Preemptive Reputation Management – The Best Defense is a Good Offense

November 7, 2009

reputation_handshake2When you search your name or your company name on Google, what do you see? Do you know how these results are affecting your reputation or the reputation of your company?

The key to effective online reputation management is to be pro-active and monitor situations before they become a problem. Online attacks against individuals, organizations and brands can contribute to damages surpassing billions of dollars each year. The most cost- effective solution is to prevent these problems before they develop.

•   Search engine users rarely go beyond the first 3 pages of search results.

•   The first 3 pages of a search engine receive 90% of all search traffic.

•   The top 10 results receive nearly 80% more traffic than those in positions 11-30 achieve.


In today’s society, bad word of mouth can spread exponentially online. With so much advertising and media endorsements, people are looking online for reviews and recommendations from their peers to help with purchasing decisions in almost every industry.

Potential customers, future employers, and members of the media are now turning to Google, Yahoo, and Bing for information about you or your business, causing these search engines to become “reputation engines”. Angry customers, ex-employees, consumer activists and competitors are all capable of spreading negative information online. The effect of this negative information can lead to problems with sales, investors, image, and overall reputation. In fact, in a survey from Execunet.com, it was found that 83% of recruiters used search engines to find information about candidates and 43% of those recruiters eliminated a candidate based on negative results in search engines. In other words, these results can cause severe damage to you or your brand. In these situations threatening lawsuits simply do not work. In fact, they can make matters worse, especially if perceived to be vengeful or brought with “intent to harm” the poster. Even when you are right!

Negative information can be posted about you or your business in many places on the internet including blogs, forums, customer review websites, and through images, video and audio content. The most damaging aspect is all websites that host this content are indexable by search engines and the pages can easily appear in the results when someone searches keywords related to you or your business.

As a business owner, C-suite executive, celebrity, or public figure, maintaining your reputation is vital. If you come across negative publicity, it is important not to overreact or make rash decisions as these can backfire if they are not thought out or planned thoroughly.

So How Do You Preemptively Manage Your Reputation Online?

Although most “repair” solutions will require a customized campaign, when being preemptive, ReputationDR normally takes a two step approach to online reputation management. The first step is to monitor online conversation and determine the sources of negative or unwanted information. Step two involves promoting positive or neutral information while decreasing the visibility of negative information. Each client is unique and due to the sensitivity of many of the situations our clients come to us with, we have to handle each project differently…and confidentially.

Step One: Monitor Online Conversation

Monitoring an online reputation is an ongoing and rigorous process. There are millions of sources which can contribute to building a reputation online. Text content is typically the most common way in which information is shared online. However, in recent years there has been increased popularity in sharing images, videos, and audio files as well. These are all mediums which should be monitored in relation to a company’s brand.

Top 10 Items Companies Should Monitor

1.  Company Name & Variations – The obvious: your company name is an important item to monitor. Be sure to track variations in spelling or use of the company name. Also include abbreviations.

2.  Company Website URLs – It is also important to track your company URL and monitor which websites are linking to it or where they are mentioned online. Track the homepage and other key pages such as About Us or Corporate Profiles.

3.  Product Names & Variations – Monitor information about any of your company’s product or service names. At times consumers may refer to a specific product instead of the company name. Be sure to also track variations and abbreviations of product names.

4.  Product URLs – Track product URLs or pages on your website which describe services. Determine which websites are linking to these pages and where or how they are being mentioned online.

5.  Names of Key Players and Employees – Track the names of any key employees, associates, vendors, etc., in your company such as a CEO, CFO, or Board Directors. What is said about these people can also reflect on the company. Tracking these names can lead to the discovery of additional sources of negative information related to the company.

6.  Online Activities of Key Players and Employees – Online activities of people related to a company can affect a company’s brand, positively or negatively. Employees or other key players should be told to refrain from discussing company issues online unless they are appointed to do so. In some situations it will be important to monitor the online activity of employees or key players. For example, it may be feasible to monitor professional or personal blogs if posts are company related. However, it is important to let employees know that these things are monitored.

