In today’s world, people and companies need to manage their online reputations, even when their business is conducted completely offline. Reputation management is much more than just checking for bad Google results when your customer searches for your brand. True online reputation management involves taking strategic, proactive steps for protecting your brand against attacks — as well as for responding to attacks decisively and effectively.
Reputation management is such a big deal that there is an entire industry devoted to it; online reputation management companies offer their services to home-based startups and Fortune 500 companies, doctors and lawyers and elected officials in equal measure. If you’re not ready to take the plunge just yet, or you simply don’t have the budget for a full-on, professional reputation defense campaign, there are a few DIY tips any company or business professional can master.
It All Starts with Defense
The first thing to do is shore up a strong defense against potential attacks. Remember that if someone is going to try to attack your online reputation — whether it’s a competitor company or a disgruntled client — they’re going to seek to do it in the most public way possible. That means creating negative content about you that people are likely to find on Google, Yahoo, or Bing.
They’ll likely try to do this by seizing all the best online real estate that relates to your name or brand identity — so don’t let them. Register usernames on all the social networks out there, whether you plan on ever using them or not. Buy all the exact-match domains that relate to your business or brand; if you’re a Tennessee lawyer named Jeff Henley, get JeffHenley.com, JeffHenleyTN.com, JeffHenleyLawyer.com, and so on. You may never use these sites, but these are the domains that will rank well on Google — so at the very least, you can keep your adversaries from using them against you!
Choose Your Settings
After you’ve registered for all of the social media accounts, take a few minutes to set your privacy settings on each one. Remember that the whole point in signing up for these accounts was to ensure that they rank on Google, Yahoo, and Bing — so if you have them set to where search engines will not index them, they’re really not doing you much good. Keep your profiles visible and public if you want them to get picked up by the search engines.
Start Posting Content
In online reputation management, the name of the game is suppression. Remember that, if a malcontent or a rival posts negative content about you, there’s really nothing you can do to erase it, or have it removed from the Web. (You can try a lawsuit, but that’s going to be very costly and very likely ineffective.) But if you can’t remove it, you can suppress it — pushing it off the first page of online search results.
This, believe it or not, makes the unwanted publicity or negative review essentially a non-issue. Very few online searchers ever make it past the first page of a Google search. If you can push undesirable content off that first page, your online reputation should prove very safe.
The way you have those negative listings removed from the first page of the search engine, of course, is by pushing them off with strong, positive, compelling content. This is where those social media accounts and online domains will come in handy. Flood the Web with unique content that presents your brand in a positive light, and you just might see those negative listings washed away.
This is most effective, though when it is done preemptively. By snatching up those domains and usernames before attacks start to appear, you’re getting a big head start in protecting your online reputation. You ultimately have the opportunity to build up a strong wall of positive content that will prove all but impenetrable to the attacks of your foes or of malcontented customers. Take advantage of this, and don’t wait until the attacks start appearing before you begin to take online reputation defense seriously.
Should a negative attack ever appear, though, you’ll want to respond as promptly as you can. The longer those attacks linger at the top of a Google search results page, the more damage they can end up doing. Prevent this from happening by responding as soon as those attacks show up.
Of course, this entails knowing when those attacks hit the Web. This you can do by setting up Yahoo and Google alerts for the name of your company or brand. It’s also recommended that you set up alerts for any mentions of your brand on social networks — and for this, there’s a handy tool available called Social Mention.
Keeping a close eye on your online reputation is the first step toward protecting it. Set up those alerts, snatch up those domains, and start developing some good content now, and you’ll be set up to stand strong against disastrous publicity or nasty online attacks.
About the Author: Mark Reffert has helped with reputation management on behalf of Fortune 500 campaigns, major political figures, and everything in between. Mark also works with companies to create reputation repair clearing plans and prides himself on staying on the cutting edge of new technology in general.