On October 5th 2007 when I wrapped up a 24 year career in the US Navy something happened during my retirement ceremony that really pointed out the power and realities of personal brands.
When preparing for my retirement ceremony, I had asked a Officer that I had flown with for a number of years to be my guest speaker. I had asked the guest speaker to have fun with his remarks and there really was no topic off limits.
His goal was then to dig up a little dirt from my shipmates to mix in with the accolades that come with such a ceremony little did I know he would also use Google. I had hoped his comments would be like a mild “roasting” Which would make the ceremony fun for all in attendance.
While I had never blogged about my day to day job in the Navy. (did not want to go to jail) I have had a pretty public online life for a long time. I was online long before the advent of the modern Internet, in fact I started my first dial up BBS back in the late 80’s when it was fashionable to dial up at 300–1200 baud. Thus he had about 17 years worth of stuff to pick from that is largely indexed by Google.
In his remarks he highlighted just a few things about my Net Identity aka Personal Brand. He figured out how many my times my name was mentioned online, my unique name made it pretty easy. He said Google found over 100,000 entries, he mentioned my wikipedia entry as he seemed impressed with that, along with data points on my startups, a few failures and my published book. Along with a host of other topics that my net family knows fairly well but few in my Navy Family had. This made for interesting discussion at the retirement party later.
The simple most important thing to remember for everyone online and those that don’t have a online presence is that Google has a very long memory, that memory will likely outlive all of us. Google is even more accurate on obtuse subjects and on people that have a very small digital footprint or no online identity. In fact those that don’t have a online presence are the ones at most risk and here is why.
There are articles I wrote 5+ years ago that are still #1 in the Google Index on people and subjects that have very little coverage from the person referenced themselves or a property or product that did not have a voice online.
That being said and this goes back to something else I learned while in the Navy. Choose your Battles Wisely. While I have won my share, had draws in others, those that you worry about are those battles you loose and the effect it has on your overall reputation and personal brand.
One only has to loose a battle with someone that garners more power in the Google index to have a very bad year / life. I have always been cognizant of what the search engines will index. I am sure some future employer, investor, business partner will take a look at that history. Its up to them to figure out if I am a person they want to work with.
So the next time you want to go off on someone online, be aware that you will effect that personals brand forever. This also goes with the way people talk about you online. Nothing rises to the top quicker as bad news because people love to pile on when people are down.
In lieu of things going on today with political marriage scandals and all the other nasty stuff being reported online, one can bet today that what they do in public can and will effect them for a long time. The best thing is to keep ones nose clean and be aware that your reputation online will be how most people get to know you.