Protecting Your Online Reputation

Each year I give a presentation to incoming students at the Law School that introduces them to some of the School’s online resources, and also aims to aid them in their future careers by helping them take control of their online reputations. I thought the latter part of this presentation might be of interest to others as well, so I’ve produced a slightly modified version of the presentation below.

It is almost impossible in today’s knowledge economy to avoid having an online presence. Many times that presence is helpful — we can reconnect with old friends, discover books and music that we never would have otherwise known existed, and impress potential employers with our resumes and portfolios. But if not properly curated, that online presence can also damage our chances of, say, being able to actually land that new job that we’re applying for. And unfortunately, most damage done to  online reputations is self-inflicted, whether through ignorance or carelessness.

Here are four things to consider when posting anything online to avoid shooting yourself in the digital foot:

  • Your employer WILL Google you.  According to a study done in 2009 (and discussed in this Concurring Opinions blog post), 89% of human resources professionals thought it was appropriate to take an applicant’s online life into account in hiring decisions, and 70% had rejected an applicant because of something they had found online.
  • Nothing you put on the internet is ever truly anonymous. “Well,” you might think, “if my employer is going to Google me, I’ll just make sure that anything questionable I post won’t be associated with my name.” Good luck with that. Many websites log the IP address of all computers that access them, and even if you’re accessing a site from a public computer or have IP masking software, chances are there are other ways to discover who left that “anonymous” comment on the company blog. According to a study by Know Privacy, 88.4% of websites have SOME sort of “web bug” that collects data about users usually without their awareness.
  • Once you put it online, it could very well be there forever. My favorite example of this is the young woman in Britain who was fired from her job after calling her boss a “pervy wanker” on Facebook… having forgotten, it seems, that her boss was her Facebook friend. Aside from the cautionary tale of remembering who you’ve friended, what’s amazing to me about this is the idea that this screenshot — obviously taken by one of the poster’s friends — will now live on indeterminately on the internet. The young woman should be grateful that whoever did so had the courtesy to scrub out her name, otherwise she might very well have been haunted by this boneheaded move for the rest of her professional career.
  • Email counts too. I would be willing to bet that people do more damage to their professional prospects through email than through any other electronic means. It’s far too easy to accidentally hit “reply all” for your scathing comebacks intended only for one of many people on a mailing list, or for a disgruntled coworker to forward a “private” email to your entire company. If you are in school, remember that email interactions with administrators are professional communications and should be treated as such. While you don’t have to be quite so formal with your classmates, remember that these are people that you may very well be working with — or for — one day. In the hiring process, you don’t want to be the person who gets remembered for drunkenly spamming the class mailing list every weekend. And of course, there’s the worst-case scenario in which a questionable email is forwarded far and wide with your name prominently attached to it.

How to protect yourself:

  • A rule of thumb. At the Law School, we encourage our student tweeters to consider one rule of thumb before every tweet: “Do I care whether my grandmother, my dean, or my future employer will ever see this post?” The potential readers in your rule of thumb may be different depending on your situation and online comfort level, but if the answer to your question is “yes,” back slowly away from the keyboard and go get a sandwich.
  • Check your privacy settings. Do you know who can see what on your Facebook page? If you’re not sure, spend some time learning how Facebook (or whatever social networks you happen to be on) deals with privacy issues (Facebook’s FAQ’s are here). Personally, I make sure that only my friends can see anything I post; it doesn’t eliminate the risk that something might escape my newsfeed and get into the wild, but it does reduce the risk.
  • Control your brand: post more. It might be tempting, given the dangers I outline above, to throw up your hands, delete your Facebook account, and take a vow of digital silence. After all, what you don’t type can’t hurt you, right. Wrong. If you have no online presence that you control, then you are leaving a vacuum that can be easily filled with the negative comments of others (or of others pretending to be you). Instead, take control of your personal brand by producing high-quality content — whether on a blog, your LinkedIn page or something else — that will be associated with your name and will highlight your skills and abilities.
  • Monitor your data shadow. If anyone is writing nasty things (or, for that matter, good things) about you online, you want to know as soon as possible so that you can take steps to nip disaster in the bud. Google Alerts is a great tool for this; it will send you an email every time Google’s search engine encounters the phrase of your choosing.

So that’s a brief primer in protecting your professional reputation online. If you have any additional tips, I’d love to hear them.

