The internet is the first place people turn to today when researching a product, service or person. What comes up during that search is often the deciding factor.
Managing online reputation is a fairly new concept but to many it’s of strategic importance.
Communication technology such as publishing, search, wikis and social media allow anyone to build a reputation. Equally, they allow anyone to destroy one too.
This is a guide to online reputation management. It includes what reputation management is, why it’s important and how to build an online reputation. It also includes the various online reputation threats and what you can do to mitigate them.
What is online reputation management?
Online reputation management is the intentional effort to enhance and protect reputation using online tools and strategies.
It is about influencing key audiences, stakeholders and algorithms by leading with value and establishing beneficial relationships.
Managing online reputation is not only about what Google says about you (although it is important) but about using a digital PR strategy to create long-term brand equity.
SEO agencies today offer online reputation management as a service which is about ensuring positive first page search results. What people find when they search your name in Google is important but this is the by-product of a good online reputation strategy, not the goal itself.
Much like how digital PR is more than getting backlinks, online reputation management is more than what a Google search for your name says.
Why managing online reputation is important
A good reputation is one of the greatest assets you’ll ever own.
You have a reputation whether you’re aware of it or not and what you do for others can impact it either positively or negatively.
A good reputation can help you secure a new job, win a new client, sell more products, establish new relationships and get access to networks of influential people.
A bad reputation can make your world smaller with fewer opportunities, friends and acquaintances.
This is why you should consider a long term reputation as an appreciating asset. The more work you put into developing a good one the greater life and business can be.
Before the internet, reputation building was simple. Your reputation was decided by the mainstream media if you were famous (or infamous) enough. If you weren’t, it was decided by your social circle.
Since most people aren’t celebrities they would fall into the latter category.
Today that’s not the case. Thanks to the internet, anyone can build an online reputation at scale. It has levelled the playing field and created boundless opportunities.
While opportunities abound so do potential pitfalls.
If your reputation took a hit in the pre-internet days and even if you made the news, time was a great healer.
“Today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper” was a common phrase to suggest that the news of the day will soon be forgotten.
Today the internet never forgets. Everything is archived and searchable. News articles remain in Google’s search database forever or unless Google goes out of business.
Social media brings another dimension to it. While it provides more opportunities to enhance reputation it equally provides the same to damage it also.
An angry tweet in the heat of the moment, a misconstrued comment without context, a slip of thumb and ‘liking’ the wrong post. These all create reputational damage and we’ve seen it happen countless times in the past.
The anonymity of the internet has allowed anyone to attack your reputation also. They can criticise you without suffering the consequences of putting their name to their words.
This is why online reputation management is important. It helps you enhance your reputation, one of the most important assets you’ll ever own, and protect it also.
Online reputation threats
Reputational damage is often done by self-inflicted carelessness. Other times it’s from third parties who have a grievance against you.
Understanding the potential threats allows you to prepare for and mitigate them.
Online news publications are the most influential sites on the internet. If one publishes an article about you, it may end up on the first page of results for a search of your name. Which means what it says about you is important.
Negative social media
Social media provides a platform for anyone to speak their mind to a global audience. The viral effect of social media means a message can spread around the world in minutes. If people talk about you in social media, it can be discoverable for years if not decades.
People use the internet to find reviews of your product or company. Sites like Glassdoor provide ex-employees to leave anonymous reviews about your company without verifying who they are.
When people search someone’s social media history with the intent to find and re-publish offensive comments.
Guilt by association
If you follow someone controversial in social media people may assume you are doing so because you support and like them.
Social media is often text-based which means nonverbal communication like sarcasm and irony can go undetected.
Amplifying/agreeing with the wrong content
When someone ‘likes’ a tweet or a social post that is offensive to others.
The anonymity of social media makes it easier for trolls to attack a character without having to put their identity to their words.
When someone or a group of people set up fake accounts with false online identities to attack you or your company.
Hacked and leaked data
Private email exchanges that are hacked and leaked in the attempt to damage reputation.
Hacked social accounts
In the past, high-profile individuals and brands have had their social media accounts hacked. This led to the hackers soliciting for donations or posting spurious content.
Building an online reputation
Understanding the threats allows you focus on the factors that positively impact online reputation.
It’s important to understand that an online reputation is not a short-term tactic or one-off activity. The dynamics of online reputation building are necessarily incremental.
Building an online reputation is like any kind of reputation building. It takes time, effort, consistency and skill.
Develop an online reputation management strategy
Similar to a digital PR strategy it’s important to focus on;
- Objectives – where you want to go
- Stakeholders – who you want to talk to
- Messaging – what you want to say
- Tactics – the communication tools you will use
- Timeline – deliverables and deadlines
When you have a plan of where you want to go and how you’re going to get there it’s more effective, saves time and saves money.
Become an authority
You become known as a subject-matter expert when you write and speak about a topic in-depth and over a long period of time.
The more high-quality content you create, the more you become known as an authority on the subject. Your reputation rises alongside your authority.
If you want to develop a good online reputation you must provide value to others. Reputation is what others say about you so if you are a consistent source of value people will share your content with others and come back for more.
Leverage other people’s platforms
Wherever you want to go, you can’t get there alone. To build a reputation you should join other people’s platforms. Become a podcast guest, write guest articles for reputable blogs and online publications, and do a Q&A on Reddit. Whatever it is, you should leverage other people’s platforms and thus their own reputations.
Become a reputable source for algorithms
In the digital age, you have to impress algorithms as well as people. Especially the Google Search algorithm.
Google is a reputation engine so it’s important to publish well-written informational articles for it. The more you prove to the Google algorithm you are an authoritative source, the more it will feature you in search results. Likewise for social media algorithms too. Create useful content and watch it go viral.
Stay on topic
Social media with clickbait articles and viral videos is a huge distraction if you allow it to be. It’s also easy to comment on things which are outside your expertise. The general view is, don’t, but instead stay on-brand and stick to your key messages.
Talking about things outside your expertise or being political runs the risk of diluting your brand equity. Your audience will find it difficult to understand what you are about.
Think marathon not sprint
There are no quick fixes in reputation building. Managing reputation online is about building trust which requires consistency and credibility.
“Begin somewhere; you cannot build a reputation on what you intend to do.”Liz Smith
Just get going
Once you have a plan in place, just get going. Don’t overthink it and don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis. Learn as you go. The best time to build a reputation online was 15 years ago and the second best time is now.
Monitoring your online reputation
To keep on top of issues you should be monitoring your reputation on an ongoing basis. Staying up to date on what’s being said about you and your position within search can help you prevent an issue before it occurs.
You should be monitoring:
- Search results
- SEO positioning
- Online news sites
- Social media mentions
There are various online reputation management software to help you do this. Some are free and others are paid subscription services.
Which kind you use depends on the need you have. A large brand may outsource this to a specialist agency whereas a smaller company may do it themselves.
Online reputation repair
There may be instances when you need online reputation repair which can be due to a number of factors. Negative search results, an incorrect Wikipedia entry or the reputation threats discussed earlier.
Whatever it is, you will need to begin repairing the reputational damage incurred. To do this you have to use the tactics outlined above unless it’s something specific like the Wikipedia example. In this case working with the site’s editors is usually the best method.
If you’re already managing your online reputation then repairing negative coverage is a byproduct of it.
If you’re starting with a damaged online reputation you have work to do.