People seem to believe what they see on the Internet. In the Web 2.0, where everyone has a say, the Internet can work for us or against us. My sense is that in 2009 we will all need to make sure it is working for us and we will need to take charge of it.

When it comes to personal marketing, we are no longer in control of the message. Consumers can rate Realtors on Web sites and they don’t even need to tell us who they are.

People seem to believe what they see on the Internet. In the Web 2.0, where everyone has a say, the Internet can work for us or against us. My sense is that in 2009 we will all need to make sure it is working for us and we will need to take charge of it.

When it comes to personal marketing, we are no longer in control of the message. Consumers can rate Realtors on Web sites and they don’t even need to tell us who they are. People can read what others have written about us, they can search for us through Google and find out all kinds of things, and even find pictures of us enjoying a drink with our friends at a party.

For the real estate professionals who have chosen not to have a strong online presence, one is being created for them by others.

It may be on a real estate company web site where there is a gray silhouette or for-sale sign where an agent’s face should be. Where the carefully crafted bio should be there is a canned message that mostly promotes the real estate company but contains the agent’s name and phone number.

A consumer searching for a real estate professional with that kind of online presence may get the idea that the agent isn’t very active or engaged in the selling of real estate.

It is hard to hide on the Internet. There is so much information about us. We have some choices. We can ignore it all and go about out business or we can participate.

Every now and then I search for myself online because I want to know what others will find. It’s called reputation management, and I like to take an active roll in it. I once found myself on the Homethinking.com site. I never signed up for the site. The information about me was not correct. I also discovered that I could be rated by anonymous Internet users. I managed to have myself removed from the site.

In recent months there are some other sites that I have contacted with the request that information about me be deleted. The site operators have said it could harm my online presence to remove my name from those sites, though I contend that false information or being portrayed in a way that I don’t feel is in my best interests is more harmful than not appearing at those sites.

We can never control our online presence and reputation — not in the Web 2.0 world, where everyone gets to participate in the conversation and comment. We can manage our own brands and we need to take an active role in monitoring and in creating information.

Not participating on the Internet or ignoring it gives others the opportunity to craft messages about us that may not be in our best interests. It is better to take charge and to formulate you own online persona.

During the holidays, when things get kind of slow in that week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, it might be a good time to take a look and see what the search engines are finding when a consumer types in your name. People don’t search for real estate by typing in an agent’s name, but savvy home sellers and buyers check the Internet for information about agents.

It also might be a good time to create an online presence you can control, if you haven’t already. As a start, you can build a complete profile on your company’s Web site, a profile on LinkedIn, one on Facebook, and one on ActiveRain.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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