Friday, 24 April 2015

What is the the best way to manage your online reputation?

Back in the 90's before the great internet revolution, much of what we said and did was almost instantly forgotten. Our hobbies were only known by the people we did them with or told about them, not to mention job histories could not be found without references and CV's. These days thanks to Google, social media and the internet in general, what we do is here to stay - without careful reputation management at least.

Whether you've ranted on Facebook after a particularly bad Monday, misspelt Tweets or had unflattering photos of your night out posted by your friends, it can be difficult to manage your online reputation, especially now social media archives it all for posterity. Managing your online reputation isn't just about making sure any past online mishaps are hidden - it's also about making sure you show your best side, coming across knowledgeable, confident, capable and internet-savvy.

Although there are a plethora of companies who will help you clean, protect and build a professional online reputation for a price, in reality you can do it yourself for free, here's how:

1) Google

As with most things on the internet, reputation management starts with Google. The first thing you should do is search for yourself and not just on Google either, use every search engine out there as well as social networks and forums to find out everything there is (good and bad) about you on the internet.

Remember to search for your name, nicknames, maiden name, misspellings of your name - to be honest, it might even be a good idea to search for your first name coupled with some keywords. These should include things such as your hometown, current city, your employer, your university and your current occupation.

It is worth remembering that if a potential employer is going to search for you, they'd only have a limited about of information to go on. This would include your full name, email address, a phone number and possibly your social media handles. So it is important to focus your searches around these terms.

Also remember to make sure you scour through your old social media accounts, blogs and any forums you may have frequented - especially if there may be any damning posts or photos that you forgot about. Also it may be worth checking the Wayback Machine which is a way to see if any of your accounts or forum posts are archived on the internet.

Finally, remember your online persona is not just what you have personally put on the internet. Your friends, family and significant others are likely to have posted about you at some point too and they might not have been so vigilant with your online reputation.

2) Reinforce your Privacy Settings

After you've spent the initial time hunting down all the things on the internet you don't want anyone to see, you need to start the process of getting them removed. The next move is to try and get those links/photos/blog posts taken down, or at the very least made private.

On Facebook, make sure your privacy settings are tightened up, this can easily be done in a few seconds and is an essential step. Limit the audience for statuses and posts you've shared to Friends-only, also click where it says 'Limit Past Posts' so that your past post will also be friends-only. This action cannot be undone, so make sure you don't have a need to do have any of the posts public, however this saves a lot of time over doing it one post at a time.

On Twitter, open up Setting and click Security and Privacy. Here you can make your tweets private and then they can only be viewable by your followers and people you approve to follow you.

A quick word of warning though, employers and other potential online stalkers are smart, so just making your social media accounts private may not be enough. The only way to guarantee no one will see the content you don't want out there is to have it removed or ask the person who uploaded it to take it down. As much as untagging yourself removes it from your profile, the photo still remains visible unless the original uploader takes it down. It also worth noting, you can ask Google to remove personal information from its search results, but this doesn't apply to content you or others have put on the internet.

3) Change your Name?

This isn't as drastic as it sounds, we don't mean legally changing it or anything that dramatic. But having a work name which is a variation of your full name for professional purposes may be advisable. In the same way people in entertainment have 'stage names', a work name can provide a useful buffer against your personal internet life leaking into your professional internet life.

If your name is very hard to find online because it is quite a common one, like John Smith, choosing a variation to separate yourself from the millions of other more famous Mr Smith's that will come up in a search can be advantageous. Adding a middle name or another initial to your professional can make it easier for future employers to find you and not a John Smith account dedicated to trolling someone they particularly hate on Twitter.

The best way to have a clear distinction between your personal and professional accounts is to changing both the name of your personal accounts and professional accounts. This way they will never get confused, for your personal account you could use a nickname or your first and middle names. For the professional accounts try using your full name, initials of your middle name and surname. This way it is unlikely someone will come across either account by mistake.

4) Online Brand Building

One of the best ways to manage your online reputation is to be proactive with your brand. Suppressing embarrassing content will only get you so far, in a way it is best to concentrate on your future and build new content you would want people to see. By adding new content in the form of new social network accounts, blog posts, articles and forum post, you can improve your professional standing online and even position yourself as a leader in a particular field. This is particularly important because Google looks for new content and weights it as being far more relevant than your university photos.

