Image management: what do people think of you?

May 23rd, 2016

Jarno van Kessel

It won’t come as a surprise that people don’t want to look foolish on the internet, or when meeting other people, but did you know that you can manage your image?

Then, what is ‘image management’? The truth is that you are probably already doing it, maybe without even realizing it. The Image Management Professionals’ Association calls it the science and art to manage those things that improve one’s image, the so-called ‘image elements’. Examples of these elements include very regular things, like clothing, grooming, use of words and body language. It is vital to match these elements with your role, or roles, in order to be taken seriously. If your role is an outgoing partygoer, you should dress casually and have a friendly attitude. In contrast, if your role is an employee at a big firm, you should make sure that your hair is done in an orderly fashion and your behavior is business-like. Moreover, you want to be perceived as confident, your handshake needs to be firm.

Act your role
Most of this won’t come as a surprise, however. But it is critical to remember that when people recognize a single characteristic of a role in you, they assume you have a set of related traits as well. At the moment someone sees you for the first time, he will make an evaluation of you and try to categorize you into certain roles. If you are well-dressed in a company, for example, you will get the role of a capable, professional and successful person. Therefore, just because your clothes are nice, they will trust you and respect your opinion. So whatever you do, try to be associated with positive roles by making use of very simple positive image elements.

Of course, your real-life image is not the only image concern anymore. Not in this time, when everyone looks up people they are about to meet, like business acquaintances, potential employees or future dates on Facebook, Twitter, and Google. The first two of these internet inventions, the social media, are quite easily manageable. You can decide what comes on your timeline. You can choose that there isn’t too much complaining about work on your timeline, so you don’t get role of a lazy person for your future boss. At the same time, you won’t retweet a link to the merits of a lower minimum wage if you know that your friends are against this.

But what do you do if there is a bad review of your start-up on Google? Or even worse, a very awkward video when you’ve had a few drinks too many? This can be a little bit more challenging, but don’t worry, not all hope is lost! 

Un-googling yourself
Yes, you can un-google yourself, remove pages about yourself from Google. There are various companies that help you to get a better image on Google and Bing. They help you contact those websites that host the negative images of you, asking them to remove them. After all, everybody has a ‘right to be forgotten’, so usually this can actually be done. Even if this doesn’t work, there are other ways to be forgotten. After all, you can hire people that flood the internet with positive comments, or make use of ‘Search Engine Optimalization’ (SEO), where it is analyzed what keywords and links trigger the best search results for you.

If this is too much work for you, what I can understand, there is a very simple trick to consider if you want to save your face on Google. This trick is to think about the way you are found on search engines. An important example: never use your full name on sites with potential bad reviews, like EBay or Amazon. If they don’t find you using your full name, you won’t be found altogether.

Whether you are having a conversation face-to-face or browsing online, it is vital to consider the way you are perceived by others. They will always make generalizations about what role you might have, purely based on some small factors like your handshake. Is this unfair? Maybe, but life is unfair. But luckily there are plenty of ways to make sure that people will think the best of you, and will never read about the one time you ‘forgot’ to actually send the product you sold on EBay. Use these tricks at your advantage.