Nashville-based online reputation management company Reputation Advocate was birthed out of Violated Online author Steven Wyer’s personal need. The company was recently named top five in its industry by TopSEOs.com. In this Q&A, Wyer explains how Reputation Advocate has managed to remain competitive both domestically and internationally.

Q: How did you get into reputation management business?

Steven Wyer: Essentially, I owned a business that was involved in litigation. Without my knowing, legal documents ended up online and placed questions in the mind of my corporate clients. Basically allegations filed in a court of law as a normal course of business hurt my personal reputation online. I grew up believing that we are innocent until proven guilty. I learned the hard way that this is no longer true because of the Internet. People draw conclusions without having all of the information. No one will ask for details, they just make an immediate decision based on what is posted online. I had to find a way to reclaim who I was in the eyes of the public, my peers, and my family. In essence, I was my first client. I now know that if it can happen to me it can happen to anyone.

Q: This is the subject of your book, correct?

Steven Wyer: It is – in the book I talk about my both personal experience as well as stories of hundreds of people that have contacted Reputation advocate seeking answers and help. The book offers readers information on how to protect themselves from such problems.

Q: Is this why you founded Reputation Advocate?

Steven Wyer: At first, my goal was not to start a business. But, I soon found out that there were countless others like me. People who had been embarrassed, slandered online, had made a mistake that they thought was far behind them until it showed up on line or had otherwise had their name damaged. The information found online doesn’t have to be false before it damages you. There is a lot of true information about people that shouldn’t end up online! People started asking if I could help and this eventually led to the formation of Reputation Advocate.

Q: Reputation Advocate has earned quite a reputation itself. We want to congratulate you on your recent recognition.

Steven Wyer: Thank you very much. We were recently named one of the top five of online reputation management companies by TopSEOs.com. The independent evaluation of work process, best practices and client satisfaction combined to position us well as a small company.

Q: That’s pretty impressive considering your company is small then those in the other four positions.

Steven Wyer: Yes, I’m a firm believer that quality will always trump quantity. We take great pride in providing our clients with well reasoned perspective, managed expectations, solid stated goals and services that are explained so that clients understand and participate in their project. All of our employees are industry professionals who understand the crucial yet delicate balance of reclaiming an online reputation while keeping high standards for both content and the sites that present information about clients.

Q: What exactly does an online reputation management company do?

Steven Wyer: In short, we influence how information is presented about our clients. When necessary we can suppress negative information and replace it with a more accurate depiction of the company or individual we represent. However, Reputation Advocate does so much more than that. We focus not only on the immediate search results but the client’s long-term online reputation. The end result of any effort produces a solid digital “brand” for our clients that caries them forward.

Q: So Reputation Advocate actually helps define and craft a clients’ online identity?

Steven Wyer: Absolutely, that is our core perspective. When a client contacts us the main focus is often the immediate need for suppression. The greater reality is that thought should be given to what the end results will be presented as. Negative content can be suppressed and yet the end results can be disappointing. Clients live with what is placed online during a project for a long time. We have actually limited or growth to make sure that client expectations are consistently meant and that we don’t compromise the quality of our work. This allows our project managers to focus personal attention on each project.

Q: With a location just south of Nashville, Tennessee, have you found it difficult to work with clients outside of the Southeast region?

Steven Wyer: No, actually. We have clients all over North America and in over a dozen European countries as well. I have found throughout the years that quality service is an international language.

Q: So really, you are not in the business of simply making undesired information go away – you provide a concrete platform for clients to build a solid digital brand.

Steven Wyer: Yes, we do everything in our power to ensure that our clients are viewed by the public in a way that best represents them. This has led to the development of proprietary processes that successfully assist in the protection of our clients’ reputations.

For more information or to schedule a personal, no obligation consultation, visit reputationadvocate.com or call 888-229-0746.

“I know, I know—all of that detail regarding privacy settings on Facebook is such a hassle,” acknowledges Steven Wyer of Reputation Advocate and author of Violated Online (Dunham Books: September 2011). He says that you may even ask yourself “why bother?” but that there is a very good reason to sober up and think again.

According to the Violated Online author, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has given the thumbs up to Social Intelligence Corp., which keeps files of Facebook users’ posts as part of a background-checking service for screening job applicants. STOP. Re-read this again! If you are still not using any of the privacy settings available on your Facebook account, there is an absolute reason to reconsider.

“We didn’t even have room to cover this in Violated Online,” says Wyer. So who is this “Social Intelligence” and what are they doing with your Facebook content? According to their spokesman here is what they say:

Data is archived purely for compliance reasons and not used for any other purposes. This is to provide a verifiable chain-of-custody in case the information is ever needed for legal reasons. Archived data is never used for new screens.

Wyer remains skeptical. If there were ever an opportunity for information to be abused this is it, says the Violated Online ambassador. Here is more of the statement:

As per our policies and obligations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the only information we collect on job applicants is employer defined criteria that is legally allowable in the hiring process. Examples of this include racist remarks, sexually explicit photos or videos, or illegal activity such as drug use.

The Violated Online author asks, “Anyone see the potential for an online violation here?”

We are not building a database on individuals that will be evaluated each time they apply for a job and potentially could be used adversely even if they have cleaned up their profiles. It is important for job applicants to understand we are not storing their historical information to be used against them the next time they apply for a job.

Wyer’s perspective is that with time, things usually change. Credit scoring is a good example of information creep. However, the FTC decided Social Intelligence complies with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Here seems to be the central issue. Even if you delete an embarrassing photo or bawdy status update, the material could stay in your file for seven years, during which time it might be used against you if a prospective employer were to use the agency’s services to screen applicants. Words like could and might have always made Wyer, a privacy advocate, nervous.

