DATA: How Your Online Reputation Affects Your Earning Potential


In today’s digital economy, the way you look online can make or break your career.

In the past, you needed a strong Credit Score to borrow money. Your financial history painted a picture that helped people decide if you were trustworthy.

Today, you need a strong online reputation to earn the income you deserve. Your online presence paints a picture people use to decide whether to hire you, be your client, invest in you, or join your team.

This guide breaks down how your online reputation affects your earning potential for:

  1. Job seekers
  2. Freelancers and consultants
  3. Business owners
  4. Private practice
  5. Students
  6. Politicians

BrandYourself’s Guide to Maximizing Your Earning Potential

1. Job seekers

Employers look you up online whenever you’re…

  • Applying for a job. 75% of HR departments are required to look up candidates online [9], 86% of executives say they’re likely to search potential hires online [4], and 70% of hiring managers have rejected candidates based on online info [9]. Whether you like it or not, you’re being screened on the web. And recruiters and HR professionals typically conduct deeper searches than you realize, often using advanced tools to dig up information about you. 87% of recruiters also source candidates on social media [15], so how you look online could make or break getting your next gig.
  • Asking for a promotion/raise. One third of executives reported they review candidates’ Twitter profiles and 29% observe their blog postings before considering promotions [The Creative Group Survey]
  • Networking. Overall, one in five internet users have searched online to find info about someone they just met or were about to meet for the first time, up from 11% in 2006 [17]. That means people you meet at a conference, event, or through a colleague will likely be trying to learn more about you. And half of online adults (48%) agree that getting to know new people now is easier and more meaningful because you can learn things online about the people you meet [19]. So what they find can determine whether or not they choose to offer you the next big opportunity in your career.

You’re losing job opportunities if employers find:

  • Provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos or information – 46%
  • Information about a candidate drinking or using drugs – 43%
  • Discriminatory comments related to race, religion, gender, etc. – 33%
  • Candidate bad-mouthing previous company or fellow employee – 31%
  • Poor communication skills – 29%

You’re increasing your job opportunities if employers find:

  • Background information supports job qualifications – 44%
  • Site conveys a professional image – 44%
  • Personality comes across as a good fit with company culture – 43%
  • You’re well-rounded, show a wide range of interests – 40%
  • Has great communication skills – 36%

2. Freelancers and consultants

Potential clients look you up online whenever you’re:

  • Selling your services. 65% of Internet users consider online searches the most trusted source of information about people and companies [6]. That’s a higher level of trust than any other online or offline source. If you want people to feel comfortable buying from you, you need to make sure they’re finding information that builds their trust – not nothing at all (or worse, red flags, which we’ll cover below).
  • Closing a deal or partnership. Among U.S. adults that have searched someone online, nearly half (42%) have searched someone before doing business with them, and 45% have found something that made them decide NOT to do business [1]. Your ability to close deals depends on having an online presence that helps, rather than hurts you.

You’re losing potential clients if they find [jobvite]:

  • Profanity, grammar and punctuation errors (triggers negative reactions among recruiters over 60% of the time)
  • Posts/tweets of a sexual nature – 71%
  • Profanity in posts/tweets 65%
  • Spelling grammar errors in posts/tweets – 61%
  • References to guns – 51%

Less obvious red flags include (monster.com, bestcolleges.com, upwork) :

  • Too private on social media (you either have something to hide or nothing to show)
  • Fake followers
  • Inactive online
  • Providing too much information 
  • Your service rates (low rates can make you look unqualified, high rates can seem unaffordable)
  • Lack of online proof of your abilities
  • Difficult to get in touch with
  • Your niche is unclear

You’re attracting potential clients if they find:

  • Positive content about you published by reputable sources (monster.com)
  • Positive reviews published by previous clients or customers (monster.com)
  • A strong portfolio/ examples of your work online (sparehire.com)
  • A clear picture of what you’re best at (upwork)

3. Entrepreneurs and business owners

Potential customers, partners, and investors look you up online whenever you’re:

