Reputation management started out as a public relations technique. Now that every successful company has an online presence, the term has expanded to involve removing negative items that may appear in search results, ruining an individual or company’s reputation. Online reputation management isn’t reserved for celebrities and huge corporations. With consumers turning to the Internet searches for the majority of their information, it’s important to make sure that what they find out about you doesn’t prevent them from using your company in the future.
In 2011, Taco Bell was hit with a class-action lawsuit that claimed that the meat served by the Mexican quick-serve restaurant didn’t contain enough USDA-inspected beef to be called “beef.” The company quickly responded with a reputation management strategy. Greg Creed, Taco Bell’s CEO, posted a YouTube video revealing in detail the ingredients found in the restaurant’s beef. He also launched advertising campaigns that openly acknowledged the lawsuit and shared information about the company’s meat.
That’s a real-world example of a reputation management strategy that relied heavily on changing consumers’ opinions through advertising. However, it can be harder for companies to carefully design their branding messages with consumers taking the reins on social media, review sites and blogs. Controlling the information that is released about different companies is becoming more and more difficult. Reputation management is now based around managing search results in order to filter out the negative comments, articles, and reviews about a brand.
Awareness is the first step
In order to effectively manage your reputation online, you have to know what’s being shared about you. Keeping an eye on different coverage sources can help you get a sense of what people are saying about you or your company. You can use different systems to monitor keywords and hashtags associated with you or your brand, but finding the trolls lurking in every corner can be a full-time job.
Actions for an effective strategy
A successful online reputation management plan involves crafting a conscientious liaison between the source of the negativity and the public.
• Monitoring – The Internet is a big place. It’s important to continually keep an eye out for reputation-damaging information about you. This involves checking news articles, gossip blogs, online magazines and social media websites.
• Finding the source – Sometimes, finding the source can be helpful. Determining the reason behind the smear campaign can help you craft an approach to deal with it.
• Responding quickly – If you don’t respond immediately to negative comments or stories about you, the rumors can spread rapidly. In an age where information goes viral in a matter of minutes, it’s important to quell negativity as fast as possible.
• Moving to a private format – If you can locate the source of negative information and respond quickly, you can often move the conversation to a private format. Never argue using back-to-back comments on a public forum.
Managing search results
A central issue surrounding reputation management is optimizing search results so that they paint you or your company in the best light possible. If the first few items that appear on an Internet search include unfavorable information, prospective customers will probably be turned away before they have a chance to get to know you. Although you can’t directly regulate the information that appears when someone searches for you, you can adopt strategies to make the positive information take precedence.
• Ask the source to remove content – Reach out to the owner of a website that contains negative information about you and request for the material to be removed. You can offer payment in exchange for the content removal, but be careful with this strategy. If the web owner reveals your request to the public, it could make you look worse.
• Boost your presence on social media – When someone is searching for you or your brand, social media profiles often come up first. The more social media profiles you have, the more those websites will take up the prime real estate in search results, bumping damaging results to the next page where they may not even be discovered.
• Make sure that you appear in high-quality business directories – Registering your company in as many reputable directories as possible will help push down undesirable search results.
• Publish valuable content – Desirable information published on your website can outrank the negative information available on other websites. Keep your website updated, and take advantage of guest blogging opportunities on high-quality, authoritative websites.
Can you remove negativity?
Don’t delete negative comments on forums, review websites and social media pages. Removing information that paints you in a less-than-positive light, especially after that information has been exposed to the public, can make you look guilty. Instead, take a lesson from the Taco Bell CEO and respond publicly, defending your integrity and explaining your decisions if necessary. Many people who leave negative reviews will update them after you have responded to them. In addition, they may also delete their negative comments after you address the reason for their dissatisfaction.
How an online reputation management company can help
Online reputation management is a crucial component of safeguarding your online reputation. As you build your brand, you must pay attention to theway people are talking about you. This can take up valuable time and resources, however. Hiring a company to handle your reputation management can maximize your positive image and allow you to focus on building your brand.
A reputation management company can:
• Monitor your company’s online presence.
• Improve your brand’s image by submitting content to the press and news websites.
• Enhance your website’s search engine optimization so that search results display positive information first.
• Optimize your visibility across the Web.
• Publicly react when undesirable information is published about you or your brand.
• Work with other websites to remove harmful information.
• Help you take legal action if necessary.
When you work hard to establish your presence on the Internet, you don’t want one negative interaction to affect your entire enterprise. Using your resources to hire a professional to manage your online reputation can help you stay on top and get your intended message out to the public.