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Repair your reputation: Displace mugshots with your family photo album

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A close friend in online marketing approached me for advice because their son had been arrested for possession of marijuana and mugshots had begun ranking for his name in search engines. When arrest photos like this appear online, they can be fixed relatively easily, as online reputation management issues go. Read on, and I’ll explain.

The mugshot website problem

Mugshot sites are generally rather scummy. They harvest data from city, county and state policing agencies, thanks to freedom of information laws, and then they build entire websites upon the data. Arrest records and mugshots are considered public information and that used to not be all that commonly accessible. Now these mugshot websites work diligently to optimize their websites to make their pages as visible as possible.

Mugshot websites generally create a page for each individual, including information about the city and state where they were arrested, their mugshot photo, the charges for which they were arrested and sometimes additional details such as aliases, distinctive characteristics, tattoos and more.

Mugshot profile pages typically are built to feature the names of people arrested as the main titles of the pages. This particularly optimizes the pages, helping them to rank well along with the image content. So when the names of people arrested are searched upon in Google and Bing, these pages can rank high in the search results, following those individuals around as they try to live life, negatively impacting their personal relationships and careers.

These websites make money through two primary avenues: revenues derived from the ads appearing on their sites and various ways of charging individuals in return for removing the arrest records and mugshots. You might well ask whether the latter is legal, since it sounds a bit like an extortion scheme. It is, but I think it should not be since these sites rarely exercise the sort of responsibility that should ethically accompany this type of data.

Others agree with me on that – for instance, some credit card and financial service companies decline to work with the mugshot sites. And, some states have made it a crime to charge someone to remove the mugshot. Even so, the mugshot sites have found shady ways to still get money in return for removals – such as making a behind-closed-door business deal with online reputation management companies. The mugshot website recommends the reputation firm to people seeking to have information removed and the reputation firm takes the payments from people wanting removals and gives a portion of that money back to the mugshot site.

This is what makes the issue so slimy. Each time you pay a mugshot site, or a reputation firm that has partnered with them, your money helps keep the whole thing going. You may not realize that the mugshot website operator may own half a dozen other arrest websites which you also must pay in order to have the inconvenient material removed. Once you have paid one this may give them an incentive to publish the materials in other places.

If you pay one company to take it down, the chances are that there may be other websites where it also appears. Once it disappears from one website, you may find three more that you were not aware of, waiting in the wings to rise into visibility in the search results.

Google now helps those with mugshots

It is the high visibility in search engine results that often makes a mugshot so destructive. This is where Google actually has lended a hand to those facing this problem.

Five years ago, Google began demoting mugshot websites in the search rankings. This means that despite those mugshot websites’ efforts to show up as effectively as possible, they usually cannot outrank other materials for the same searches. Google made it harder for their pages and the mugshot photo images to rank as high.

Unfortunately, the mugshots or arrest pictures can and do frequently still show up. Google’s suppression fix may have eroded some in the intervening years, but typically mugshots only pop up high in search results when there are not other contents that are relevant for the same name. These things usually appear in cases where the person featured in the mugshot has a very unique name that is shared by few-to-no others, and they have kept a generally low profile on the internet. If you have no photos or few photos associated with your name on the internet, then when a photo is published with your arrest records it is likely to become prominent very fast. Nature abhors a void, and in this sort of situation, so does Google.

Google’s mugshot suppression fix helps you when there are more pictures available for your name. So, if you find your mugshot is showing up on page one in Google, then you will want to publish your own photos on pages you control which cast you in a positive light.

How to optimize your positive photos to replace the mugshots

It’s desirable to have a few handfuls of photos of yourself to use in your project. Google does not like to show a list of pages with identical content in the search results, so you cannot use 20 copies of the same photo for this purpose.

This is where your family photo album may be your best friend. You will need digital copies of the pics of you, so if you only have hard copies, scan them or take pictures of the photos with your cell phone. The best file format is generally going to be JPG or JPEG, but GIF can also work as well as PNG.

While the pictures do not have to be only of you – they can include other people in them along with you. However, you do want a number of them that are only of you, and the ones with others as well should mostly feature you within them as a primary or prominent subject.

If you already have a Facebook profile, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter, you can use those to your advantage. Make sure you have a good picture to use for your profiles – you can also search to see what the best picture size is for each of those services. Be sure to change your settings if you have your profiles set to private or hidden posts. You need public profiles in order for the search engines to access and display photos.

Note: If you are concerned with privacy, you can set up separate social media profiles just for this project and keep your personal Facebook and Twitter accounts private. On Facebook, it is easiest to Create a Page, which is done while logged-in under your personal account. The Page can be public-facing, while your personal profile is not.