  • Selling products.  85% of consumers use the Internet for research before making a purchasing decision[8], and 79% of place equal weight on both online reviews and personal recommendations [7]. And 63% of consumers need to hear something at least three times before they believe it [10], so if you aren’t reinforcing positive concepts and shaping the conversation when they’re doing their research, you’re losing business.
  • Recruiting and retaining talent. Executives report that a strong online reputation helps attract (77%) and retain (70%) employees [12]. It’s easy to see why: people want to work for someone reputable that they can trust. If they can’t find any info about you or your leadership team, that’s a red flag.
  • Raising money. Among the significant benefits reported by executives from a CEO’s positive online reputation, 87% cite the ability to attract investors [12]. If you want someone to write you a check, you can be sure they’re doing their homework on you first.
  • Talking to reporters. 83% of executives report earning more positive media attention due to a positive online reputation [12]. The press will always research you before running a story, and a positive online presence is an opportunity to shape their story. Otherwise, you’re leaving the narrative to chance.

You’re attracting business if people find:

  • A CEO who is active on social media: 77% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company whose CEO and leadership team engage on social media.
  • A company and CEO that they trust82% of consumers are more likely to trust a company whose CEO and leadership team engage on social media.

4. Professionals with a private practice

Potential clients and patients look you up online whenever you’re…

  • Growing your private practice. Over 45% of respondents in one study were willing to see an out-of-network doctor if he or she had more positive online reviews than an in-network doctor [17]. And 40% percent of patients deem physician rating sites as “very important” for choosing a physician [18]. But it’s not just doctors: 44% of online adults search for info about someone whose services or advice they seek in a professional capacity, like a lawyer or plumber [18].

You’re losing business if people find:

  • Bad or non-existent provider reputation. According to 72% of consumers: provider reputation and personal experience are the top drivers of provider choice. (PWC, 2012)

You’re attracting business if people find high quality and relevant information and positive reviews.

5. College applicants

Admissions officers look you up online whenever you’re…

  • Applying to undergrad. Nearly half (40%) of admissions officers visit applicants’ social media pages to learn more about them — quadruple the percentage who did so in 2008 [2]. It’s a quick and easy way to rule out candidates, and see who’s a good fit. If your social media presence isn’t professional, you could be costing yourself admission to your top school.
  • Applying to grad school. The same goes for grad school, where competition is even more fierce. You can be sure the admissions team will be scrutinizing your online presence for anything that might put you out of the running. So it’s vital your online presence backs up the qualifications on your resumé.

The specific triggers that make you even more likely to be searched are [21]:

  • Interest in Talents: Some admissions officer say they will visit an applicant’s social media page — often by the applicant’s own invitation — if the applicant mentions a special talent, for example, such as being a musician, artist, poet, writer, or model. In fact, 42% of admissions officers reported an increase in such invitations compared to two year ago.
  • Verification of Awards: Citation of particularly distinguished or noteworthy awards can sometimes trigger an admissions officer’s online search for independent verification; as one officer noted, something “out of the norm.”
  • Criminal Records or Disciplinary Action: Some admissions officers say that if an applicant mentions they have a criminal background or a record of disciplinary action, they will do some online digging to get more details.
  • Scholarships: Students applying for special scholarships can come under greater scrutiny, as schools want to ensure those receiving the scholarships are fully deserving; extra due diligence can come in the form of online checking.
  • Admissions Sabotage: Anecdotally, admissions officers say they occasionally get anonymous tips about prospective students pointing them towards inappropriate behavior. They’ll sometimes dig online to see if it has merit.

You’re hurting your chances if admissions officers find:

  • 37% of admissions officers say that what they’ve found about an applicant positively impacted his or her application — and an equal percentage say that what they found negatively impacted an applicant’s admissions chances. Positive findings included discovery of undisclosed leadership roles or community service, while negative findings included criminal offenses, photos of drug or alcohol use, racial prejudice or inappropriate behavior [21].