So, now jump out and pretend you are applying for a job. You have read Violated Online; you are aware. You have, however, been really busy and those privacy settings are such a hassle! Your potential employer is “Googling” your name. They see Twitter, Linkedin, your blog, a few other social sites and Facebook. You made sure everything was cleaned up and tidy before you began your job hunt right? No way you will be violated online.

If Wyer and others are interpreting things correctly, Social Intelligence would have the goods on you before you cleaned up your online act, dating back seven years! You were how old then? You put what on your wall? The even bigger concern is that, just as there is more than one credit reporting bureau out there, others—perhaps dozens of companies like this—will archive your information.

The Social Intelligence Corp. has been given the go-ahead to operate by the Federal Government. Wyer says this is yet another example of how people’s online privacy is attacked—how they can be violated online. Awareness is the beginning of an online defense. Action is the solution. Here is yet one more reason to be deliberate when using social sites. Throwing caution to the winds will almost always expose you to being Violated Online.

As Wyer says, “If it could happen to me, it can happen to you.”

For information on author Steven Wyer, or the book Violated Online, go to Violatedonline.com.

Have you been violated online?  A new book, Violated Online, says that millions of individuals might answer yes.  Written by Steven Wyer of Reputation Advocate, a search engine reputation management company (SERM), Violated Online offers true stories from projects the company has worked, depicts the history of the growing issue of online defamation and gives tips to protect the reader online.  Violated Online maintains that there are several factors that have come together to create an environment that has spurred the ease by which someone can be defamed, slandered, or violated online.

According to Violated Online, the most common question asked when Reputation Advocate receives an inquiry for services is “how could this happen?”  The question being asked pertains not as much to the client’s current need as to the lack of government oversight and the rapid speed at which slanderous material is distributed.  Violated Online opens with a brief history of just how the Internet has changed our lives forever.

Violated Online cites the cornerstone documents that currently govern Internet content. According to Wyer, “few suspected that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 and the Digital Copyright Act of 1998 would change our world forever.” A lack of understanding and attention to the news fostered an ignorance that has kept most people in the dark, says the author of Violated Online, regarding how government legislation impacts them, their vocation and their future. Wyer points out that in 1996 and 1998 there was no Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and even search engines were not understood by most people. There was little relevance to such legislation. Violated Online says that we face the same scenario with the issues surrounding Net Neutrality today.

Starting with these landmark legislative pieces and moving to the founding of Google, Violated Online maps out the expansive growth of online defamation. Violated Online also suggests that the combination of Google and social networks as an emergent force have created a foundation that few are prepared to deal with. “When you combine this reacha massive tsunami of information available to nearly every human being alivewith the emergence of social networks, online conditions rapidly change,” points out the author of Violated Online.

Offering a bit of history, perspectives and gripping stories reflecting real issues, real damage and real answers, Violated Online simplifies these concerns and makes them understandable to the everyday person. While there are millions of professionals that derive their incomes from the use of technologies, Wyer has concluded that few people really understand how global connectivity works beyond their specific user experiences. He says that apathy is probably the single biggest factor in people being surprised by their online information.

The message of Violated Online is straight forward. Awareness is a person’s number one tool for defense. Awareness compels people to take action – action that can prevent them from being Violated Online. The book is available from all major books stores as well as online stores such as Amazon, the Apple Store and Books-A-Million.

These days, everyone seems to have an opinion regarding the topic “to friend or not to friend.” Some people live in denial and some live in ignorance. In any case, it is a good question to ponder. In his book, Violated Online, Steven Wyer of Reputation Advocate addresses the issue of social media.  “Today, people seem to believe that they are ‘safe’ in posting whatever they desire on a Facebook wall,” notes the Violated Online author.  According to Wyer, this faux feeling of safety has led to many individuals and companies being violated online and offline.

When adding someone to a social network like Facebook, it is important to realize that they may not really be a “friend” in the traditional sense, points out the Violated Online author.  In fact, Wyer notes in Violated Online that Facebook’s social networking empire has so impacted society that it now has its own social vernacular—“friend,” as in to friend someone.  And what happens, according to Violated Online, is that people forget that Facebook has changed the word “friend” forever.  Internet users have to understand that being “friends” with an acquaintance or a friend of an acquaintance allows others to potentially see comments and postings that may open up the possibility of being violated online.

While acknowledging that no one is exempt from being violated online, Wyer cautions Violated Online readers about sharing personal information with someone that has been recently “friended.”  According to the Violated Online author, deliberate evaluation of invitations is the best approach when sharing personal details with newly “friended” individuals.  Wyer maintains that Facebook lists are a good tool.  “Friend lists in Facebook allow you to determine who sees what,” points out Wyer, who reports that Violated Online is a first step toward educating readers on what some might consider basic assumptions.”  Information such as not sharing home or work addresses and phone numbers with a new “friend” might appear to be common sense to the net savvy. In Wyer’s estimation, “there are more than 100 million people in the U.S. that experience email, news and chat as a user experience but the more dynamic functions that create unknown exposure elude them.”

The author of Violated Online also maintains that social media settings are vital.  “In Violated Online, I  remind readers of the need to understand the parameters for security and confidentiality on social media sites,” states Wyer.  While comprehensive tutorials and articles exist, a small percentage of users actually take time to understand how these tools work. The beginning of any defensive strategy is to read the directions and understand the platform.

Wyer recalls, “I remember very clearly one Christmas. In a hurry to get the play kitchen put together and under the tree, I set the instructions aside. I believed I understood how to connect the pieces quickly. Absent reading the instructions, my assumptions turned into unintentional mistakes and the outcome was disastrous! There is a simple lesson to apply here. Be intentional in setting up any online account and take time to read first.”

To order the book Violated Online by Steven Wyer or to learn more about protecting yourself from being violated online, visit http://violatedonline.com.