Law School Project: Faculty Reading 2010

Each year since 2008, the Law School has compiled a list of reading recommendations from its faculty members as a sort of holiday gift for alumni. And each year, I design a new one-page site to house those recommendations. I think this year’s incarnation came out pretty well, as it’s a rather unusual way of navigating what is essentially just a *very* long list. Even better, we were able to tie this year’s edition into our recently launched Goodreads presence by making it easy for users to quickly friend us and become fans of our faculty members; accordingly our friend numbers on Goodreads increased by 50% within just a couple of days, and many of our new friends seem to have joined specifically for the chance to connect with us, an indicator of significant engagement.

Tracking the Law School’s Social Media

(cross-posted at The University of Chicago Law School’s Electronic Projects Blog)

I recently spent some time immersed in Google Analytics, trying to track the effectiveness of some of the Law School’s social media efforts. As these results may be of interest to colleagues at the University of Chicago and elsewhere, I thought I’d share the results here.

The goals of the Law School’s social media presence are:

  1. to increase engagement between the Law School with both current students and alumni, thereby strengthening their bond with the school;
  2. to increase engagement with prospective students, thereby increasing the chances that those students will choose to attend Chicago over one of our peer schools;
  3. and to increase awareness in the general public about the achievements of the Law School’s faculty, students, and alumni.

The primary method for achieving these goals is to distribute content from the Law School’s website through a highly dispersed network of “followers” and “fans,” and to allow those followers to not only consume our content but to spread it to their own friends/followers.

Tracking Method
My measurement for tracking the effectiveness of this method is to trace the amount of traffic driven to our website by these social media channels, as a means of indicating consumption of the content contained therein. I did this by creating segments based on referring URLs and examining the content consumed by the different segments. Of course, visits and pageviews are not perfect indicators of content consumption, but they are the best option that I could figure out how to measure using Google Analytics. It should be noted that the numbers below are based on sampled data rather than absolute numbers.


  • The Law School currently has just over 2,000 fans on its Facebook page, an average of 450 of which are active on the page in a given month.
  • Between 10/1/09 and 10/01/10, Facebook sent nearly 8500 visitors to the Law School website (this does not include the number that it sent to the Faculty Blog [just over 350] or the Becker-Posner Blog [just over 4,000]).
  • Other than search engines and the University’s site, only Wikipedia and Leiter’s Law School Reports sent more visitors during that period.
  • 27% of visitors from Facebook had never before visited the Law School’s site. This means two things:
    • 1) over 2200 people who had never visited the Law School’s site before were brought there by Facebook, and
    • 2) the remaining 6300 visits were from people who engage with the Law School repeatedly.
  • 18,728 pageviews resulted from Facebook
    • 17% were views of the home page
    • 16% were views of “student” pages
    • 7% were views of “news” pages
    • 7% were views of “prospective” pages
    • 3% were views of “alumni” pages  
    • 2% were views of audio/video pages


  • During the same 10/1/09-10/01/10 period, sent nearly 5,000 visitors to the Law School’s website; however, because of the many different ways people can access Twitter (third-party applications, etc.), it is likely that the actual minimum number sent from the Twitter platform is closer to 6,000, and the total could be as high as 10,000.
  • The Law School currently has over 3,500 followers on its primary account.
  • 19,013 pageviews resulted from
    • 22% were views of the homepage
    • 8% were views of “student” pages
    • 4% were views of “news” pages
    • 33% were views of “prospective” pages
    • 2% were views of “alumni” pages
    • 1% were views of audio/video pages


  • During that same 10/1/09-10/01/10 period, while only 492 visitors came from our LinkedIn group, 40% of those were new visitors. This is important because we know that the vast majority of our interactions with LinkedIn users tend to be with alumni, so this stat potentially indicates that alumni who are not otherwise visiting the Law School’s site are engaging with the Law School there.
  • There are currently just over 1,300 members of our LinkedIn group.
  • 1,552 pageviews resulted from LinkedIn
    • 18% were views of the homepage
    • 6% were views of “student” pages
    • 18% were views of “news” pages
    • 4% were views of “prospective” pages
    • 4% were views of “alumni” pages
    • 4% were views of audio/video pages

The biggest surprise for me out of all of these results was the large percentage of “prospective” pageviews generated by Twitter; I really had no idea whether our Twitter feed was reaching prospective students or not, but it appears that they are indeed our largest and/or most engaged audience on Twitter.

So, what do you make of these numbers, and how do they compare to your own? Suggestions for ways to improve both the accuracy of these results and the effectiveness of our social media efforts are, of course, more than welcome. 

Update: One stat that I forgot to mention: all of those pageviews generated by our social media were equal to just 1% of our total pageviews for that time period, which seemed surprisingly low to me. However, visitors referred by social media spent approximately 33% more time per page than the average time per page, which indicates that while social media may not be driving massive amounts of traffic, it is driving people who are more likely to actually engage with our content.

