We live in a new and ever-more-transparent world. Nearly anyone can snap a photo or post a video and "tag" us or talk about us on their personal social networks whether we like it or not. Worse yet, anyone can post rumors, snide comments and fake reviews online, anytime - including competitors. And the longer negative material is on the Internet, the more damage it does.

Financial services professionals employed by mutual fund and ETF companies must be aware of the opportunities and potential pitfalls. Now that anyone can be a critic or a fan online, all employees should be expected to help the company guard its brand and cautioned to protect their personal reputations on the Internet as well.

Benjamin Franklin's admonishment, it takes many good deeds to build a good reputation and only one bad one to lose it, is just as important today as it was over 300 years ago. While the ETF or mutual fund company will almost certainly have their own protocols for monitoring and managing the brand's online presence, company employees should also work to protect their reputations online. Here are are some simple but important steps to consider as a company employee.

SET UP KEYWORD ALERTS

At a minimum, have Google Alerts set up for your name and your company's name. Just type Google.com/alerts into your browser and set up the keyword terms and frequency of notifications you want. Google will email you as relevant keywords occur in real time or you can restrict the emailed notifications to a daily digest. If it has been awhile since you've checked your Google Alerts keywords, go in from time to time and check that you have everything set up the way you'd like.

Not only is keyword monitoring a good best practice for watching out for signs of trouble with your own online presence, but this can also be a good way to track what competitors, clients and strategic partners are up to. You might learn that a strategic partner's son was a member of the team that won the state soccer tournament (and thus would send a complimentary note via email) or that a key competitor is speaking at an important industry conference (and thus make an adjustment to your marketing plan).

GOOGLE YOURSELF WEEKLY

Create a weekly habit of searching Google to see what comes up when you put in certain keywords. If you do learn of something you'd rather not have online, let your corporate communications department know right away. They will discuss the possibility of asking the site host to remove the offending text or image; hopefully they can appeal to a sense of fair play before the search engine "spiders" take a snapshot of the page and catalog it by keywords. A recent study showed that 75% of online users are more likely to click on a negative search result than on a positive one. Because of social media, it is now easy for everyone to spread negative content.

We can't control everything online. There are also "trolls" and others out there who hide behind fake names and confusing "handles." If you and your company find a negative review or comment online and the site owners won't take it down right away, your company may decide to post a simple statement such as, "Please call me to discuss your situation. I am very interested in helping you resolve your issue."

When you Google yourself, be sure to look at the "images" section - hopefully nothing more unsavory than old photos of you with a prior hairstyle 10 years younger comes up.

GOOD CONTENT ONLINE

Work with your company's marketing and PR team to build a strong online presence so that anyone searching for you and the firm will see a flood of good information. Even if there is a bad element that comes up in an online search, people will be less likely to see it - and may discount the singular or occasional negative post altogether - if there are numerous other positive items that come up. Crowd out negative information online by generating positive search results that will rank as highly as possible in a search. The goal is to push the unsavory items farther down in the list.

Tag photos and graphics so that when someone conducts a search, they find attractive images and positive and accurate information about you and the firm. LinkedIn typically ranks high in search results, as do blogs that are constantly being refreshed with new and relevant information.

The firm's PR department will work to get company spokespersons quoted in reputable publications. They should then work to crosslink to the online articles. This cannot only improve positive search rankings, but it can create a favorable impression when current and prospective clients and business partners Google to check you and the firm out online.

If you are a company spokesperson approved to use social media, do not post information or tweet when you are tired, emotional or in a rush; you don't want to be on the receiving end of an upset phone call or email from someone who takes issue with something you've posted, and you sure don't want a bunch of people publicly criticizing you on a discussion board or social network. You could even be fired or demoted if the offense is serious enough.

It goes without saying that you want to help your firm build positive perceptions in every way possible while you are employed there. Monitoring and managing your online reputation is vital for your offline reputation, personally and professionally as well.

Marie Swift is president and CEO of Impact Communications, a public relations and marketing firm.

Subscribe Now

Access to premium content including in-depth coverage of mutual funds, hedge funds, 401(K)s, 529 plans, and more.

3-Week Free Trial

Insight and analysis into the management, marketing, operations and technology of the asset management industry.