Here are our top tips for branding yourself online:

 - Start a blog or personal website. This doesn't have to be a professional blog, although that's preferable for your career, it could simply be a blog showing work safe posts about your life. Also consider purchasing the domain name for your name (although John Smith might be hard to aquire).

- Professional Social Media Accounts. Create a separate Facebook for your professional identity, you can then add your boss, co-workers and colleagues, but make sure to post (interesting and work safe) content to this account. It will seem very suspicious if you never post anything to this profile and not to mention they'll think your quite boring. If you're going to join social networks do so under your professional identity, LinkedIn is a good example, as well as review sites like Amazon and Trip Adviser; alumni sites like Friend Reunited; and blogging sites like Tumblr. This lets your potential employer know you're a well rounded person.

 - Be an Expert. As we said above, being an expert in your field can be very beneficial for not only your career but managing your online reputation. Getting placed in industry blogs or magazines can really help you out on both counts. It is particularly valuable to online reputation management as these publications are likely to have a much higher clout on Google and will show up first in search results. As well doing this, you can solidify your position as an expert by posting on industry specific forums, writing a blog as well as doing video blogs and through your social media interactions.

- A Word of Warning. Although you might think completely cleaning your online presence is the best thing to do, a completely blank or sterile presence is not ideal. It will make people suspect that you're hiding something much worse than a few drunken uni pics. It will be obvious to anyone who does this sort of thing as a job that you're cultivating it and they're likely to search much harder. You want to reflect yourself in a way that shows your a professional, but you have a personality too.

5) Stay Vigilant

Finally, it is worth remembering a great online reputation is priceless, but it doesn't take much to fall to pieces. Be on your guard, Google Alerts let you track search terms (such as your name), and be notified immediately when a new search with that term pops up. The Google Alerts page even has a handy "Me on the web" widget, which lets you create alerts for your name and email address.

Have separate email addresses.If you decide to go the route of different names or personal and professional profiles, use two different email addresses. Many social networks let people search users by email address or find users in their contact list (by email address). In fact, if you can, use separate everything for personal and professional accounts: separate phone numbers, separate names etc...

Be diplomatic.This is especially important if you're managing the online reputation of a business: words carry about 10x as much weight, and 5x less humor, especially when they're written down and posted on the Internet. Think before you post, especially if you're responding to someone, and try to err on the side of "overly diplomatic." Think about it this way: you're not going to get in trouble for not tweeting something controversial.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

FTSE slumps amid Eurozone uncertainty

Disappointing retail sales in the UK combined with a bleak economic outlook in the Eurozone have contributed to a decline in the price of shares for many of the leading companies on the FTSE.

The exchange fell by 18.3 points to 7010.11, following an unexpected drop in retail sales in March and a slump in German growth. The German DAX is down more than 1 per cent. Poor figures in French stocks are also adding to the pressure.

Uncertainty in Greece continues to cause instability in markets as the country runs out of time to resolve its economic crisis. The upcoming election in the UK is yet another source of uncertainty for some traders.

Positive movers included United Utilities, up 12.5p, Citigroup up 50p to 950p and Severn Trent up 17p. Tesco made a recovery of 2.4p, after their record breaking loss of £6.4bn. William Hill fell 3.6 per cent, after reporting a 19 per cent drop in first quarter profits.

Shares in the engineering firm Rolls-Royce were the best performer on the FTSE, up more than 4%, after the company announced a new chief executive.

In the currency markets the pound rose 0.64 per cent against the dollar and gained 0.75% against the euro.

UK retail sales were down 0.5% in March from February. Figures show that consumers are still cautious about spending.

Keith Richardson, managing director for retail at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking said "Even with continued falls in fuel and food prices, consumers are responding to this current period of uncertainty by being just as careful about their own spending as they have been for the past few years.

"Despite the fact that Mother's Day fell in March and Easter fell early in April, this wasn't enough to bring forward any boost in spending into March, doing nothing to allay fears that while consumers may have a little more money in their pockets, they are spending it on leisure treats like eating out and going on holiday, rather than on High Street goods," he said.

Alan Clarke, at Scotiabank, said: "The monthly data all point towards sluggish Q1 GDP next Tuesday, not the sort of reading that the coalition government will be hoping for."

But Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said that although the retail data was "disappointing", wage growth and low inflation should bolster consumer spending over the coming months.