You’re improving your chances if admissions officers find examples of:

  • Leadership (Kaplan):
  • Engagement on LinkedIn (Kaplan):
    • 80% of students who included links to this profile and were looked up by a representative from the schools where they applied and were accepted (according to a small study)
  • Awards and honors
  • Extracurriculars (especially those not mentioned elsewhere on the application)

6. Public officials and politicians:

People look you up online whenever you’re…

  • Running for public office. Nearly a third (31%) of US adults, especially students and young adults, that have searched a person online have looked up a politician, and over half said the search influenced their voting decision. [1]
  • Raising awareness for a cause.
  • Especially among the student population, 48% of college age students have looked up a politician online.[1]

You’re losing support if people find:

  • You are not being proactive about managing your online image. 41% of students found something that made them decide not to vote for a certain politician. [1]

You’re attracting support if people find:

  • Younger generations following your positive online presence. 35% of 18-34 year olds are more inclined to search politicians, and when they deem their reputation to be positive, 62% of students will vote for this politician. [1]

7. Athletes:

People look you up online whenever you’re…

  • Being recruited. 83% of respondents said that they (or someone on their coaching staff) conducted online research on at least one of their athletic recruits during the 2013-2014 recruiting season. The most popular social media platforms on which student-athletes are searched are: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 88% of respondents said they used Facebook, 82% said they used Twitter, and 54% said they used Instagram to perform research. 78% of respondents said that they believe they could get a better sense of a recruit’s character and personality by researching him or her online. 99% of respondents said that evaluation of the recruit’s character was either very important or important when deciding whether to pursue the recruit.  [20]

You’re losing support if recruiters find [20]:

  • Inappropriate photos or videos (Illegal, lewd/sexual, reckless, etc.) (90%)
  • Offensive posts by the recruit (83%)
  • Inappropriate posts by friends of the recruit (50%)
  • Poorly written content (53%)
  • Aggressive language (70%)
  • N/A (3%)
  • Other (5%)

And remember, 80% of respondents have seen something online that has given them a negative impression of an athletic recruit. Also, a staggering 97% of respondents believe that negative content could harm a recruit’s prospects in some way. [20]

You’re attracting support if people find:

  • Proof that you have good character. “A staggering 79% of college coaches stated that character was “very important” in their decision to pursue a recruit, and 20% of coaches claimed that it was “important” in their process”. [20]
  • 86% of respondents have seen something online that has given them a positive impression of an athletic recruit. [20]
  • 79% of respondents believe that a strong and positive online presence can give one recruit an advantage over another recruit. [20]

Recruiters and coaches find evidence of the following traits play the biggest role in their decision to pursue a recruit [20]:

  • Maturity (25%)
  • Self-motivation (39%)
  • Enthusiasm (10%)
  • Leadership (13%)
  • Empathy (<1%)

The online content most likely to give coaches a positive impression of a recruit, according to 66% of coaches, is mention of non-athletic achievements, including academic awards and other successes off the field or court. [20]

The types of online content likely to give coaches positive impressions of an athletic recruit include[20]:

  • Press Coverage (48%)
  • Mention of athletic awards (52%)
  • Mention of good play in competition (53%)
  • Well-made highlight reel (48%)
  • Mention of non-athletic achievements (66%)
  • Personal blog posts (28%)
  • Work that a recruit has done online (such as a website) (18%)
  • N/A (4%)
  • Other (8%)

8. People who are dating:

People look you up online whenever you’re:

  • Dating. Almost half (43%) of online U.S. adults that have searched someone online have searched a potential date, significant other, or ex boyfriend/girlfriend.

You’re losing dates if people find:

  • Weak images – That includes hunching, obscuring your face, and pictures that don’t really look like you.(Business Insider)

You’re attracting dates if people find :

  • Common interests64% of online daters say common interests are the most important factor
  • Strong images49% of online daters say physical characteristics are the most important factor. Also, research suggests that we’re more attracted to people in expansive — as opposed to contracted — postures, so take up space in the frame, and smile.
  • Travel – People who show pictures or talk about travel are  30% more likely to exchange messages that lead to a conversation.

Your online reputation is important now more than ever. Start with BrandYourself’s free DIY tool to learn how you can improve your digital presence and reach your earning potential.