Social media accounts for this purpose should be created with your name as the profile name. Over the course of a number of days, post one or two pics a day and include your name in the captions of the image (where applicable) or in the update posting text, along with varying additional description of what the photo is of, where it was taken, and/or the dates.

Other free image sharing services can be useful, too, such as Flickr.

If you are not intimidated by setting up your own webpages, having a personal website can be very advantageous to publish more images of yourself. Obtain a domain name that is brief and contains your name. Then launch a website on it using WordPress as the website software.

As a less-daunting option, you can set up a personal website at WordPress.com for free, and the website software is already set up and ready-to-go.

Additional places to set up personal webpages include: Tumblr, About.me, Yelp, LinkedIn, Medium.com, blogspot.com, etc. Many other sites can be useful beyond these, as well, if you look around for them.

Add your personal photo as the profile image at these places as well as posts where applicable that feature your photos. Always try to include your name in the image file names (ex: “YourName.jpg”), captions and what is called “ALT” or alternative text (this is text that is hidden from the casual internet user, but which tells machines what the subject matter of an image is).

Once you have published your photos in all of these various places, and Google has had an opportunity to find them and index them, you will be delighted to see that your desired photos began appearing higher in the search results and should begin displacing the negative mugshot image!

This same approach can simultaneously work in Bing search results but at a much slower rate. Bing has not applied a helpful suppression to these sorts of sites so greater efforts over a longer period may be necessary to offset mugshots there.

Concluding thoughts

Avoid paying the mugshot websites, since that has incentivized them to create a business that preys upon people’s shame and profit in an extortionary way. It’s also a slippery slope that may not solve your problem since another site may appear each time you think you have made it go away.

Some states have enacted laws requiring website operators to be responsive to removal requests without charging fees. Some may voluntarily remove mugshots if you can represent that charges have been dropped or records expunged. If you can persuade the websites to delete materials without paying them, it is worthwhile to do so in combination with publishing photos of yourself.

Ideally, states or the federal government ought to go further, and require those websites that consume arrest records and court records to automatically update their databases to remove mugshots and such when charges are dropped, convictions are not going to happen due to statutes of limitations and when court records are expunged. Before the internet, our legal system envisioned concepts of innocent-until-proven-guilty and allowing people with minor issues to recover their reputations through expungements and such. But, the internet has reversed these elements out of the equation and our society has ratcheted-back to a more medieval state where people can be branded longterm by what should be considered irrelevant past deeds or minor infractions and youthful missteps.

However, you have the tools to suppress your mugshots in search engines’ results by publishing a bunch of images associated with your name. Leverage any photo albums you already have and you can begin making progress very rapidly with these steps.

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10 questions with…. MediaLad

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In an attempt to showcase the personalities of the people behind the media and marketing sector, The Drum speaks to individuals who are bringing something a little different to the industry and talks to them about what insights and life experience they can offer the rest of us. This week's 10 Questions are put to the most anonymous of industry commentators – MediaLad

What was your first job?

Baker.

Why did you get into advertising?

I’ve always had a business or economic brain and marketing was the most attractive area for me given the psychology and quantitative aspects of it.

What’s the worst buzzword in the industry?

Transparency, leverage, gap – take your pick.

Leverage – makes it sound like you’re using someone or something to get around a problem not solve it.

Gap – basically means someone isn’t doing their job.

Transparency – no one knows what transparency actually is until they try to do it and fail miserably at it.

If you could improve Twitter – how would you go about it?

Tweetups with people near you or a gaming element to it a la HQ.

Which industry event do you have to attend every year?

The IAA Xmas ball – The biggest celebration of media in the calendar year.

What’s the most surprising thing you have learned about the ad industry since working within it?

The most surprising thing is how little the so-called knowledgeable industry experts get to grips with both sides of the buy or sell side. The fact that they don’t know that not all third-party data can be bought on premium publications (even before GDPR). The fact that some technology does not interact with others in the most fluid way, yet expect a “transparency” that just will not be there unless there is a drastic change. The fact no one even talks about that astounds me. The fact they’re so focused on the buzzwords and chasing followers or awards, and not actually fixing the problems pisses me off.

Who is the one person in advertising whose advice everyone should listen to – other than yourself?

The guys at Avocet for digital buying, namely Ezra Pierce and Simon Critchley.

Who or what did you have posters of on your wall while growing up?

