Q&A with Patrick Ambron: BrandYourself Co-Founder & CEO

BrandYourself.com’s Co-Founder & CEO Patrick Ambron provides his insight into the start of BrandYourself, why ORM is so important, and best practices for managing one’s digital footprint.

Question: Why did you start BrandYourself?

Patrick Ambron: We started BrandYourself because my co-founder, Pete, couldn’t secure a college internship because he was being confused for a criminal with the same name in Google search results. At the time, he contacted several traditional reputation companies but couldn’t receive a quote for under $25K. This was way out of the budget of a college student – but even more troubling was the fact that these companies were unable to explain what they would be doing to help Pete’s situation. After looking into these companies further, it became clear that they were only catering to the wealthy and were using outdated practices. This resulted in out-sourced, low-quality work.

Fortunately, I had a background in search engines and was able to help Pete out with his problem, but it made us think about all the other Petes out there that didn’t have access to help with their search results and reputations online. These traditional companies were not only ineffectively servicing the clients they were targeting, but were ignoring a huge gap in the market. In today’s age, everyone needs the tools to manage their reputations online – not just the wealthy.

So, we developed a Do-It-Yourself ORM software that walks users through the process of cleaning up, improving, and managing their online presence. The software is free to get started and just $99 per year to unlock all features. The software analyzes a user’s entire digital footprint and alerts you to potentially damaging search results, risky social posts, and risky social media images – then helps you to clean them up. It also walks you through the process of building and maintaining a positive online presence that wins career opportunities. In tangent with the software, we developed in-house services to help both individuals and businesses, including negative suppression and personal branding services for individuals as well as negative suppression, employee branding, and review management services for businesses. Through our services, we’ve maintained a commitment to quality and transparency with our clients and maintain all work in-house.

Question: Why is it more important than ever for people to protect their reputations?

Patrick Ambron: We initially started BrandYourself as a way for people to deal with the unintended consequences of the web. We saw with our co-founder Pete how a single negative search result can have damaging repercussions on someone’s career. Over the years, we’ve continued to help people who have found themselves dealing with unwanted search results, many of them a by-product of upsetting the wrong person. For all the good the Internet has given us, all it takes is someone to write or post something about you anonymously for damage to be done. We see this a lot of time with cases of revenge porn.

ORM has evolved into something that everyone needs, not just those who have been targeted or are dealing with negative search results. Everything we do online leaves a digital footprint and all of that data is increasingly being used to screen people at every stage of their career. Online screening is on the rise – with over 70% of employers now conducting online screenings of candidates, many of which are using advanced technology to do so. However, we believe that online screening can be extremely inaccurate and unfair:

  • Negative Google results frequently are the product of cyberbullying – With the web’s anonymity, all it takes is one person to write something negative about you online for it to have damaging effects. Someone who you fired, passed over for a promotion, or even who you dated could post anything about you online – and we see it happen all the time. According to the Pew Research Center, 73% of American adults have witnessed online harassment, and 70% of young Americans say they have been victims themselves. Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done about it either. Most laws currently protect the publishers and it’s incredibly difficult to get something removed from the web.
  • You might have a questionable social media post online and not even realize – this shouldn’t discredit you from the job – Looking for red flags in social media may sound like a good idea on the surface, but we’ve found that most screening often mis-catgorizes people who could be great employees based off of posts taken out of context.  
  • Online screening algorithms can frequently lead to less diverse hiring – Algorithms may favor individuals with more polished online presences, but who may not actually be the most qualified for the position. As screening becomes more prominent, so has the availability of expensive resources to help those willing to pay. High-end college prep companies are increasingly adding online personal branding to their service offerings and universities are beginning to even offer classes on the topic. However, not everyone has access to these types of resources meaning algorithms may do a better job of signaling privilege than competence. We believe reputation resources need to be available to everybody, not just those who can afford it.
  • Online screening can reward those who are better at promoting what they do than those who are good at what they do: Although online screenings ultimate goal is to help find the best candidate, it may end up just finding the candidate who is best at promoting themselves. The candidate who has a polished, well-maintained online presence (has a personal website, active blog, robust social media presence, etc.) is more likely to get hired. While this isn’t necessarily fair, it speaks to the importance for everyone to have access to tools and resources to improve their online presence.

