The richest jewel: Guarding your good name online

“Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of — for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear.” — Socrates.

Once upon a time, your company’s reputation could be controlled by employing good staff to deliver great customer service and products. It’s not that easy in today’s digital world.

A disgruntled employee, a competitor’s review or an unlucky turn of events can be enough to shift your fortunes. Social media, blogs, review sites and web forums give anyone with a computer the ability to besmirch a company’s reputation and potentially cost that company dearly in lost business.

If ‘traditional’ media pick up on a problem in your company it can be a public and painful experience once it turns up online.

How can you minimise the risk to your company and equip yourself to deal with trouble? Welcome to sometimes murky world of online reputation management, or ORM.

There have been a few high-profile cases of ORM, some involving premier league football players in the UK, others involving airlines in the US. It affects brands and individuals — the CEO who likes a drink too many, the professional sportsperson or politician who favours a prank or, in the case of a certain Auckland mayor, commits an indiscretion.

There are lots of ways to minimise risk and neutralise potential problems before they hit the web. Make sure you proactively monitor your online presence and properties. Find the websites where your clients and your target market congregate, especially the top review and blog sites.

Ensure your details are correct online and that anything negative is dealt with in an open, honest and frank way. Monitor sites relevant to your industry, like Tripadvisor for tourism and hospitality providers.

Set up a Google Alert for your brand and relevant key terms. Make sure you own and have fully updated your Google+ account. This is often a place potential clients will find you, particularly on Google Maps.

Keeping your Google profile in order also supports your organic search rankings. Make sure you own and control all of your social media accounts and names, even if you don’t plan to use them.

There have been many instances of people tweeting negative things under someone else’s brand. Remember if you post something online you may never be able to retract it. Take great care about what you post and who you use to post on your accounts.

We have seen a number of franchise organisations where franchisees have been permitted to post without any kind of censorship or guidance by the organisation, leading to incorrect use of the brand and inappropriate posts.

Always respond in an appropriate manner. Negative comments are almost inevitable. The manner in which you respond can influence your reputation.

We once dealt with a big company in the automotive industry. That company had a customer who was vocal about a problem with one of the company’s products. The company policy was to always deal with matters like that within one hour, during working hours.

The company managed the situation by engaging with the customer online to initiate an offline discussion. The customer was turned into a raving fan on social media.

Among the most important things to consider are finding all the negative stuff online and isolating the incident. Make sure you have all your facts in order and a media statement ready in case you receive an enquiry from traditional media that have picked up on the issue.

Identify which terms are bringing up negative results on search engines, then make a list of priorities for what you want to achieve.

If an immediate response is needed, these four things will help:

1. Run a Google AdWords campaign with the facts and positive promotional adverts. This is likely to be the first thing a searcher will see. Instruct a PR agency to help you identify relevant facts and likely media and customer questions, and to communicate the issues with media as required. Ideally you will build to some good news content in an authentic way, to balance the fallout, but this will be driven by the nature and severity of the issue.

2. Make sure an ORM strategy is formulated and launched.

3. Be consistent and persevere. Good ORM takes time.

4. Think about other digital media that might rank highly for your terms and start to use them regularly. This may be a Facebook page, a LinkedIn profile, a website, a forum or a blog. Search engines like Google value new content, so these are likely to begin to rank. Many traditional media outlets have high-ranking digital presences.

Don’t be fooled by companies promising instant results. These things take time to repair properly and if you try a quick fix, it is likely to be effective only in the short term and possibly detrimental in the long term. Even in the real world, reputation can take time to repair through initiatives that ultimately translate into online results.

Online reputations are more important than ever. We have encountered businesses that have lost millions in contracts because of leaked information from a disgruntled former employee. Prevention is always the best form of defense, but if something happens, ensure your company is prepared to mitigate problems with a rounded digital and offline strategy.

Richard Conway is the founder and CEO of Auckland-based Pure SEO.

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