How To Successfully Manage Your Online Reputation
Everyone’s life is an open book today, even if they don’t want it to be. It doesn’t take much for someone’s reputation to get tarnished by bad publicity from an inappropriate comment, a past indiscretion, or a private photo that made its way onto the Web.
In the world of small business, one’s professional name and personal reputation are inextricably linked. That’s why it’s more important than ever to learn how to protect your image and ensure that your identity— and the reputation of your business—remain unharmed.
“The biggest mistake people make is failing to realize that there’s no distinction between their personal and professional reputation,” says Andy Beal, co-author of Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online and CEO of Trackur, a company that makes social media monitoring software. “You, as the business owner or executive, are an extension of your company’s reputation. I see a lot of individuals who think they can make a distinction, but consumers don’t.”
To make sure the buzz about you and your business is positive, follow this advice from Beal and Michael Fertik, co-founder and CEO of Reputation.com, an online reputation and privacy management firm, which was named a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer in 2011.
Discover the truth. Find out what they’re saying about you. You can’t do anything about your online reputation until you know what’s out there, says Beal. So search the Internet for your name and your company. Run your names through pertinent blogs, industry discussion boards and websites. See if there’s any bad press or unfavorable comments—or learn the good news.
Undo it. If you find an unflattering picture of yourself on Facebook, a politically charged comment you posted on a forum years ago, or a disparaging remark about your company on a blog, take the item down. Or e-mail the blogger or moderator asking him or her to delete the embarrassing post. Most bloggers will take down someone’s own comment and will usually remove a third-party statement if you can show it’s inaccurate or defamatory, says Beal.
Replace bad news with good. Make sure the top search engine listings for you or your business are favorable. That’s especially important because most people rarely read beyond the top 5-10 listings. Make a website for your business, establish a personal profile on LinkedIn, and create a Facebook page for your company to develop neutral or positive mentions that rank higher than the bad ones, Fertik advises.
Maximize the listings. To ensure Google and other search engines can find your company or personal name online, make the most of the listings you have. That means using the exact name of your business in your URL and creating a separate site with the exact company name for a blog, says Fertik. “It’s a place to communicate with customers, even if it’s once a week,” he says. “And having a separate URL will index the site separately,” giving Google more positive content to display.
Along the same lines, Beal suggests writing your LinkedIn profile in third person, using your name liberally in the profile and on your company website. “Search engine spiders are really quite dumb, so you have to spoonfeed them information,” says Beal. “If they see my profile and it says ‘Andy Beal’ five or six times, that’s more relevant than a blog post.”
Watch your centers of influence. There may be places where your name appears online that won’t show up in Google, yet these potentially negative posts could cause big hits to your reputation if your key network spots them. Follow industry forums or sites for professional associations while also keeping track of reviews on Amazon, Yelp, TripAdvisor and others. If this seems overwhelming, you might consider purchasing software or hiring a professional service to monitor your good name for you.
Be a first responder. If someone posts an unfavorable comment or discusses a bad experience with your company, respond to it immediately. “The three words to remember when recovering from a reputation mistake are sincerity, transparency and consistency,” says Beal. “Most people complain because they feel like you don’t care and had no other way to get your attention. They want an apology. Be sincere and transparent about how the mistake happened, and explain what you’re doing to make sure it never happens again.”
Refrain from going on the attack if you’ve been maligned, Fertik says. You don’t know if the commenter is a former employee, a competitor or a real customer. “It doesn’t pay to get angry and it doesn’t pay to get even. If you wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty. Don’t wrestle.