Financial advisors need to be aware of their online reputation so as to avoid being blindsided by clients or prospects mentioning a negative review, or a regulatory sanction.

“It’s [important to be] prepared to respond to any criticisms or concerns that a prospect may have,” says Geoff Evans, founder of the Social Media Coach, in London, Ont.

Your online reputation is built by the information available through Internet search engines such as Google. This virtual reputation is as important as a “real world” reputation because prospective clients are just as likely to ask their smartphones for opinions as they are to ask a friend they’ve met for coffee.

Says Evans: “The majority of people would leverage a combination of things in order to develop an opinion of someone.”

For example, even if prospective client is referred to an advisor by a friend, he or she will likely spend time on Google looking for information about that same advisor — and that’s where an advisor’s online reputation comes into play.

To protect your online reputation, you need to set up a system that keeps track of information that has been posted and shared about you online. Make it a practice to enter your name regularly into a search engine to see what comes up in the rankings. Unless you have a truly unique name, it’s a good idea to include your city or other key words that people might use to search for you. For example: Joe Smith ABC Financial Toronto.

Services such as Google Alerts and Mention will also keep you apprised whenever your name is used online. Google Alerts is a free service that will notify you whenever selected key words — such as your name and the city in which you work — are used on a website. Mention is a paid service that provides online brand monitoring, as well as a range of related services, including client engagement statistics and brand performance analytics.

One step beyond simply being aware of your online reputation is managing it. Online reputation management is “about managing, monitoring and controlling what comes up when people research you online,” says Matt Earle, president of in Toronto.

Although the idea of reputation management is nothing new, social media networks and consumer review websites have made it easier for people to influence the reputation of the products and services they use by providing public feedback, says Loic Jeanjean, director of sales and marketing with Advisor Websites in Vancouver.

For example, feedback on websites such as Google Maps, Yelp or RipOffReport, is likely to grab the attention of Google’s algorithm and show up in search results—whether the posting is positive or negative. Similarly, social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, are also given a lot of weight by Google’s software programs.

Although setting up a monitoring system is fairly straightforward, dealing with a negative review or comment is another story as removing negative comments from the Internet can be very difficult. However, there are other ways to mitigate the damage — a topic that will be explored in depth in the next installment of this series.

This is the first article in a three-part series on image rehabilitation.

Up next: Limiting the damage when your online reputation has been tainted.