I’ve been thinking a lot about an online reputation.
As you well know, human beings love three stories: The overnight success, the great downfall, and the great rebuild.
Because of that, how to build your online reputation, how you maintain it, what you do when critics look for any reason to hurt your reputation, and what to do in a crisis are top-of-mind for us internally right now.
Not only because August was crisis communications month, but also because a big part of what we do for clients is help them maintain (or build) the level of satisfaction customers have with them.
Build an Online Reputation
A couple of years ago, I gave a presentation called the Principles of Building an Online Reputation.
I revisited those slides (which you can see at the end of this blog post) and also combined what I wrote in Spin Sucks to give you a complete guide to build your online reputation.
- Create a strong online monitoring program. It’s not difficult to set up Talkwalker Alerts for your name, the company name, and your executive or client names. Do that. And monitor what people have to say about you, the company, or the people you work with.
- Conduct an online audit. If you already have an online monitoring program, you already know what’s there, but it doesn’t hurt to do a Google search, see what is being said, and where it lands in search results (second listing, first page). Do this both logged into your Google account and logged out (or you can open an incognito tab in your browser without having to actually log out by going to file > new incognito window). Search the review sites. Search the Better Business Bureau and Ripoff Report. Search employee sites such as Glassdoor. Use terms such as “I hate COMPANY NAME” or “COMPANY NAME sucks.”
- Create a strategy. Based on what you learn from the audit and what internal and external implementation resources are in place, put together the company’s online strategy … and make sure it’s tied to your goals.
- Create a clean-up list. With the audit complete and your online strategy in place, now comes the clean-up. In some cases, there will be multiple accounts for your organization. There might be profiles you don’t need on social networks that are either defunct or they don’t help your strategy. There might be negative reviews or blog posts on the first page of search results you’d like to address and not have come up before your own sites and the positive reviews. Maybe there are “I hate Company X” groups on Facebook or untrue reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor. Perhaps former employees have said really terrible things about you on Glassdoor or they’ve set up social networks for the company and you don’t have the login information. Whatever it happens to be, the list begins with these types of things. Write down everything you need cleaned up so the person or team responsible understands what it is you want done.
- Assign someone (or a team) to do the work. They will need usernames and passwords, branding guidelines, sign-off on copy/images, and the power to make changes without a laborious approval process. It’s not critical this person be in marketing or PR, as long as it’s someone who understands what you’re trying to accomplish and can get you the information and answers you need in a timely manner.
- Begin the clean-up. Some of this is a big pain in the rear because you’ll need to work with the customer service departments at the social networks to either reset login data, delete a profile, or take down an untrue review. This could take weeks.
Build your online presence through social media. There was a time when I wouldn’t have recommended social media to every organization. Now, though, it’s the best way to connect with your customers and prospects in a very efficient way. Not to say that’s it free or cheap, but that you have the ability to build relationships with many people at once versus one-on-one of the old days. Even for business-to-business or niche organizations, there is now a social network that is applicable to you.
- Create engaging and valuable content. We’ve been talking a lot internally about content exhaustion—how much is out there, how difficult it is to sort through it all, and how to continue to create content that isn’t sales-y or boring or highly technical. It has to be informational, educational, and engaging.
- Comment on other content. We’ve talked about this here before, in terms of creating your own media relations program…or a response campaign, as we call it.
- Build community. Mitch Joel famously (at least to me) once said you don’t have a community until people begin talking to one another without the help of the blog’s author. This principle goes into detail about how to make that happen so you can watch it all unfold.
- Stroke egos. And not in a fake way that makes you seem like you’re doing it just to get something, but in a real and genuine way. Think about it this way: Have you ever made a witty or funny comment on someone’s Facebook status update only to have that person go right past it and engage with everyone but you? It doesn’t feel good. People just want to be heard.
- Have a crisis plan ready. It doesn’t have to be formal, but you should follow the five P’s of crisis planning: Predict, position, prevent, plan, and persevere.
- Write a book ahead of its time. Mitch Joel and I have gone round and round about some of these principles, particularly about blog commenting and stroking other’s egos. In fact, he wrote about the other side of comments, completely disagreeing with me. So I joke with him that not everyone is smart enough to write a book ahead of its time (cough, Six Pixels of Separation, cough) so most of us have to do the really hard work of building a reputation without it.
- Implement the strategy. Once you’ve cleaned up the organization’s online presence and figured out how you’re going to use content to build a strong reputation, it’s time to put your strategy into action. This is the scary part. You’re about to become transparent, which is really scary for most business leaders. This can be pretty painful when you have an organization you care deeply about, but it’s necessary in not only having a great online reputation, but in meeting your goals.
Online Reputation is Only as Good as it’s Search Results
Remember what Warren Buffett so famously said:
If you lose money for the firm, I will be understanding. If you lose reputation, I will be ruthless.
An organization’s reputation, today, is only as good as its search results. If your operations are solid, you have a responsive customer service team, and you run things ethically, the rest will sort itself out.
I hope everyone had a relaxing and fulfilling holiday weekend (for those of you in North America)!