Eric Cantona, and House Record Labels.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

There’s a couple. From a life perspective, it’s about how much is in your control. 70% of your life is outside of your control. Stuff that happens to others in your life like your partner, parents, and loved ones. The stuff they do to annoy or delight you. 20% is what you’re in control of including life choices and what you do for fun, work, spare time etc. The rest is just pure luck and chance. For that reason only take time on the 20% as you really don’t have a lot of say on the rest.

What do you think ‘Media Lad’ means to the industry and what has being him meant to yourself?

I mean it started as a joke for the company I used to work for. I handed my notice in and had a bit of time, Twitter was new to me and I used it as a bit of a platform to promote jokes in my career that turned out to be common problems faced by everyone. It’s turned into this mad Banksy type character that (most) people enjoy, and want to unmask. I am honestly so humbled by that. Others hate it, for calling out their shit, but you know what… it’s not about who I am but it’s about what should be the “right” way to do media or your job. Bring perspective and enthusiasm to a job that really doesn’t save any lives or do anything meaningful in the world apart from raise awareness for certain companies/products. I try not to raise my own profile as (believe it or not) I’m not that type of guy that wants a headache to appear on stage. I’m busy working for my clients and that’s what motivates me.

More entries from 10 Questions With… can be found here.

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Online advertising has alienated our most valuable asset – the consumer

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It’s an understatement to say things have changed since I started my career in publishing 34 years ago, and mostly for the right reasons. The industry has moved on and some of those less palatable institutional barriers have been broken down. Yet there are certain industry behaviours that are having a real impact on original content creators, and they are so often borne from preventable consequences.

In many instances, these could be negated through the reapplication of ‘guiding principles’ that have perhaps been lost along the way.

It’s time we took a look back to make sense of what’s in front

The media industry has always been a sum of its parts, with different skills and disciplines working, mostly, in partnership. There was a sense you belonged to something special, and you knew you were directed by principles honed from many years of evolving media and advertising practices.

But it’s time to face the truth: today, consumers lack trust in digital advertising. In a quest for infinite online inventory, the crucial relationship between brand and consumer – that was built on shared values and respect – has become commoditised and jeopardised, quelling any desire for users to engage with ad campaigns. How have we got to a place where advertising that lives in the online world has all but alienated its most valuable asset – the consumer?

And no matter how many smart and inspiring examples of diversification and new monetisation models we see emerging, for original content creators, a base level of advertising remains essential.

There needs to be a change in behaviour

Many promises have been made to re-evaluate advertising practices and there’s an acknowledgement that quality and context matters. However, very little seems to have moved on and there remains limited evidence to suggest any measurable change in behaviour.

I’m not here to knock the technology that has enabled so much in modern life or the dominance of social media in which many users choose to consume news. Yet there is an obnoxious disparity around ‘standards’, accountability, and responsibility, and the right to compete fairly for advertiser funds that enable and sustain the creators of original quality journalism and content.

Despite all efforts to collaborate and support the industry’s wider call for greater parity, media owners with a long-established code of conduct and complete accountability for every single item present on their site continue to be at a disadvantage. Media organisations have always been defined by their transparent policies. So how is that an organisation like Facebook – that has such an impact and influence on the industry – is able to prosper and have a significant amount of revenue derived from online advertising, without being defined as a media business, and therefore does not need to adhere to any of the policies or codes of practice that is required by others?

As long as these organisations continue to be the principle benefactors from a type of advertising purchase behaviour, they have no motivation to change. It is only when we see a promised change in the advertisers’ behaviour, that the technology businesses themselves will be forced to re-examine their practices – meanwhile they will continue to enjoy all the spoils while residing outside of the union of all other media practitioners.

Driving better standards, and meaningful returns

As media owners, we continue to value the long-established trading partnerships centred on mutually defined policy and protocol, and relationships built on trust. These values matter.

This is a call to advertisers to check this current commodity driven behaviour, to take a moment to reflect, and work with publishers, as partners. But we also need to be sure that in striving for this goal we aren’t diluting standards, and the desire to improve accountability doesn’t just find us looking to provide a definition around practices that would otherwise be deemed as sub-standard.

Within the industry, we have in place numerous compliance guidelines. The IAB has been tireless in its efforts to bring the industry together to agree on a variety of advertising technology compliance standards. But what use are these if there is no accountability and seemingly no process to enforce compliance? While other established media channels have flight checkers in place – for both creative compliance and copy integrity – with all this wonderful technology, why does it not exist online?

And what about the extent of these standards? Premium publishers operate to much higher standards than laid out by these bodies, and always have done. They are self-regulated and they are accountable. And while I strongly support the adoption of universal standards for the good of the industry, it doesn’t change the fact they represent something that is significantly less than what we can actually provide.

