Information gathering is one of the most basic uses of the web and often the first step when a consumer is ready to make a purchasing decision. For sure, who hasn’t fired up Google and type in the name of a product, brand, company or organization, especially one that they may not be too familiar with? And while there’s great weight put behind word of mouth and a referral from a trusted friend, one’s reputation online is a critical asset few are monitoring.
“There’s nothing you can do about someone with a gripe or an axe” to sharpen,” you say?
Well, while you may not need new business now, do you really want to risk the chance of losing business when you need it three or five years from now? Indeed, bad news travels fast on the Internet. There are no secrets anymore and practically everything lives on forever. And online reputation becomes even more of an important consideration for family businesses. Any business owner planning on passing on their company to the next generation has an obligation to ensure that the next owners benefit from a solid reputation left behind for them online.
Realize that blogs, forums and online conversations can make or break a company or organization’s reputation. Focus on combating the damage caused by unchecked, unmoderated user-generated content web sites and blogs. These sites are ripe for competitors, disgruntled employees and mean-spirited bloggers to air a personal vendetta.
Online reputation management
The Internet can be used as an early warning system to alert you if your brand names and reputation are at risk. The ability to control your online reputation is mostly a matter of learning effective search engine optimization. The strategy is to push favorable articles, blog posts, consumer rankings and message board posts higher in the search results, while at the same time pushing unwanted and unfavorable links down the Google page.
But what is online reputation management, exactly?
It’s the process of tracking online references to a brand, company, product/service or person and then having a plan in place to deal with negative feedback and even positive opportunities.
There are typically three steps in this process:
- Monitor. Establish and maintain a system for researching and keeping track of public perception. Watch for both public attacks on character, reputation, work ethic and/or values as well as those who advocate or champion your cause.
- Evaluate. Consider the source, reach timing of the comment or feedback and evaluate it for risk and opportunity. Today’s age of citizen journalism can yield brutally frank criticism — as well as unsolicited testimonial.
- Act. It’s all about damage control. Comment, rebut or ignore what has been said, based on the evaluation, or, if the content is positive, see it as an opportunity to enhance and steer the conversation. Be aware of what’s said about you, to whom and why.
Negative comments or postings made on blogs or web sites with a fan base might be supported or affirmed (even if there’s no real connection) simply due to the author’s popularity. Impassioned readers are more likely to join an attack rather than counter it.
How content affects search engine results
Comments or postings can affect online search engine results due to their timeliness and potential for being viewed by a large audience, linked to, rebroadcasted, etc. Very few web designers, design boutiques or advertising agencies truly understand how to make a company or organization’s web site search engine friendly. What’s almost comical is that the gaudy and unattractive free WordPress template blog will often blow away a sharp-looking web site merely because installed from the beginning with all the right tips and tricks to make it quickly searchable and available worldwide. That same blog generating bad press for you is likely inherently overtaking the search engine ranking once enjoyed by your high-budget web site.
People want to have a sense of control over their information, but they often take the past of least resistance when making choices about how to manage content connected to their name online. Here are some simple strategies to consider when formulating your reaction plan:
- Optimize your exposure. Publish continually to show you are a reputable and aware Internet citizen.
- Transparency is paramount. Do not misrepresent yourself through profiles, user ratings and feedback.
- Be open to the idea that new, location-based awareness in mobile devices adds another of information that can be accessed.
- If in a negative, but professional situation, appeal to the publisher of the damaging information, explaining the challenges that the objectionable content is creating. Having a conversation that includes an appeal for common decency can often be effective.
Remember, you can’t always avoid a situation, but diligent online monitoring can help to defray some of the damage. It’s important to have a plan in place when action is necessary. If things turn negative, be prepared to counter heat-of-the-moment negativity and offer a constructive, counter point of view. Turn negativity around to reflect positively on your business. And in positive situations, be humble and, if appropriate, use your expertise to enhance the conversation.