September 24, 2020
Finn Partners’ Margaret DeJesus interviews Rich Matta, a data privacy advocate and chief executive officer of ReputationDefender, a global digital privacy and online reputation management firm.
Finn Partners: Every week there is another headline around the digital age of cancel culture. As the CEO of a leading online reputation management company, what is important for C-Suite executives across all industries to know in terms of managing and protecting their digital personas?
Rich Matta: The days of CEOs and their leadership teams being able to maintain a low profile are gone. The internet is always watching—and it never forgets. The range of information about you online is vast, and it will likely be some mix of professional and personal, positive and negative, accurate and inaccurate. Subjected to constant public scrutiny, CEOs are also highly visible targets for online attacks. This is why executives must not only monitor their online reputations, but also have a proactive plan to publish on-brand content. Ideally, executives should be thoughtful about each and every public communication as if it were the key takeaway of their permanent online records—because it very well could be.
FP: If an executive’s online reputation is misrepresented, maligned or hacked, what are the warning signs?
RM: The signs are often indirect. Are business leads suddenly drying up? Are you no longer receiving the expected follow-up calls or invitations? At ReputationDefender, we recommend executives regularly search their name and their company’s name on Google to see what appears on page 1. Studies show that four in five people do an online search before interacting or doing business with others, and over 90 percent of these people never go past page 1, so it’s important for you to know what’s out there.
FP: What can be done to correct a maligned online reputation?
RM: Once you’re aware that your online reputation has been negatively impacted, you must take immediate action. The first step is to strengthen your digital footprint by creating new, truthful content, targeting a wide range of channels from a personal or company website to bylines, an updated LinkedIn presence and contributions to online professional industry groups. All of this new content needs to be optimized for search engines like Google and promoted in ways that make search algorithms take note.
Over time, these positive, controlled sites move up to the first couple pages of search results for the name being searched – causing the unwanted sites or stories to be “crowded out” and pushing them to lower pages of search results where almost nobody sees them. Unfortunately, this is no small task, and when dealing with someone as prominent as an executive, it requires a substantial amount of technological know-how and expert editorial writing.
FP: Why should C-suite leaders prioritize their online privacy?
RM: Compromises to online privacy have serious real-world implications for executives and their businesses. According to a 2019 F.B.I. Internet Crime Report, enterprises lost $1.7 billion last year through business email compromises (BEC) and social engineering attacks. BEC scams, often targeting CEOs, involve impersonating executives via email and then convincing other employees to wire money to hackers’ bank accounts. These attacks often start with spearphishing and related social engineering techniques, which are especially challenging for IT professionals to block since attacks that target executives’ non-work accounts can bleed over into corporate IT systems.
One of the best defenses is to scrub the internet of the personally identifiable information that can be used to mount such attacks. Even in the information security field, most people don’t know this is possible, but it is. For a typical executive, we find and remove between 300 and 700 instances of personal information across over 100 people-search and data broker sites. Removing personal information also has the added benefit of securing the physical safety of the executive and his/her family, making it much harder for bad actors to track them down in person.
FP: What are the potential ramifications for executives who do not proactively monitor their digital personas?
RM: Investors, in large part, base their decisions on a CEO’s reputation, both online and offline. Being invisible online — or worse, having a negative online reputation — can limit your ability to attract and sustain solid investments, which can put the future of your company at risk. Not only that, CEOs need to carefully craft their online reputations to earn customers’ trust and purchasing dollars, because the CEO’s reputation reflects on the brand as a whole, either boosting or sabotaging its other marketing efforts.
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