7.  Online Conversations – It is not only important to track blog posts, forums, and articles but also any comments associated with them. Comments also offer opportunities to participate in conversations about your company but they should be used wisely.

8.  Industry Community Websites– This includes popular blogs, forums, news websites, and anything else that is related to the industry. Many times the feedback and conversations found on these websites can help improve a product or service. It is also an easy way to interact with other people about the company.

9.  Images, Audio, and Video – Text content is not the only medium in which information is shared online. Popular websites like YouTube, Flicker, and PodZinger host a wealth of information in video, audio, and image formats. This type of content should also be monitored.

10. Competitors – There are two types of competitors which should be tracked: brick and mortar competitors and online competitors. Online competition can differ drastically from traditional competition. Be sure to monitor everything that is being tracked for your own company including company name, products, key employees, etc.

Step Two: Defending Against Attacks

Potential customers, future employees, and even family or friends have the ability to come across negative information in search engine results. Pages from message boards, blogs and other websites can appear in search engine results. The pages influence the public perception of a person or a company’s brand. The best method to prevent against attacks is to take a preventative approach to reputation management. The following tips will help to get you started.

A Guide to Reputation Management Techniques

1.  Monitor Online Conversation – Tracking all mentions of yourself, your brand, your products and your company ensures you will to be alerted when situations arise. By doing this you are able to provide timely responses and extinguish small flames before they lead to forest fires. Tips of what to track are provided in Step One.

2.  Dominate Search Engine Results – Dominating search engine results is an effective way to reduce the visibility of negative information. Of course, this is not deleting listings from major search engines or covering up bad things you may have done. Instead it is a form of marketing which should be used to portray yourself or company in the best possible way. The first step to dominating the search engine results is to create information which can appear in the listings.

3.  Create & Promote Positive Information – Creating and promoting information online can help to provide more visibility to positive information and less visibility to negative information. The positive information that is created will have a chance to compete for search engine rankings and can influence the impression of you or your company. Some types of content which can be created (and ranked in search engines) are social networking profiles like Linkedin, Twitter, or Facebook, pictures from Flickr.com, a company website, press releases, and more.

4.  Consistently Build Relationships – Building positive relationships is like building a small army to defend a company’s brand. The more people who have had a positive experience with the company the more positive information will appear online (and without much effort).

5.  Interact Online – There are several ways to interact with others online. For example, participating in online communities and forums or building and regularly updating a blog can be successful ways to get to build a positive reputation. The most important part of contributing online is doing it for the benefit of others. Whether it is sharing a news story or helping to solve a problem posted in an industry forum, helping others can be a sure route to building a positive reputation.

6.  Apologize Sincerely – Mistakes are inevitable. However, when something negative does happen, in most cases the nature and timeliness of the company’s reaction are more important then the event itself. Sincerely apologizing for and correcting mistakes quickly and efficiently is the best route to recovering from mishaps. Planning the appropriate course of action before a situation occurs will ensure accurate execution of the required steps.

7.  State the Facts – When a mistake happens, some negative information can stem from confusion. It is important to state the facts in a clear, truthful and concise way. Posting information on a personal and/or company website is the most effective way to communicate the correct information when a situation occurs.

8.  Listen & Act on Feedback – Feedback is the best way to determine how to improve or correct issues that may challenge a reputation. Attentively listen to customers and the online community. Regularly doing this will also make you more familiar with the best method of response if a negative situation should arrive for you or your company.

Conclusion

A preventative reputation management plan is the best approach. This allows you to be prepared and recover much more quickly when unwanted situations occur.

There is a definite need for professional help in online reputation management. There are many reasons a person or company may chose to enlist the help of a professional online reputation management company. Some of the techniques used to combat negative information require technical or strategic expertise while other situations may be sensitive and should be handled with extreme care and experienced foresight. In addition, monitoring and defending an online reputation is a time consuming activity.

We specialize in online and search engine reputation management, offering a wide variety of custom solutions to repair, defend, and monitor corporate and personal reputations. Our team combines cross-technology knowledge of search engine optimization, marketing, public relations, and traditional branding to deliver effective results for clients in need of professional grade online reputation management.

“It takes 20 years to build a good reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.” – Warren Buffet

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