It’s more important than ever to have the tools to understand what’s out there about you on the web and how it could potentially be used when making decisions about you. You can read more on my thoughts on online screening here.

Question: What’s the most important thing for people to know about their digital presence?

Patrick Ambron: The most important thing to be aware of is that everyone needs to be concerned with their reputation online. All it takes is a single post for something to damage your reputation – and we see it happen all the time. Your reputation is no longer just the search results for your name but rather your whole digital footprint, including the social media posts you seemingly share privately with friends. Many of us have been on social media for the better part of a decade – that’s hundreds or even thousands of posts, comments, images, etc. that are online associated with your name. Even if a post was meant to stay between friends as an inside joke, you’re never sure who may see it and take it out of context. And although privacy settings are a step in the right direction, it’s never 100% safe from it finding its way in the wrong hands. Additionally, more and more companies are requesting access to private Facebook profiles via screening technology.

When it comes to social media screening, we’re not here to judge whether something is good or bad. We want to empower people with the knowledge of what’s being found in many of these online screenings, so they can make the determination on whether or not they want to keep it online.

Question: What should someone do if they are dealing with negative search results?

Patrick Ambron: Over the years, we’ve helped thousands of people, through both our software and in-house services, deal with negative search results. While the initial shock of discovering an unwanted search result showing up for your name can be overwhelming, you do have some options:

  • See if removal is an option – While removing something from the web is very difficult and not an option for most people, it’s worth checking to see if your situation fits the criteria:
  • It’s an incident of revenge porn – As revenge porn has grown into an epidemic, many tech companies have taken a stand against it. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. all of policies against revenge porn. If you’re dealing with revenge porn, you can file a claim directly with Google to have the content removed from search engines. Additionally, depending on where the image/video is hosted, you may be able to appeal directly to the site itself to have it removed. Learn more about your options here.
  • It’s copyright Infringement – The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is responsible for protecting copyrighted material on the web. Websites and search engines will honor removal requests if the content is in violation of the DMCA.  In order for it to qualify, you need to be the owner of the original content itself and be able to prove. For example, many instances of revenge porn are selfies, meaning the person took the photo of themselves, and therefore owns the photo. Each website and search engine requires different information to file a takedown request so do some research with the site itself.
    1. You live in the EU or Argentina– The “Right to Be Forgotten” was passed several years ago in the EU to allow citizens “to determine the development of their life in an autonomous way, without being perpetually or periodically stigmatized as a consequence of a specific action performed in the past”. There are guidelines to this, however, and a request does not guarantee removal. If you do live in the EU or Argentina, do some research on if your situation meets their criteria.
    2. It’s sensitive information connected with your name – Google will remove sensitive information from its search engines, including bank account numbers, credit card numbers, social security numbers, signatures, and other information that could lead to identity theft. However, this doesn’t include information like your name and address.

Even if your situation does fit in one of the removal options listed above, it doesn’t prevent the negative result from resurfacing elsewhere, which is a common occurrence. That’s why we recommend suppression as your best option for dealing with unwanted search results.