What Do Mobile Users Want?

(cross-posted at the University of Chicago Law School Electronic Projects Blog)

Optimizing the Law School’s website for mobile devices is one of those things that has been on my to-do list since just about the day I started here. But it is, alas, one of those long-term projects that continually gets pushed to the bottom of the list due to more immediate, deadline-driven concerns. The new website we launched last summer — built, as it is, in a generally web-standards-compliant fashion — is somewhat more mobile-friendly then the previous version, but we did not have the budget or time to build in a mobile-specific site to that project.

This summer, however, I am determined to make some headway in this area, particularly after catching Justin Gatewood’s very helpful presentation on using CSS for this purpose at the 2010 eduWeb conference. Before I dive into the CSS, however, I need to figure out what it is that UChicagoLaw’s mobile are (or would like to be) using our site for.

Enter Google Analytics. We’ve had Analytics installed on the Law School’s website for a while now, and I browse our stats periodically, especially looking for broken links) but digging deeper into all of the tools that Analytics has to offer has been yet another one of those projects that winds up tabled in favor of dealing with more immediate concerns. However, after a little stumbling blindly around the site, I was able to create an “Advanced Segment” that would separate mobile users out from the rest of the site’s users.

Here is what I was able to discover about our mobile users over the time period roughly corresponding with the 2009-2010 academic year:

  • Visits by mobile device users comprised just over 1% of total visits.
  • Pageviews by mobile devices comprised less than 1% of total pageviews.
  • iPhone, iPad, and iPod users were by far the most frequent viewers of the site, making close to 80% of all visits. Android users were a distant second, at just over 10% of visits.
  • To my surprise, over a third of our mobile pageviews appeared to have been by prospective students (i.e., within the prospective students section of our site), with the page containing the link to allow them to check their application status being accessed even more often than the site’s home page.
  • By contrast, pageviews of pages clearly identifiable as being of interest primarily to students made up just 10% of the total.
  • Internal search resulted in almost exactly 1% of pageviews, with course-related information being the most commonly sought data.
  • Most external searches (i.e. via Google) were for some variation of the school’s name, followed by the status checker and assorted other admissions-related items.
  • There were few visits to our contact/directory page and very few searches (internal or external) for the terms “directory” or “contact”  This was also suprising, as I would expect that users on their mobile devices might frequently be looking for phone numbers or email addresses.

What does all this mean? To my mind, it indicates that prospective students should be the primary audience toward whom the mobile version of our site is aimed. Of course, current students and staff use the site via mobile devices as well, but not nearly as much as I might have expected.The information geared towards those internal audiences should, it appears, be primarily related to courses.

Wrangling the Octopus

Yesterday, I gave a presentation at the eduWeb conference entitled “Wrangling the Octopus: Managing Your Social Media Ecosystem.” In the presentation, I outlined the tools that I use to keep content flowing to the University of Chicago Law School’s many social media outlets.  The Cliffs Notes version:

  • I try to operate under two general principles: automate as much as possible, but don’t lose the human touch.
  • Using Yahoo Pipes, I create a master feed that aggregates all of our syndicated content (blogs, podcasts, news items, etc.).
  • That master feed is fed into Feedburner, in order to maintain a single static URL and to ensure that the feed validates. Feedburner also creates an animated gif of the feed that can be added to HTML emails.
  • The Feedburner feed is fed into, which sends content out to Twitter and Facebook.
  • We use CoTweet to share our primary Twitter account among team members, and Echofon to monitor Twitter in real time.

My Prezi “slides” are embedded below:

@lougan caught a minute or so on video (embedded below), and @omahaNE posted his notes and audio on Livescribe.

Establishing an Institutional Presence on Goodreads

If there’s a mantra for organizations or institutions in social media, it’s this: connect with your users where they are. Or, I would add, where you think they’d like to be. That’s why at UChicagoLaw, we decided to launch an institutional presence on Goodreads, a social network focused around books. Founded in 2006, Goodreads allows users to keep track of books they’ve read or would like to read, post reviews and read the reviews of their friends, form book clubs, interact with authors, and more.

Our goal was twofold: to maintain engagement with alumni, and to promote the work of our faculty to the world at large.

We’re not sure how many of our alumni are already on Goodreads, but we’re pretty sure that a lot of them would like to be if they knew about it. If you’re familiar with the University of Chicago, you probably know that most folks affiliated with it are unabashedly geeky about something, be it 12th century Portugese literature or the intricacies of the anatomy of sea slugs of the genus Dunga, and the Law School is no exception (check out our course offerings on subjects like Admiralty Law and Ancient Roman Law if you don’t believe me). And along with that geekiness naturally comes a love of books. So while Goodreads remains a niche site, we’re fairly certain that it’s a niche site that suits our audience well, and confident that we can begin to get them engaged there.

