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In: Social Media

When Shakespeare wrote "All the world's a stage", it is illegally that he knew just how publicly we would all live in the 21st century. With virtually everyone now owning their own very slice of virtual real estate (be it a blog, websites, Facebook account, Twitter account or LinkedIn profile), whether we are aware of it, or not, we all own, foster and even damage our own personal brand on the worldwide stage that is the Internet.

Whether you're a business owner (who has a traditional brand to protect) or an individual, we all need to be acutely aware of what others can find out about us, and what they're saying about us, online. Our reputations are the most valuable asset we have (in both business and in life) and a reputation is not just what you do; it's also what others say about you.

With social media making it easier than ever before for people to connect and share thoughts online, we now have the ability to easily listen in on Internet chatter and overhear what people are saying about us or our businesses. But, before you diligently start setting aside an hour each day to "Google" your business name, your name and the names of your key employees, trying to find out what is being said about you each day, there is an easier way.

Google Alerts is a fantastic free service that does the eavesdropping for you. By going using this service you can setup Google Alerts to keep a virtual ear out for allegations of certain keywords (eg your business name, etc) and then email you links to the content it finds. What's more, you can setup Google Alerts to only send you updates on news, blogs, video or discussions posts, or you can select to be alerted about any of the aforementioned topics. You can also dictate how often Google will send you alerts (eg as-it-happens, once a day or once a week) and how many results it will provide you in its automated email.

To setup your keyword (s) in Google Alerts, go to: http://www.google.com/alerts

Another great tool is http://www.socialmentions.com . This site is similar to Google Alerts, but it allows you to register to receive real-time alerts whenever your selected keyword (s) appears in social media channels (as opposed to only being alerted when Google indexes content).

I recommend that all business owners setup Google Alerts and Social Mention to track their business name (and common variations / abbreviations or misspellings of this name), the names of their key staff and even the names of their key competitors. By doing this they can keep their fingers on the pulse of any online chatter related to their business and use this to get a competitive edge.

At the same time, I recommend that individuals also setup Google Alerts, particularly for their name. This allows people to remain aware of the content that others can find about them online. After all, you would not go to a business meeting in your grubby weekend jeans, with your hair askew and a beer in your hand. But, this may just be the type of content that those you do business with can access about you online, if you're not keeping an eye on what you and others are posting about you on social media platforms. Knowing about it is the first step towards managing it.

We all play many roles in life, with professional and personal reputations that many of us would prefer to keep separate. By being aware of what is being said about you online, you can ensure that it's not your more embarrassing characteristics that are hogging the spotlight online.