  • Your best option: Suppressing unwanted search results with positive content. The concept behind suppression is simple: create positive, relevant content about you that will push anything damaging or unwanted in search results farther down and out of site to anyone looking you up. Additionally, having positive content about you on the web can also minimize the overall impact of anything damaging. Here’s the process
  • Create a foundation of websites and profiles – First and foremost, you need a foundation of high-quality websites and profiles that communicate a professional brand. This includes:
        1. Personal website: This should serve as the keystone of your personal brand online and include an ‘about me’ section, awards, accolades, any portfolio items, links to other info about you on the web, and more. There are plenty of tools to easily create a website without a technical background. We recommend WordPress because it’s easy-to-use and ranks well in search engines.
        2. Professional profiles: To support your brand, you need professional profiles including LinkedIn, Twitter, Quora, etc. We commonly recommend 10-12 supporting profiles based on your overall goal.
  • Optimize for search engines – To maximize the chance that your properties outrank unwanted results, you need to implement comprehensive Search Engine Optimization best practices. There are hundreds of factors that go into how search engines rank results. Fortunately, our DIY software easily breaks down and walks you through the most important things you can be doing to your sites and profiles to help them outrank anything unwanted.
    1. Create ongoing content to build to build out your personal brand. – The key here is to keep your sites and profiles active with professional content. It not only helps make them more search engine friendly (and therefore give them the best chance of outranking unwanted search results) but it also looks impressive to anyone looking you up online. A few of the major buckets of content creation include:
      1. Blogging: this is one of the best ways to get professional content out there under your name. Blog about topics that are related to your industry to help enhance your brand
      2. Social media engagement: Views, shares, and other forms of social engagement all contribute to higher search rankings.
      3. Rich media creation – Post rich media like videos, images, and presentations on sites like SlideShare, Vimeo & YouTube. Rich media ranks very well because it is so engaging.

If you’re dealing with negative search results, we’d love to help! Give us a call at 646-863-8226.

Question: Where do you see the ORM industry going?

Patrick Ambron: I touched upon it earlier, but we entered the industry because it was broken: it only catered to the wealthy, used outdated techniques and lacked transparency.

In many ways the industry needs to change and many of the steps BrandYourself has taken is leading the way:

  • Tools and resources to manage one’s reputation need to be available to everyone, not just the wealthy. As we’ve seen, reputation is a cause of concern for everyone, but there needs to be tools and resources accessible to the average person. That’s why we developed a free ORM software to help people better understand and control what’s out there about them on the web. Although we do offer higher-tier in-house services, our software allows us to empower a much larger group of people.
  • Ongoing changes to Google’s algorithms have made “quick fixes” to influence search results outdated. As a result, companies employing these techniques will need to be more transparent about their process & timelines.  When we were researching traditional ORM companies to help with Pete’s problem, it became clear that they were employing “quick fixes” in order to over-promise on their results. As Google’s algorithms have become more and more advanced, these quick fixes no longer work, and are even penalized by search engines. The key to successful reputation management is creating, managing, and optimizing high-quality content (profiles, websites, blogs, rich media, etc.) that is actually relevant and useful to searchers. This is the approach we’ve always taken when working with our clients. We never mystify the process or make outlandish guarantees that are impossible to meet. Instead, we’re transparent about the process the entire way, we set realistic expectation with the client with actionable steps for how we will reach our goal, and we invest in the work by keeping all work in-house with our team of amazing employees.
  • The industry needs to help people prevent problems as well, not just prevent them. Years ago, people only traditionally sought out ORM help when they had a problem but it’s more important than ever for every individual to be actively monitoring, cleaning up, and improving how they look online – and the industry needs to provide the tools to do so. At BrandYourself, we released a feature to our software this year that scans your social media profiles and alerts you if you have any potentially risky posts or images. We’ve also enhanced our features to help you build out a positive online presence. The first offense is a good defense and having a solid online presence now can help minimize the impact of something potentially damaging later down the road.

As we live more and more of our lives online, it’s the responsibility of the industry to step up and continue to evolve with the needs of consumers. You can read more of my thoughts on the future of the ORM industry here.

Patrick Ambron is the CEO and co-founder of BrandYourself.com, which provides tools and services that help people look better online.  He has been recognized by the White House as one of Empact100’s top CEOs under 30, named to Inc Magazine’s top 35 under 35, and appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank, where he walked away from a $2 million offer – one of the highest offers in the show’s history.