"Despite March's weaker-than-expected performance, the prospects for retail sales and consumer spending look bright, as purchasing power has strengthened and should continue to do so," Mr Archer said.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Pound vs Euro: What does the future hold?

The euro has seen better days. Quantitative easing, turmoil in Greece and a slow recovery from recession are just a few factors that have brought uncertainty to the continent. What does the future hold for sterling? It is hard to say due to a high degree of volatility in the market.

Fund manager, Neil Woodford expects that the pound will suffer due to uncertainty surrounding the upcoming election and beyond. "The dollar is strong because there's increasing uncertainty about the world economic order and increasing political uncertainty. 

"Investors always seek the dollar at times of uncertainty. But also the US economy is outperfoming other developed economies around the world.

"Europe is weak principally because of QE [quantitative easing] and the weakness of the European economy. Sterling is in the middle. A view on sterling in the near-term is going to be influenced by the outcome of the general election. I have to say that based on where the polls are now the political uncertainty after the election is not going to be good news for the currency. I expect it to be relatively weak.”

Jim Mellon, a successful investor with a reported net worth of £850m thinks now is a good time to buy property in Europe. He said a year ago that the euro would fall significantly, and a fortnight ago he said that he believed the euro had now reached the bottom against the pound.

Jeremy Warner, economic commentator for The Telegraph said that he expected only a marginal effect from the election in the UK. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard said that what happens on the continent will have a more significant impact on the pound than domestic issues. He predicts that both currencies will be weak, but the euro will remain weaker, with a seven to ten per cent fall against the pound over the coming six weeks. Holiday makers may wish to wait and get even more bang for their buck when it comes time to exchange currencies.

Head of investments at Skerritts, Andew Merricks has a different view. He thinks that the pound is in a lose-lose situation regardless of the outcome of the election. A win for the tories would mean an EU referendum as promised, and the question of Scottish independence will still be looming. If Labour win or lead a coalition the danger to public funds could also provoke further instability in the pound.

He said “This election does look as though it is a lose/lose for sterling, at least in the short term. Go out and get your holiday money now, unless you have decided that the place to be in 2015 for a relaxing break is Russia or Ukraine, of course.”

Thursday, 2 April 2015

E.on fined £7.8m for overcharging customers

Energy regulator, Ofgem has fined E.On £7.75m for incorrectly charging some customers exit fees and overcharging on bills.

The energy giant has also been ordered to pay back £400,000 to affected customers, with refunds ranging from £8 to £12.

The hefty fine will be paid to Citizens Advice, a community charity that helps vulnerable customers, Ofgem said today in statement.

This isn't the first time E.On has been caught out by the energy regulator. They were fined £12m as recently as May 2014 for miss-selling energy contracts, following an investigation by Ofgem spanning two years. It is estimated half a million households were affected.

Under rules laid out by Ofgem, energy suppliers have to give customers a full 30 days notice of price rises to allow customers to switch supplier if they choose to, before the new charges come into effect.

If a customer signals their intention to switch supplier within 30 days they should not be subject to any exit fees or higher tariff. Eon was found to have billed customers for price rises in January 2013 and January 2014.

"This error and the delay in providing the information is serious and E.On has failed to protect these consumers," Ofgem said, adding that this had been taken this into account in determining the level of penalty.

"The level of penalty package today also reflects that E.On has made the same error previously as well as making senior level commitments that it rectified its processes," the regulator added. "Also taken into account was that E.On notified Ofgem of the billing issues and has cooperated throughout the investigation."

E.On has issued an open apology to customers. "This is not the first time that E.ON has made this error and the company sincerely apologises to those affected." it said.

Eon is now in the process of trackign down customers to provide refunds by the end of April this year. Sarah Harrison, senior partner in charge of enforcement at Ofgem, said: "It is vital that suppliers play by the rules so customers are encouraged to engage in the market.

"E.ON's errors meant customers who took the chance to switch were wrongly charged. It is important that E.ON has repaid potentially affected customers and cooperated with the investigation. However it's absolutely unacceptable that E.ON failed to provide these vital customer protections yet again and this persistent failure is the reason for the high penalty."

In a statement it said: “Following reports from E.ON, Ofgem opened an investigation into the errors in June 2014 and has agreed today’s penalty package in recognition of the company’s errors. These errors meant that some customers were overcharged, although in the majority of cases this was by less than £10.”