At AOP, we’re committed to surfacing these challenges and we are striving to find practical answers, recommendations, and examples of best practice to help cement the future of advertising and publishing. But we must all commit to win back the trust of the consumer and return to a place of integrity – and continue to succeed as an industry I have always been proud to be part of.

Richard Reeves is managing director at AOP

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How to build brand loyalty in the age of ‘hyper personalisation’

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Consumers have more power over brands than ever before. Social media gives them the ability to openly scrutinise or share their great experiences directly with a mass audience, while online shopping means brands are in an ongoing battle to cut prices, hold user attention, deliver products quickly and ultimately stay relevant to keep consumers loyal.

Consumers also expect a lot more from brands. We’ve become accustomed to recommendations from companies like Amazon, who have changed consumer expectations by tailoring their offerings, based on previous purchases, to the extent that brands can no longer get away with ignoring online behaviours. However, often these recommendations are based on outdated algorithms and collaborative filtering.

It’s no longer enough for brands to address consumers by their first name in an email on their birthday and think that’s the personalisation box ticked. Hyper personalisation is about using data to react to consumer decisions in real-time, such as notifying them about a discount on shoes as they start their search in your app.

Businesses need to bring loyalty programmes into the digital age or risk losing the consumer base they’ve worked so hard to build.

Getting hyper personal

New data from research firm, YouGov, has found that 48% of loyalty programme subscribers are more loyal to those brands. They also found that 87% of consumers are looking for loyalty programmes that offer them discounts and offers. So why are so many brands failing at this at best – and ignoring it at worst?

The reason is simple: bad data. Traditionally, a brand would profile a consumer using a variety of factors such as age, gender, location and financial status. Take this for example: two men, both born in 1948, self-employed, wealthy, married, have dogs, own a house in London, have children and like fine wine. On paper, these two men are almost identical but in reality these two men are extremely different. This, in fact, is data pertaining to Prince Charles and Ozzy Osbourne. This highlights the main flaw with the data that brands are currently using to ‘get to know’ their audience.

So what other avenues can brands explore? Technology is evolving rapidly, so many brands may not be aware of the golden opportunity presented by advancements in AI (artificial intelligence) and computer vision analysis for mobile devices. The data on our smartphones says everything about who we are. From the places we visit to the photos we take, smartphone data provides more insight about our daily lives and habits than any other data imaginable. With consumer consent, brands can now take advantage of on-device AI, to quickly analyse that data – which includes GPS information, photo galleries, browser history and more – to build a persona for that user.

This first-party collected data is the key to the next generation of hyper-personalised consumer loyalty programmes. For one example among many, on-device AI can analyse a consumer’s entire photo gallery to produce insights about a consumer’s likes and dislikes, their desires and their intentions for the future. It also tells brands about a person’s socioeconomic status and indicates their spending power. This data is gold dust and, in the right hands, can be used to create personalised and relevant discounts and offers, benefiting both the consumer and the brand.

Imagine if you could offer a consumer what they want, need and care about, in real-time. This could be a specific discount at the moment that will be most useful, for example, discounts on home goods when they are about to relocate, or links to cheap train tickets when you know they are planning a trip. For forward-thinking brands that want their loyalty programme to stand out, this is clearly it – by showing your consumers that you really understand them.

Ultimately, this requires a shift in thinking. Brands are often rightly concerned about where the next consumer is coming from. Quarterly profit statements and shareholder scrutiny means brands need to be on the lookout for ways to improve market share. But this should not come at the expense of the existing consumer base. The potential ROI from just increasing sales to current consumers by 8% could be a significant increase in profits for many businesses. And all of this could happen overnight, by simply putting more emphasis on helping current consumers to purchase more of what they want, when they need it.

With the recent announcement that John Lewis’ profits have fallen by 99% in the first six months of 2018, the need for this shift in mindset has hit a critical juncture. Many analysts believed John Lewis to be the bastion of consumer loyalty, now they aren’t so sure. But John Lewis is already leading by example, working with Waitrose to trial combining their loyalty schemes in the hope that existing consumers don’t drift away from the brand. This is exactly the shift in mindset that is needed in today’s digital marketplace.

Metadata and understanding visual information are already the main weapons in the ongoing battle for customer attention. By leveraging offline data from smartphones and combining that with online consumer personas, on-device AI and computer vision analysis can provide brands with the ability to give consumers the experiences and recommendations that are personal, targeted and exactly what they need or desire.

It is this kind of revolutionary AI that will provide businesses with the cutting edge to differentiate themselves from the competition and offer the next generation of loyalty schemes. For anyone looking to knock John Lewis off the top of the retail tree, investing in this technology is paramount.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.

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