Have you ever expressed an opinion online and regretted it afterwards? Perhaps there’s an embarrassing photo of you floating around somewhere in cyberspace? Or worse, you’ve been vocal on a subject which, looking back, presents you in a bad light.
For individuals and businesses alike, the internet has evolved into a place where things we may have said or done in the early days, can make or break us now. This is reflected in the growing field of reputation management, something which you can manage yourself or have a company do for you.
Why use a company?
We’re not all as skilled at searching the web as we’d like to think and there are plenty of professionals out there who are extremely good at it. I’m talking about the kind of people who can find the proverbial needle in a haystack when it comes to mentions of your name or business online.
Many digital SEO agencies already know how to do this, as it’s something that they already do in order to help businesses achieve good rankings. They have the tools and the skill to sift through the enormous amount of data that exists.
Many business owners on the other hand simply don’t have the time, nor the inclination, to spend days searching for something they may have said amiss.
However, there is a ‘dark side’ to reputation management that you should look out for too, as proved by Forbes, which recently printed an account of what was ongoing extortion.
This entailed a worried business owner shelling out $400 to get something taken down from the net, only to find it again some weeks later and have another company offer to do the same for another $400.
Prevention is better than cure
The best way to approach reputation management is of course to be careful what you say and how you deal with consumer complaints. However, this isn’t always possible for a number of reasons, you might have had your social media profile hijacked and someone is pretending to be you, or a disgruntled customer may be following you around the web commented negatively on everything you post.
Protecting your digital identity means that it’s necessary to build a strong personal and professional brand that won’t be simple to damage. This can be done by nurturing a strong social presence, as well as buying any related domain names that someone may otherwise use for nefarious purposes.
The idea is that you maintain as much control as possible over your reputation by pre-empting any future attacks.
Commonly, the below are used as a way to damage a reputation or brand:
- Hijacked or squatted usernames and domains
- Someone pretending to be you
- Negative comments about you or by you
- Fake profiles
- Consumer compliant sites
- Competitor attacks
- Corporate scandals
- Coverage of negative news with regard to you or your company
Taking control of your brand
It’s important that you are in control of your online destiny and so it’s wise to register your name and preferred username with all of the social networks, or at least the major ones and those that are relevant to your industry.
To help you with this, a service like KnowEm can be extremely useful, as it will check your name, usernames, company, products and employees and so on and then register you with more than 200 social networks across the net. It’s necessary to pay a monthly fee for the software to continue searching and building your profiles, but it’s a great way of ensuring that they don’t get taken over.
It’s also a good exercise to go through your privacy settings on social networks to ensure that everything you post isn’t open to all. Remember that your personal accounts get picked up by search engines too and you wouldn’t want your employer or a customer to find that ill-advised drunken photo of you at a stag party.
Other tools that can help
Listening tools are a good idea to keep track of any mentions of a company or your name. A feed reader such as Google Reader can be used alongside keywords to track for phrases relating to you.
For comments, BackType, which has recently been acquired by Twitter, allows you to find comments mentioning a particular keyword, which can be extremely useful. Social Mention is also worth taking a look at, as it’s specific to social media and when it comes to internet faux pas, that’s where most people make them.
Being attacked by a malicious troll?
Internet trolls are usually nothing more than an annoyance, as they seem to live for irritating others with innocuous and inflammatory comments. Usually they are best ignored, but sometimes they have more malicious intentions.
If you find yourself under attack, then report it to the relevant network and be completely transparent and honest with your followers, fans, customers etc. This ensures that you can take control of the situation and often people will surprise you with their support.
This is similar to dealing with trolls except for the ignoring part. If someone complains to your company, the very worst thing you can do is ignore them or delete their comments as this will just infuriate them into taking stronger action.
Any complaints should be approached cap-in-hand, with an offer to put it right and an apology. You should be firm and assert yourself and tell the customer that you won’t tolerate abuse, should they begin to use bad language or threats.
Complete transparency and honesty is the key when it comes to dealing with complaints, we no longer live in a world where such things can be successfully ignored and the only way is to meet it head on.
Finally, the best way to avoid damage to your reputation is to ensure that you’re highly visible online as someone that is honest, with a good sense of integrity, knowledgeable in his field and capable of standing up for himself.
Build a good, solid personal brand and you should avoid any issues that might threaten to damage your reputation.