful to project themselves online, others embrace an open approach to sharing information about themselves. Search engines and social media sites play a central role in building one’s reputation online, and many users are learning and refining their approach as they go–changing privacy settings on profiles, customizing who can see certain updates and deleting unwanted information about them that appears online.
Over time, several major trends have indicated growth in activities related to online reputation management:
- Online reputation-monitoring via search engines has increased – 57% of adult internet users now use search engines to find information about themselves online, up from 47% in 2006.
- Activities tied to maintaining an online identity have grown as people post information on profiles and other virtual spaces – 46% of online adults have created their own profile on a social networking site, up from just 20% in 2006.
- Monitoring the digital footprints of others has also become much more common—46% of internet users search online to find information about people from their past, up from 36% in 2006. Likewise, 38% have sought information about their friends, up from 26% in 2006.
Young adults are the most active online reputation managers in several ways. When compared with older users, they more often customize what they share and whom they share it with.
Those ages 18-29 are more likely than older adults to say:
- They take steps to limit the amount of personal information available about them online—44% of young adult internet users say this, compared with 33% of internet users between ages 30-49, 25% of those ages 50-64 and 20% of those ages 65 and older.
- They change privacy settings – 71% of social networking users ages 18-29 have changed the privacy settings on their profile to limit what they share with others online. By comparison, just 55% of SNS users ages 50-64 have changed the default settings.
- They delete unwanted comments – 47% social networking users ages 18-29 have deleted comments that others have made on their profile, compared with just 29% of those ages 30-49 and 26% of those ages 50-64.
- They remove their name from photos – 41% of social networking users ages 18-29 say they have removed their name from photos that were tagged to identify them, compared with just 24% of SNS users ages 30-49 and only 18% of those ages 50-64.
The increased prevalence of self-monitoring and observation of others creates a dynamic environment where people promote themselves or hide themselves depending on their intended audience and circumstance. but there are good reasons to be more vigilant. Online reputation matters; 44% of online adults have searched for information about someone whose services or advice they seek in a professional capacity. People are now more likely to work for an employer that has policies about how they present themselves online and co-workers and business competitors now keep closer tabs on one another. Those who are dating are more likely to research their potential mates online. And even neighbors have become more curious about finding information about one another online. Yet, even those who are careful about their own disclosures have to stay on top of the identifying material that others may have posted about them on social networking profiles, photo- and video-sharing sites, Twitter, and blogs.
- 27% of employed internet users now work for an employer that has policies about how they present themselves online—such as what they can post on blogs and websites or what information they can share about themselves. That compares to 22% in 2006.
- 31% of employed internet users have searched online for information about co-workers, professional colleagues or business competitors, up from 23% in 2006.
- 16% of all internet users have looked online for more information about someone they were dating or in a relationship with, up from 9% in 2006. Among those who use online dating sites, 34% go online to check up on their dates.
Many are finding that sharing a certain amount of information online has clear benefits:
- Internet users are now twice as likely to be found by friends from the past– 40% of internet users say they have been contacted by someone from their past who found them online, up from 20% who reported the same in 2006.
- Half of online adults (48%) agree that getting to know new people now is easier and more meaningful because you can learn things online about the people you meet.
Others are required to share information about themselves online as part of their profession:
- 12% of employed adults say they need to market themselves online as part of their job. While 15% of employed men say they have a job that requires them to self-promote online, just 7% of employed women say this.
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