Online Reputation Management – What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

two frustrated businesspeople in officeBefore the Internet became the dominant form of information sharing, managing your reputation wasn’t all that important, simply because it wasn’t too easy for your reputation to be damaged. Sure, once in a while someone like Ralph Nader might write a damning book about the American auto industry. Or a bunch of negative news coverage surrounding a major gaffe could hurt, like it did with Gary Hart’s ’84 presidential campaign.

By and large, though, you had to screw up pretty bad to develop a negative reputation. But on the web, everyone’s got a megaphone. Blogs, social media like Twitter and Facebook, and countless review sites such as Yelp make it very easy for even a single disgruntled customer or ex-employee to give your business a bad reputation.

Well it might be tempting to dismiss such behavior as the meaningless ranting of some crackpot (and this can sometimes be the case), the fact is that, legitimate or not, negative feedback in any form can find its way toward the top of the search engines—and that spells big trouble for your brand.

From dedicated hate sites like www.(yournamehere) to negative news stories to bad reviews, there are just too many ways for things that you have no control over to creep into the top page or two of your search engine rankings.

So what can you do about it? Plenty.

  • First, be proactive. Register all suitable domain names for your business, including negative ones. It doesn’t matter that you won’t be using them. You’ll be keeping anyone else from using them, and that gives people fewer opportunities to hurt you.
  • Do the same thing for social media. Get accounts using your business name in the URL on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, Flickr and any other site you can think of. In fact, there are services that can help you keep track of what sites you are and aren’t registered on, since there are so many out there now and new ones seem to pop up every day. Again, you might not use these accounts, but you’ll control them.
  • Search for all relevant terms relating to your brand to see what, if any, negative things are already showing up. This gives you a chance to a) deal with them and b) see what you’re up against. And do it regularly, so you can keep up with any new developments. You don’t need to go deeper than 2 or 3 results pages though—anything beyond that probably isn’t going to hurt, because it won’t be seen.
  • Get out there. If you’re not using at least some of those social media sites, as well as having a blog, writing industry-related articles, guest-blogging, and so on, you should be. Again, it’s all about control. If you are putting tons of good, relevant content out there that casts you in a positive light and builds up your reputation, you give fewer chances for people to bring your reputation down. Fill the top pages of the search engines with things you do have control over.
  • Monitor what others are saying about you. There are lots of tools available like Google Alerts that can let you know whenever your business is mentioned by the news, by comments in blog posts, on Twitter, and so on. Finding out about negative stuff quickly gives you more time to assess whether it can really hurt you, and more time to figure out what to do about it if it can.
  • Respond to negative comments. If you’ve got an unhappy customer, engage with them, figure out why they’re unhappy, and make it right. If someone is spreading false information about you, call them on it, get the correct information out there, and ask for a retraction. You don’t need to respond to every troll that comes along, but if the complaint is legit, don’t just leave it out there, festering.

We all know people love dirt. If there is even one glaringly negative page among your top search results, do you really think people aren’t going to click there first? Following these guidelines can keep you out of that situation, or get you out of it if you’re already there.

Don’t let your online reputation slip out of your hands. And remember, a good comprehensive SEO program and professional web design can help build your brand and keep it on that all-important first page of search results.

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