The team is camped out in the company's sixth-floor conference room, all eyes trained on a large flat-screen TV mounted on the lime-green wall. On the screen is a scrolling Twitter feed filled with photos of a muscular, tattooed gentleman posing in various strategically positioned outfits — a metal-studded leather harness, snug-fitting underpants, precipitously drooping boxer shorts.
Brian Patterson, the young guy in jeans and a button-down shirt who is piloting the onscreen images via Macbook, shakes his head. "This Twitter account is really rough," he says. "This is not doing him any favors."
The "him" Patterson refers to is a graduate student, one who will soon enter a competitive job market where prospective employers will almost certainly Google his name before setting up an interview. At the moment, an online search would lead to a few undesirable results, including this Twitter account and its vivid portraits of male anatomy. So the student has sought the services of Patterson and his colleagues at Go Fish Digital, an online reputation management agency based in McLean, Virginia, in the hopes that a professional online makeover might make him a more attractive job candidate.
This kind of digital service, offered by a multitude of companies across the country, has long been favored by celebrities, corporations and other high-profile clientele; since Go Fish Digital was founded nearly a decade ago, these high-dollar accounts have made up the vast majority of the agency's business. But as graduation approaches each spring, Patterson and his team also see a surge of students and graduates who contact the company looking for help — triple the usual number, though the company, for proprietary reasons, won't offer a precise tally.
This is what a professional online reputation management "campaign" looks like: four people — one patched in via video — around a conference room table, jotting notes on laptops, carefully examining every trace of a client's digital existence and plotting a strategy to improve it. Their goal is twofold: stop the bleeding, then apply polish.