It’s tricky. How do you catch a ball no one has thrown yet? And how do you measure how well you’re catching the balls you can’t see?

Better yet, just what in the heck am I even talking about?

Managing your reputation online.

It’s one of the fears that executives at successful companies have about the internet – anyone can say anything about any person, place or thing on the web, and it can go completely unchallenged as long as it doesn’t rise to the level of libel (or slander in the case of video or audio.)

And that’s one way to look at it. But what’s missing is that search and social are the ultimate referees.

The assumption is that what ever information out there is

1- find-able,

2- usable,

3- relevant and

4- thought to be so by search engines and people using social media.

This assumption is fueled by the fact that is it technically correct sometimes. However, it isn’t always practically so.

Just because another company can say – or has said – something bad about you doesn’t mean that item is going to appear whenever your name is mentioned. If you know to look for a particular article by a specific name, then yes, that article would be much easier to find, assuming the people who published it know how to bring it to a search engine’s attention, or at least to the attention of someone who uses social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.

On the other hand, people may just be looking up your company name to make sure you aren’t running a scam, or to find positive reviews about you before they buy. If that’s the case, a lone article against you may not show up – IF the other hundreds of positive commentary is already at the top and well-supported.

What if it does? Well, there are defenses against that, but I’m writing about the offensive today, so we won’t wade too deeply into those waters now.  (If you have an emergency, feel free to call me.)

A Good Offense is the Best Defense

Who hasn’t heard that one a dozen times? Yawn, I know. Another boring thing you don’t want to hear: you keep hearing it because it’s true and it works.

Being prepared for the eventuality of bad press or negative customer reaction to an isolated incident is just good business. If you’re successful enough, you will have opposition.

Sometimes it will be from customers trying to make a good thing better (they wouldn’t be your customers if you hadn’t made a positive impact on them in the past).  They wouldn’t yell so loudly if they were sure no one would listen.

Other times, competitors have been known to be cut-throat, floating falsehoods out there in the name of getting on top or staying there.

But what does it actually mean, in terms of preventing some lie from the competition being planted to breach your wall of accuracy and (hopefully) truth?

It means that if your blog community is strong enough, your fan base may come to the rescue before you even know there’s a problem. Very strong advantage to building a community.

And whether it is or not, just being present and answering all feedback right away is your best weapon against things spinning out of control. Don’t be afraid to respond. Be afraid of what happens when what could have been a short discussion with a group of customers becomes a PR nightmare about how much you and your company failed to respond.

It means that if your search results are well-insulated, a few amateur attacks won’t bear much fruit beyond a day or so of bad online press. if your search results can’t be breached – it’s like throwing spitballs at a flame-breathing dragon. You, as the dragon, won’t feel a thing.

Most companies simply don’t have strong enough defense against outside attacks, because they are focused on the part of search that yields sales.

And in the short term, rightfully so. There’s no budget to secure company search results if the company isn’t making money. On the other hand, you don’t want to suddenly lose revenue because of a reputation attack. Some of these folks are clever –  if the story is technically true enough to get a case of slander thrown out, then fear of litigation isn’t a deterrent to a reputation attack, particularly one that isn’t a manageable side effect of regular company business, as a poor customer reaction to a new feature in a product.

But as soon as your company is on firm footing, no matter how small or large you are, you want to leverage whatever input you have about the perception of your company as best you can.

Having a Good Offensive Strategy for Reputation Management

Reputation management is a tricky thing to write about, because people who are seeking to damage another entity’s reputation will read these articles and blog posts, and use the advice we give you against you. If you can, you’ll want to retain a professional’s advice. Look that professional up and investigate them and their company, beyond what you can find in Google and reading online. You’re looking for positive feedback that you can verify. Do their testimonials give websites and company names? Do they have a list ready for you when you call and ask?

Once you’ve got that person, here are some of the things you’ll want to have them examine – again, this won’t go into too many details, but it’s enough for you to get started on your own or take to a professional.

  1. Is your site submitted to the proper positive and neutral directories in its category? There are probably more you’re eligible to be listed in, but be wary of the sites that claim to submit you to 3500 – there are nowhere near that many good ones.
  2. How close are the ties between you and your online community? Best case scenario is an active community that is willing to spread the word about you when directed to do so. Worst case is not the absence of one, it’s having one that your competition has found and is influencing to your detriment.
  3. Are you leveraging both inside and outside customers to your advantage with simple calls to action?
  4. Are you serving your community or are you mistaking a list of customers as a community?
  5. Is the information on your site up-to-date, truthful and clear? In other words, are you vulnerable to attack by having old information on your site that is no longer true or accurate, which could be twisted into a weapon against you?
  6. Does the information on your site flow into the conversation stream of your intended audience? An example: if you sell lemonade, your blog posts should be in the neighborhood of lemon, lemonade and related things like lemonade pitchers. You can get away with up to 15% of your content on other topics. But if you’re not writing about what your customers want to learn about, someone else is. And that someone may be stealing the audience you’ve built, even feeding them bad data.

Next time – Handling Reputation breaches

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