Brave CEOs Turn to Google for Insight on their Companies and Self

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Call it a smart business move or a quick ego boost, but more CEOs are typing their names into Internet search engines to see what pops up.

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It's the first thing Pete's Wicked Ale founder Pete Slosberg does when he gets to work each day. He wants to see what's being said about him or his new company, Cocoa Pete's Chocolate Adventures, to learn about customer complaints early on, he told USA Today.

Slosberg is clearly not alone. The practice of surfing the Web for mentions of companies and their CEOs is so common it's called “ego surfing.” But Slosberg warned anyone who tries it to have a thick skin.

Ford Motor Company CEO Bill Ford, for example, called ego surfing “too depressing.” He said an article about him in The New York Times magazine in 2000 called him “The Buddha of Detroit” in its headline and mentioned his interest in Buddhism - now he's categorized as a Buddhist all over the Internet.

Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos probably regrets answering a group of interns candidly when he was asked what he dreams about. He told them four years ago that he dreams of being a hero and saving people.

Others are more embarrassed by people with the same name, but far different professions. Cynthia McKay, CEO of Le Gourmet Gift Basket, finds all kinds of material about a soft porn British actress of the same name. “That porn star thing is going to be tough to overcome," she says.

For those who are unafraid to slog through the muck, Internet searches can be used to get an early read on potential problems. Phil Libin, president of CoreStreet, an IT security company, uses his Internet savvy for a business advantage.

He has set up a system through Google where he gets an e-mail anytime his name makes a new appearance on the Web. He also bought a Google ad, which costs 5 cents anytime someone clicks on his name. The Google reports tell him the home country of the interested party, the name of the Internet service provider and other websites that the party has looked for the last several weeks.

Libin says he sometimes gathers enough clues to figure out the identity of the surfer.

Mark Rosch, an expert on Internet searching and co-author of The Lawyer's Guide to Fact Finding on the Internet, recommends going to the Advanced Groups Search page of Google, then copying and pasting the e-mail address of a complainer into the search box. That will provide a list of other comments the same person has posted on various group sites.

It's not about vanity, Rosch says, it's about intelligence.

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