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I'm an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where I teach and research how news sites can better reach their audiences. I received my Ph.D. from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri where I was one of the founding editors of MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site for Columbia, Mo. Before graduate school, I worked as a community newspaper editor in Southern Utah and Southern California.

Ego surfing should encourage us to create positive content, not beer pong pics

There is virtue in egosurfing, I taught a group of dorm residents at Ohio University a month ago. How else are you going to know what people can find out about you on the Web?

In fact, a Google search today helped me find an ancient German ancestor and namesake! Too bad he was so annoying his neighbors preferred his ravenous, flesh-eating form. (Actually, thanks to a student for tipping me off about the Onion article linked above. I made a screen capture of it. I think I might frame it.)

Honestly, you never know what you’ll find when you egosurf because it’s impossible to control everything that goes online. Just ask a politician. What you need to do, I told the students, and I think it’s a lesson worth sharing here, is front-load the system, kind of like what Alec Brownstein did to find his dream job.

Brownstein bought the names of five advertising executives he admired in Google AdWords to ensure his message and website popped up first when they Googled themselves. His effort won him not only his dream job, but also awards for creative self-promotion.

Now, I didn’t tell the students to buy a ton of AdWords. Instead I told them that if they are worried potential employers will find Facebook pictures of them playing beer pong when they google their names, they need to manage their image. The best way to do that online is create positive content. Start a blog, I told them. Write every day. Generate traffic for it by linking to others and commenting on sites they follow. If they’re smart, they’ll ensure a Google search for their name pulls up enough positive content that the bad stuff falls by the wayside.

Maybe my advice should have been lead impeccable lives, but who am I to rain on their college parade?

PhotoCredit: It’s funny what a Google image search for German werewolf will turn up.

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