"Mr. Castillo, I'm going to need you to come with me."
These are the last words that anyone wants to hear from a customs officer. But whenever I return from an international trip this phrase is spoken after a swipe of my passport. This regular occurrence has become almost routine enough to be comical. Almost.
After a few minutes of additional screening in the back room with the assurance that I am not a global fugitive from justice, I am free to return to American soil with my true identity restored. Years of back and forth with law enforcement officials across our great country helped me piece together the reason I was selected for additional hang out time in the customs party room.
Jose Castillo is a popular name. Imagine "John Smith" in Spanish and you can see where I am headed. There are three pages of people named "Jose Castillo" that pull up when you scan my ID. Some of these namesakes (mi tocayos) have done some bad things but fortunately I am not 5' 2", I don't weigh 105 pounds, and my arms aren't covered in dragon tattoos. But the real root of the problem is identity creep. I have to prove who I am, where I am from, and what I have (or have not) done in my life. The problem with identity creep is that it goes beyond individuals. While your business may not be pulled over by customs anytime soon, you may be surprised to find that people who search for your company are asking who you are, where you are, and what you've done. The confusion that follows can cost you contacts, leads, and sales.
Just a few years ago companies controlled their identities with a firm grip. Your supplied phone number was in the yellow pages, advertising and marketing went through proper channels, and photos of your location on your brochure were shot by professionals with actual film cameras. Fast forward to the present with user-generated culture, always connected devices, and instant access technology, and the firm grip on identity has become a loose two-fingered grasp.
Identity creep for businesses is worse now than it ever has been. A quick Google search for the local office supply shop shows that Facebook has created a page for them and it has three likes. They do have a Google Map location with a current phone number but no website. A Bing search for pizza in my town returns a list dotted with an out-of-date mobile site, a place that has been out of business for a year, and a slew of "phone book" website listings with no photos, or any additional information. A search for a large company will usually return a the official website in the top spot, but what about the Wikipedia entry, Amazon reviews, and news articles that hover directly underneath that link?
While identity creep isn't leaving anytime soon, there are some steps you can take to help. Here are 3.5 things you can do to stay on top of your online identity.
Know Yourself - Email alerts through Google are a simple first step toward monitoring keywords including your business name, business sector, and region. But to take it a step further make sure your are also doing regular searches in a browser with "Private Browsing" turned on or use a computer in a different location. Your previous browsing habits, social networks, and current IP address can all effect the outcome of the results displayed when you search. You may be surprised what others see when they search for your business. Also make sure to do regular searches on Google, Bing, Yahoo, search aggregators like Dogpile.com, and industry specific search engines as well.
Stake Your Claim - Start by simply owning your domains and usernames on popular pages. Use sites like Getlisted.org to see if and how your company is displayed on multiple websites, and then claim your pages. If you have a social network or rating site that is specific to your industry, (restaurant on Yelp, hotel on Tripadvisor, business on Google +, etc.) search and claim your page. Facebook and Google+ have probably added your business whether you have authorized it or not.
Freshen Things Up - Make sure your information is up to date. Correct addresses, phone numbers, websites, and photos are an easy way to build your business. Someone has found you doing a search, the probability of that person being a highly qualified lead is astronomical. Your freshened up presence will make it easier on people to find you.
3.5 Rinse And Repeat - Nothing stands still on the internet. There is a constant churn of technology that adds features to existing leaders like Google, Facebook, and Twitter but there also new apps and sites that launch every day that can help or hinder your online identity. Tasking a team member with a weekly search and report will not only keep you up to date with where you are on the internet but also provide valuable insight into customer feedback, competitive landscape, and industry perspective.
Identity creep is a part of our modern business world that will continue to grow and whether you just update your current phone number, or launch a whole new communication strategy, using these 3.5 steps will help you stay out of trouble. And yes, the US Customs and Border Patrol does have a Facebook page. I "like" that.