What is Reputation Management, and how can it help your business?
Reputation management is nothing new. Think back to the days when dueling was a way to address the besmirching of one’s reputation. Seemed pretty straightforward and honorable, but the obvious problem with managing reputation in that way was that someone usually ended up dead afterward. But in this increasingly digital age, when nearly every citizen has access of some sort to the internet, its easy to imagine that one person’s opinion or insight can be effectively spread throughout the community and to that page one search result quite rapidly. And surely you cannot challenge every one of them to a duel. Fortunately, there are better, smarter (and safer) ways to manage your reputation.
So what happens when someone “google’s” your company name and the top search results contain negative information? Well, this can obviously have a negative affect on their view of you and your business. But its not the end of the world. Actually, there’s a lot you can do. In fact, an entire industry has grown up around online reputation management in the past few years. You can get a glimpse of its beginnings in this article on reputation management in the Washington Post from back in 2007. In the article it becomes very clear:
The best way to remove negative feedback and comments on the first-page search results is to create content of your own which then percolates to the top of search results and pushes the negative content to the third page and beyond–where users rarely bother to go.
But while reputation management in this manner can seem incredibly technical, cold and calculated, it is important to remember the human factor…its not just about the search engine ‘bots that scan the web for information. Much of whats said and read online these days is emotional and opinionated—something that ‘bots have a hard time parsing. It is up to you and whoever is managing your online reputation to remember that no matter what is said, it is the sum of all the customer perceptions that make up your “brand”. That said, you might want to view a negative comment as more of an opportunity for customer connection than something that needs to be pushed to the third page search results. Imagine the power of your responding in a positive manner, acknowledging their opinion, and showing that you are learning from it and making the product or service better based on their input. That’d obviously be the best possible outcome from negative online postings.
In this author’s humble opinion, the biggest takeaway in regards to reputation management is this: Don’t wait for others to create content or talk about what you do. Instead, take great care to post—and have other authors post—positive and factual information about you and your business as you move forward.
Here are some simple, proactive steps you should be taking now to manage your reputation online:
1) Claim directory listings
Many times, you may find that your competitors may claim your directory listing and then redirect users to their web content. So its easy to understand why you should take the time to register with the various online directories. Lisa Hutt at Juicy Results put together a nice guide for handling directory listings here.
2) Establish Profiles
Most people/businesses are aware of facebook, linkedin and twitter. For some, these tools maybe an effective place to have a presence. But if there are other blogs and social forums which relate to your specific industry, then it can work to your advantage to have a presence there. You must also know that simply having a presence on these social channels is not enough. You have to embrace authorship (whether its you, a member of your staff, or a third party “ghost-writer”) and you have to be generating content there for them to be ranked by the search engines and relevant to viewers.
3) Build a wiki
Wikipedia is a community managed encyclopedia, which is fact-checked and contributed to by volunteers from around the world. A business listing there, so long as its factual and helpful to viewers, will almost always show up at the top of page one search results. Even if you or your business have encountered seemingly insurmountable negative press, having a comprehensive and fact-filled wiki can be reassuring way to mix the good with the bad. A good example of a public figure who has achieved this quite handily, is Florida Governor, Rick Scott. Notice in his wiki that that general topic of his connection to an incredibly corrupt business dealing is mentioned, with lots of facts about the case. But the wiki doesn’t go into any detail on his connection, nor does it offer any denial of involvement. It simply states surrounding facts and moves on to his other accomplishments.
4) Monitor the conversation
Performing an occasional search or yourself or your business online (often referred to as a “vanity search”) is not enough. You should be continuously monitoring what’s being said about you and your business online, so that you can be timely in your response or reaction. And, as fate would have it, Juicy Results has posted an article on one of the many great tools that are available for doing just that. Its called SocialMention, and you can read about it here
5) Join in on the conversation
Surely, if you find negative comments on a forum or on a chat board, you might be able to simply join the conversation and state your side of the case. I you do so, choose your words wisely so as not to make things worse (this can become the equivalent of a “duel”, as mentioned above). If you choose this route, be careful not to be combative, but rather be helpful to the conversation. And be open-minded. Know that sometimes “the customer (really) is right” and you might just gain insight from their feedback. Responsiveness to a complaint can often turn a complainer into an advocate.
6) Take the high road:
Build a business that is “good” at its core
Of course, most of the above tactics are things that can be done to technically beat down any negative information on the web, but nothing counters negative publicity like good publicity. And the absolute best thing you can possibly do to build good publicity is to actually do good things. By this, I mean begin doing things either through your business, or on your own that are befitting of good news. Perhaps it means that you volunteer for a non-profit such as a community clean-up program or perhaps its donating a percentage of your employees’ time or even gifting a percentage of profits to an international organization. I obviously don’t have to go on…you are smart, and can use your own sense to guide you to do what’s right. You might some inspiration in the pages of the Huffington Post. Forbes has a great blog dedicated to the topic of CSR and perhaps you can even do something so great as to get your business mentioned in the BusinessWeek’s CSR column.
All of the above items take some time and dedication to make happen, but can get you well on your way to staying positive in the search results. Best of luck, and don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like some help with building an effective reputation management strategy or with implementing any or all of the above tactics!