By CB Whittemore published May 3, 2011

6 Ways to Manage Your Online Reputation

Whether you manage a brand, a business or yourself, your online reputation matters, particularly if you’re serious about creating a meaningful content strategy for engaging with potential customers.

Despite the horror stories (e.g., United Breaks Guitars or Boeing’s Social Media Lesson), the benefits are undeniable when customers find you online and engage with your content. Using digital and social tools leads to more links to your website, better quality visits  and more indexing. It also allows you to establish your trustworthiness and credibility with customers, build relationships with them and improve business profitability.

Are you ready  to manage your online reputation? Here are several steps for you and your company  to consider.

By they way, I encourage you to use yourself as an example as you go about exploring how to manage your own reputation online. This can provide you with important  insights about online reputation management. More importantly, because you know yourself well, you will intuitively be able to interpret the results you see. As a result, you’ll be better able to make sense of the results for your company or brand.

Monitor your Google search results

What’s your “Google juice’? Good? Bad? Indifferent? You need to check it out.

Enter your name in quotation marks in a search window and examine the results from the first three pages.  When you monitor your search results, you’re looking to create a baseline for terms that matter to you and your business, starting with your name, your  company name and extending to category names.

  • Do many relevant results come up?
  • Do any troublesome results appear?

TIPS:

Ultimately, you’re looking to recreate the experience that a potential customer may have while searching for  your name and your company’s name, so keep these ideas in mind:

  • Experiment with different browsers and search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Social Mention, etc.) as you’ll notice different results.
  • Be aware that Google search will personalize results so they are more relevant to your search patterns. You’ll want to compare the results you obtain when you search logged into your Google account (if you have one) vs. when you are logged out.
  • Change your search location (see left sidebar in Google).
  • Test with  Google instant turned on and off.

Develop digital profiles

Your goal is to ‘own’ as many first page search results as possible for your name and/or your company’s name with content you’ve created or positively influenced. Ideally, your website address will appear at the top of those  page one results.

Complete and robust social profiles allow you to own more of those page one results. Claim your profiles  and make sure they  consistently describe you and your company. Consider those social profiles extensions of your company’s  sites; they are ways for you to extend your presence and influence.

Here are some profiles to consider:

  • LinkedIn personal profiles for you and your business associates
  • LinkedIn Company Pages (Here’s a great step-by-step primer on this relatively new feature.)
  • An individual Google Profile
  • A company Google Places account (This is particularly relevant for businesses with physical locations.)
  • SlideShare
  • YouTube
  • Facebook: Use a Facebook Fan page, not a personal profile page.
  • Flickr
  • Twitter

TIPS:

  • Create consistent keyword-rich profiles that link back to your website or blog.
  • Keep your profiles updated.
  • Create profiles that sound human and engaging.
  • If the profiles are for individuals instead of companies, consider providing everyone at your company with boilerplate information to increase the likelihood that they will complete their profiles.

Listen intensely

Start listening for what matters to you and your potential customers:

  • Create Google Alerts  for your name, your company name, your URL, your competitors, your terms of interest.
  • Explore Google Adwords to get a sense for which terms generate the greatest number of monthly searches; calibrate that against what you know about your specific customers and marketplace.
  • If you want to listen based on geographic proximity, you can experiment with a Twitter tool called Monitter.
  • Don’t forget to analyze your web analytics (check out How to Find Content Ideas in Your Web Analytics Report) for clues on what customers are searching for.

What should you do with the information you collect?

  • Explore the results you obtain from monitoring your searches. Some may reflect specific opportunities to address issues and ideas with customers.
  • When you can, find out more about specific circumstances so you can make improvements and communicate back with your solution.
  • Respond! See the next section for specific tips.

Be sensitive to patterns and don’t limit your listening to online. Be sure to listen offline, too, so you can absorb how customers speak or how your sales associates and service representatives interact with customers.

Once you have a better feel for the terms that properly reflect what your customers are looking for, consider paid listening tools.

Set expectations

Of course, you should also respond to the comments that you hear while listening. Develop policies and guidelines so you and others in your organization will engage consistently and respectfully with potential customers via digital and social means:

  • What kind of content will you share?
  • With what frequency will you respond?  (Be sure to validate what real-time means to your customers as their response expectations may vary considerably.)
  • What is  off limits to readers?
  • What can potential customers  expect from your company?

Never forget that your reputation – online and offline – is a function of those who represent you and interact with customers. Engage respectfully and consistently with employees and customers. For instance, here are some thing to capture in your guidelines:

  • Acknowledge comments
  • Encourage interaction
  • Ask questions
  • Listen intensely to what ensues
  • Say thank you.

Involving your employees in monitoring and managing your company’s online reputation leads to better awareness of the value you and your company offers potential customers, not to mention faster response to issues and opportunities.

For validation, look at what Fiskars — a 360+ year old scissor company —  has achieved with employees and customers with its Fiskateers Brand Ambassador program [see Fiskars: 360 Years Young & Innovating With Customers].

For examples of policies and guidelines, see my post titled How Do I Start With Social Media Guidelines?

Evaluate your website

Objectively review your website:

  • How solid is your content?
  • Is it unique to your business?
  • Does it reflect what you’ve learned during your intense listening?
  • Does your content speak from the perspective of your customers?
  • Are you answering questions that they have about your product or service?
  • Does your website project your humanity?
  • Does your website meta data –- page title, description, keywords — reflect what your content is about? For more perspective, check out Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.

Be sure to include the story of your business and identify your employees; when possible, add a link to their individual LinkedIn profiles.

Plan for the worst

The more time you can spend calmly considering worst-case scenarios before they happen, the more likely you’ll be able to avoid them for your company. By virtue of thinking about them and creating a social media response plan similar to what the US Army and Ohio State Medical Center have in place, you’ll be ready to react productively and consistently that supports your company’s online reputation.

What else have you found valuable in managing online reputation?

Author: CB Whittemore

C.B. Whittemore, chief simplifier of Simple Marketing Now LLC, has been immersed socially and digitally since 2006 when she launched her first blog – Flooring The Consumer. She practices fierce content marketing via the Simple Marketing Blog, a Junta42 Top Content Marketing Blog. C.B. obtained an MBA in Marketing from Columbia Business School and a BA in Art History from Smith College. Follow her on Twitter @cbwhittemore.

Other posts by CB Whittemore