Differentiating a Common Name Is Key to Managing Your Personal Online Reputation

What happens if someone Googles your name?

If you’re a Mary Smith or John Jones, chances are your name will pop up on the first page. But with thousands of names like yours, is there a way to help ensure that people trying to find you – will find YOU?

Tracy Schmidt, social media strategist and corporate trainer at Crain Communications, faced that challenge when she was writing for Time magazine in 2006. She was doing a political story and had to call the GOP offices for comment. Because the spokeswoman’s name was also Tracy Schmidt, the office was confused by her interview request.

“As a journalist, I became concerned that when people searched for my name, they would find her search results,” Tracy explains. “I asked my editors to change my byline to Tracy Samantha Schmidt.”

When Twitter rolled out the following year, she made her Twitter handle “tracysamantha,” and she now uses her middle name everywhere, including on her business card.

Sean McGinnis, of 312 Digital, speaks and writes extensively about managing your personal online reputation. He suggests three ways to address the issue of common names in search results.

Create a blog with your name in the website address. His preference is to use an entire website address, like http://seanmcginnis.me, but he says sub-domains on popular blogging platforms like Word Press and Blogger are good alternatives. He also recommends blogging at least once a week. “The blog that is used more frequently and generates the most shares and inbound links will usually win the battle,” he states.
Create strong social media profiles and use them. Profiles on the major social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ have a “disproportionate strength” and are “pretty likely to show up in the search results,” according to McGinnis.
Consider changing your name. McGinnis doesn’t mean that literally. Instead, he says, you could brand your online presence with something slightly different than your name.

My digital PR pal, Joan Stewart, does this beautifully with her moniker, “the publicity hound.” Joshua Waldman, in his book Job Searching with Social Media for Dummies, suggests using a middle initial or a degree, professional license or certificate, to set yourself apart. “Those three-letter abbreviations after your name really do come in handy sometimes,” he writes.

Mana Ionescu, of Lightspan Digital, says take time to consider the “pen name” you want to use. Do you want your city or your profession associated with your name?

“Social network handles should all match and be aligned with the identity you choose,” she states. “Don’t rush into a @johnsmith12345 social media name. The name you choose will be your digital tattoo. It’s a commitment and will be hard to erase.”

She also advises to make sure the bio on social media sites lists the characteristics that define you and differentiate you from the other John Smiths.

A carefully-designed personal brand pays off over time. It certainly has for Tracy Samantha Schmidt. “Ironically, my name comes from Katharine Hepburn’s character in The Philadelphia Story,” she states, “but if you Google ‘Tracy Samantha,’ my name outranks her character’s name in search results.”

Do YOU have a common name, and if so, how have you distinguished yourself from the pack? What suggestions do you have that could help others do the same?


About Chris Ruys

Chris Ruys is founder and president of Chris Ruys Communications, Inc., a marketing/public relations firm that specializes in high visibility campaigns using both traditional and social media strategies. Her blog, originally called "Getting Social," was launched in October 2010 as a way to share her progress as a "student" of social media. While she's still learning, Ms. Ruys has broadened the scope to include other aspects of marketing communications and PR, including blogging, email, traditional media and advertising in the blog she now calls "Proactive PR."