From gossip site founder to web reputation defender
(Poets&Quants) — While most of his MBA classmates at Stanford Graduate School of Business rushed off to lucrative internships with some of the world’s most prestigious firms this past summer, Matt Ivester holed up in the school’s library. He had no interest in McKinsey or Goldman, Amazon or Apple.
Instead, 27-year-old Ivester used the summer before his second year at Stanford to write a 136-page self-published book called lol…OMG! – What Every Student Needs to Know About Online Reputation Management, Digital Citizenship and Cyberbullying. The book, published Oct. 10, alerts readers to the potential dangers of social networks.
While many would consider Ivester’s decision to skip a summer internship somewhat frivolous, the Stanford MBA has no regrets. “Stanford is the best school in the country for entrepreneurship so I don’t think it’s that crazy,” he says. “A Stanford MBA is incredibly well respected so I think I could get those big jobs later on in my career if I decide to do that.”
So for him, it was an easy decision to reflect on what he had learned as a web entrepreneur and to share it with others in book form. Ivester knows this territory well. Four years ago, he created JuicyCampus.com, which quickly became the biggest college gossip website in the country, with one million unique visitors per month. And then he watched in awe and horror as students began posting intimate and often offensive remarks about their peers — including sexual histories, accusations of drug use, and threats of violence.
The site — with the slogan “Always Anonymous, Always Juicy” — veered so out of control that some student governments asked administrators to block access to JuicyCampus. Hundreds of emails poured in from upset students, parents, and administrators. JuicyCampus even became the subject of two investigations by attorneys general.
“The site was out of control, and at 24, I simply didn’t have the wherewithal or the experience to rein it in,” says Ivester. “I felt trapped, unable to simply shut the site down — I had employees counting on me for their livelihoods, and I had spent a lot of venture capital money with the expectation of a return on investment.”
After burning through $1 million in investors’ money, Ivester shut the site down in February of 2009 after he was unable to get anyone else to ante up more cash. But the lessons from the debacle still linger along with the real-world impact of social media. So Ivester badly wanted to write a guide to help students think about the way they portray themselves and the way that they treat others online.
As Ivester sees it, he was part of the first class of graduating seniors from Duke University that had access to Facebook while still in school. YouTube had launched only three months before his graduation and Twitter wouldn’t arrive until nearly a year later. Yet, young people in particular are posting things that can prove especially hurtful in a tight job market.
His advice on managing one’s reputation online? Here is what he recommends:
Google yourself. It’s amazing how many people haven’t done this. You have to turn off Google’s GOOG customized search results feature so you can view your results the way others are likely to see them. Pay particular attention to the first page of results. Research has shown that 96% of clicks occur on those first 10 links. But don’t stop there. You need to take a full inventory of the available online information about you.
Clean up your accounts and content. It’s possible that some of the content you’ve posted in the past you might want to remove. Start with your Facebook account. Look through all of your photos and videos. Change or remove anything that you think should not be up there. Perform the same thoughtful process on your blog, your YouTube account, your Twitter account, and any other sites where you share content.
Update your privacy settings. Sites such as Twitter, Blogger and YouTube have fairly simple privacy controls. Facebook and Google+ have more sophisticated sharing options. The first step is very basic. An alarming number of students are Facebook friends with people whom they don’t actually know. A recent study conducted by Sophos Security reported that 46% of Facebook users are willing to accept a friend request from someone whom they don’t know at all. It’s unfriend time.
You need to go through all of your friends and see if there are any whom you don’t recognize. Then, you need to create lists among those remaining friends. I recommend creating four groups: friends, family, professional contacts, and acquaintances. Once you’ve created those groups, the next step is to decide which content you want each of them to see. Every piece of Facebook content now has a little cog symbol associated with it. That is the privacy setting symbol and allows you to set the visibility of that piece of content. When you click on the cog symbol, you have the option to make the content public — visible to all your Facebook friends — visible just to you, or some customized group of friends.
Ask for content to be removed. If you find content you don’t like — whether it’s embarrassing, personal, vulgar, false, or negative in some other way — the first step is to task that it be removed. I can tell you, based on the hundreds of take-down requests that we received at JuicyCampus, being kind, reasonable and sincere will be much more effective than being mean, threatening, or aggressive.
Update and strengthen your passwords. All too often on college campuses, students will think that it is funny to log in to a friend’s Facebook account and make inappropriate or awkward status updates, or comments to that person’s friends and families. This creates a headache for the student whose account was used, and it may have a lasting effect. A strong password contains a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, along with at least one symbol. Passwords you use often should be changed at least every six months.
Set up a Google Alert for your name. Setting one up for your name and for any common misspellings of your name is a good way to keep on top of any new online content associated with your name.
Claim your name. Register your name as a username on all of the most popular sites that allow profiles or user-generated content. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are obvious examples, but what about Reddit, Flickr and Hulu, or some obscure but still popular FriendFeed, TripIt and UStream? By securing your name as a username, you make it harder for someone else to make you look bad.