Since Goodreads does not currently have an equivalent of Facebook’s Pages (or Public Profiles, or whatever they’re calling them this week), building an institutional presence required a little creativity. Here are the steps we took:

  1. Created an account with the username “UChicagoLaw,” uploaded avatar photo, filled out info, etc.
  2. Created “shelves” for the categories of books we wanted to highlight, and added books to those shelves; in this case, “Faculty Books” (all books by current faculty); “Faculty New Releases;” “The Illustrious Past” (books written by deceased and former faculty while at the Law School); “Law School Classics;” and “Faculty Recommendations” (based on responses to our annual questionnaire to faculty about what they’re currently reading).
  3. Added our faculty members as our “favorite authors.”
  4. After adding 50 books to your profile, you can apply to become a “librarian;” this gave us the opportunity edit the author pages for faculty, including adding photos, bios, and blog feeds. You can also add YouTube videos to authors’ pages.

That got us to the point that we felt comfortable launching. Plans for the future include reviving a dormant alumni book club using the site, as well has getting some of our faculty involved in Q&A’s about their recent works.

We’ve built it; now we’ll see if they come.

Presentation: Twitter in Higher Ed Communications

Next week I’ll be presenting at the 2009 eduWeb conference here in Chicago. My talk will be entitled “A Bird in the Hand: Twitter as a Higher Ed Communications Tool” and will present some of the reasons why institutions of higher education might want to use Twitter and provide some tips and techniques for getting such a project off the ground. The powerpoint of my presentation is now up on Slideshare.

Project Update: The Law School Redesign

Last week, the University of Chicago Law School (where I am the Manager of Electronic Communications) launched its redesigned website. I have been working on this project in one form or another since I was hired in late 2007, and, like most projects of such size, the launch is by no means the end of the work needed. As a result, it has been hard to wrap my head around the fact that this stage of the project is complete. However, I thought this was a good time to ste back and reflect a little on the process.

In many ways, this project has been very unlike the other projects I’ve detailed on this block. This is by the far the biggest project that I have worked on, both in terms of amount of content and the number of people involved. While most of my previous projects have involved, at most, the client plus one other designer, this one involved a team of two designers (from the small Chicago design firm Rogue Element) and a development team of half a dozen members of the Chicago web development firm, not to mention the many stakeholders at the Law School itself.

Also unlike other projects I’ve worked on, in which I’ve often done design and development, my role here was generally limited to information architecture and project management. Aside from gaining some valuable experience in keeping so many moving parts going in the right direction, this also meant that I had the chance to observe the processes by which Rogue Element and Palantir worked. Getting to observe some more-experienced colleagues as they worked was a great learning experience.

The biggest difference between this project and the others I’ve worked on, however, was that I was, for the first time, playing the role of the client while working with other designers and web professionals. This is something that I think most web designers don’t get the chance to do often, and I found that it provided me with some valuable insight into the assumptions at play on both sides of the working relationship. I hope that I can use this insight to make my own interactions with clients even more productive.

Project Update: Recent Design Projects at the Law School

While my day job as Manager of Electronic Communications at the University of Chicago Law School tends to lean more toward the tech and information architecture sides of web-work than the design side, I do occasionally get to undertake projects that use as much of the right side of my brain as they do the left (while our upcoming site-wide redesign promises to explode both sides).

Since starting the job in August of last year, I’ve had the opportunity to do a couple of these projects. The highest profile one so far was a redesign of our Faculty Blog, which had been launched in 2005 using a slightly modified version of one of Typepad’s standard issue templates:

When I redesigned it this past fall, my primary goal was to make it more usable — get rid of the gray text on a gray background, add a prominent search box and make it easier for visitors to subscribe to the blog and get to the Law School website. I also separated out the podcast feed and added a widget in the sidebar so people could listen to the podcasts without leaving the blog page.

I was very pleased to see a presenter at the CASE V conference in December hold up the redesigned blog as an example of higher ed institutions “using social media well.”

I also used this design as inspiration for a Flash e-card that the Law School’s Annual Fund asked me to create. Considering it was my first attempt at Flash, I think the card came out pretty well. This was an especially fun project because I had the chance to create the music for the card as well. The music for these things is usually classical music calculated to be almost unnoticeable. I used a collage of samples from Apple’s Garageband program to create a piece that sounds to me a bit like it could have come from “Six Feet Under;” I even had someone ask me where they could purchase a copy.