Living in the 21st century comes with all kinds of perks, like having cute cat videos at your fingertips 24/7. Living in the digital age also comes with the responsibility of managing and maintaining your online reputation.

Maybe you’re a business owner trying to boost sales and reach new clients who’s had a few bad reviews, and now all that anyone sees when they Google your company is bad press. Maybe you’re trying to land your dream job, and an unfortunate picture from 15 years ago has recently resurfaced. Or maybe you’re trying to get approved for a loan and can’t afford to have anything about your past financial history floating around on the internet for anyone to see. Regardless of your individual circumstances, the reality is when you apply for any kind of job, loan, or even go on a date, you will be Googled.

In the 21st century, managing your online presence is a skill that’s just as important as basic math or reading, but it isn’t taught to us at school. This article will give you the tools you need to get your online presence in tip top shape, whether you run a business or are just looking to improve your personal social media feed.

Be proactive.

The good news about most PR disasters is that they’re entirely avoidable! According to Montreal-based ToK Communications founder Eric Santerre, the best way to prevent damage to your reputation is to pause and think before posting or sharing anything online, especially anything personal like political views. He advises his clients to “choose your words carefully. Think about your audience. Think before you act. Social media is so fast, it’s so easy to write things from behind your computer screen.”

If you have separate personal social media accounts, try using a nickname or pseudonym so those pictures you took at your friend’s bachelorette party aren’t front and center when someone Googles you.

Embrace negative reviews and press

Being proactive is great, but sometimes you find yourself in hot water regardless of how careful you’ve been. For example, if you run an online business, negative reviews are inevitable. Recognize that this can actually be a great opportunity to engage with your clients and show them you care about their concerns.

Santerre says the most important thing to keep in mind when responding is to take a moment to reflect on exactly how you want to handle the situation.  “Honesty is key, show people you care, and that you’re aware of the problem.” You always want to avoid escalating the situation or coming off as defensive. The worst possible thing you can do is delete negative reviews, which gives the impression that you don’t care and you have something to hide. Do your best to make the person feel heard, even if their complaint seems non-constructive or mean-spirited. “Sometimes, people just want to fight, but the moment you make them feel heard, they back down.”

Understand how to make SEO, or search engine optimization, work for you.

In the digital age, it doesn’t matter if the vast majority of your reviews or press are excellent if the first one that pops up when your name or business is Googled is negative. The longer the positive content, the higher up it will appear when searched for. The sweet spot for positive press and advertising is 1,000 words and up. The higher up the piece is, the more visible it is to potential employers, clients or customers.

Publish positive content! The best defense is a strong offense. One of the most effective ways to fix your online reputation is to boost your social media presence. Take stock of what platforms you are currently using, and create profiles on popular ones you don’t. Use them to post content that highlights your accomplishments, or repost positive reviews or press. Keep in mind that if you have a very common name, like John MacDonald, you may need to put in a bit of extra effort to distinguish yourself from the pack. If this seems like more than you’re willing to handle yourself, consider hiring a social media manager or intern to make sure your social media feed is always up to date with positive posts.

If your main goal is to impress potential future employers, recognize that some social media platforms are more likely to be looked at than others. LinkedIn is often the first thing employers look at, so if you don’t have one yet, make one, and make sure to update it regularly.

If an active social media feed isn’t quite cutting it, consider building a website to showcase your business, skills and accomplishments. Using your full name as the domain will make sure it’s one of the top results that pops up when someone Googles you. If that doesn’t work for you, make sure your name is sprinkled throughout your website: in the about section, or maybe in a footer that appears at the bottom of each page. This activates SEO to ensure your website is the first thing that pops up when your name is Googled.

Regardless of whether you choose to build a website, beef up your social media profiles, or both, make sure you’re posting and reposting positive content regularly. Newer content tends to be prioritized by search engines, so the more new content you post, the higher up it will appear. You can take this a step further by making it a habit to share your posts across all your social media platforms simultaneously. There are several apps you can put to work for you to automate this, like Buffer or Workflow. Work smarter, not harder!

Consider hiring a PR firm or an online reputation management company.

If you run a smaller business, you might not have a huge budget for this, but it can really pay off to have a dedicated team promoting you and/or your business’ online reputation for you so you can focus on the business end of things. Shop around until you find a firm that’s a good fit. Many offer packages for individuals and small businesses that are quite affordable.