Truth, lies and dares: Managing your online reputation
Have you ever googled your company’s name? What about your own name or the names of your colleagues? Have you looked on review sites? Searched blogs or social media sites?The results you uncover are the same ones that prospective customers, employees, reporters and bloggers also see when conducting similar searches. In an ideal world, these results are all positive and truthful, and you are aware of them. Because in an age when Internet search engines conduct more than 1.4 million searches per minute, and when more than 84 percent of Internet users say online reviews influence purchasing decisions, you cannot afford to ignore what others are saying online.When it comes to online reputation management, there are really only two areas to focus on: information that your company puts out there and the information that your company can respond to.

Information YOU put out there
The number one thing you can do to protect your online reputation is producing valuable and relative content. In the game of search engine optimization (SEO), useful content will always win—meaning, it will move to the top of the search result listings, pushing irrelevant information elsewhere. Additionally, when you are generating the content, monitoring becomes easier because you’re more in control. When developing content, pay close attention to:

  • Your website—update regularly and work with experienced web developers to perfect content and design while maximizing SEO through meta tags, keywords and descriptions. Add further content by making e-newsletters, print publications, white papers and press releases accessible on your site.
  • Social media—when appropriate, establish and maintain a company presence on social media sites such as blogs, LinkedIn®, FacebookSM or Twitter™ as part of your business’s overall communications strategy. Having a presence in social media allows you to manage your reputation through engagement and interaction. Encourage this engagement and interaction further through rewarding those customers who participate in conversations or contests via social media with small gifts of gratitude like a Hanes® Tagless-T with your company’s logo or a branded Amazon AS Sport Bottle.
  • Claiming your name—if you or your business has not already, purchase all crucial online real estate (domain names/URL addresses) before imposters or disgruntled consumers or employees do. Claim your company’s name in various forms, along with any taglines or slogans, in a variety of domains (.com, .net, .org). Be sure to also secure your listing on local search and review sites, Facebook URLs and Twitter handles, even if your organization chooses not to pursue social media efforts.
  • What your employees are saying—protect your business’s reputation by removing the gray area for employees and developing a social media and Internet use policy. Lay out guidelines in confidentiality agreements. Cover the protocol for setting up and taking down social media profiles, file sharing and personal versus employee disclosure. A site called SocialMediaGovernance.com exists to assist organizations in protecting themselves and their brands through such policies. Distribute this policy in a fun way, stressing how this policy will protect the brand and employees with giveaways like a Computer Stress Reliever or Computer-Shaped Sticky Notes.

Responding to online chatter
If your online monitoring efforts reveal a comment or post—positive or negative—about your company, employees or services, be sure to respond in a timely and polite manner. If the information is false, e-mail the web master and ask that it be updated or removed. If the post is simply a negative or positive opinion, thank the commenter for his or her input, address any issues at hand and offer up contact information so it may be resolved. Consider sending thank-you’s to those brand champions who speak highly of your business, like an Oval Swing USB Flash Memory Stick or a Fold Up Flier.

If bloggers or commenters are unresponsive or the situation turns aggressive, know that most of the larger search engines have a form that you can fill out to refute or request to remove search results that are out-dated, false or malicious. This process does not guarantee removal and usually only substantiated claims are addressed.

As you get content under control, monitor the web regularly and vigilantly. In addition to Google, be sure to watch other sites like Yelp, City Search, Technorati and others, and consider using tools to assist in monitoring your brand’s online reputation:

  • Google alerts—these are free to registered Google users and can alert you to mentions in reviews, blogs and online publications.
  • Media alerts—many larger companies enlist media clipping services, like BurellesLuce and Cision, which have expanded to include the web and can provide reliable monitoring services for a fee.

Follow these tips, and you and your business will be well on the way to an online brand reputation to be proud of—for years to come!

“Google owns 1M-plus searches per minute – iMedia Connection.” IMedia Connection: Internet advertising articles, strategy tips and jobs. Web. 19 Nov. 2009.

The New York Times.The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Web. 10 Nov. 2009.

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