In the evolution of all things online, we have come to a place where individuals can now employ some online strategies to really hammer at a firm’s or individual’s reputation. And if these dipsticks are good at what they do, they can have a disastrous influence on potential clients and partners. Michael and I have had the opportunity to meet with a number of large firms, even Fortune 500 companies, to discuss online strategies and systems, including online reputation management.
Yesterday we sat down with a company we are quite familiar with. We have had discussions with them over the years on a number of different technological systems to improve aspects of their business. We first discussed SEO strategies with them starting back in March of 2007. But at that time, due to some management changes and architecture issues, we didn’t have the opportunity to help them much. Yesterday their online situation had changed a bit, in that they are now facing some online reputation challenges, and they know something needs to be done, and the sooner the better.
No doubt about it, we will see more and more of these sorts of online attacks in the future, there seems to be something very empowering about a keyboard and a screen. Words and comments people would never say in public or audibly, get thrown up on blogs and as comments every day, with little consequence to the mud slinger. So what can we do about protecting our firm, and our firm’s reputation. Here are a few words of advice.
Michael made a great comment yesterday about openness in business, which has become so more important in this online revolution. We as business owners and managers of firms need to be more open to the public, even if it is uncomfortable or unnerving. I personally was raised in a family where we kept our “problems” “in house” so to speak. I mean we felt like “why should we share our dirt with the neighborhood?” It was none of their business, and we didn’t want to look any less perfect than we already did. In corporate America, this type of “keep the dirty laundry in-house” attitude has been prominent. Large firms used to be very good at ignoring what others were saying, they would just pretend to look the other way, refuse to comment and they hoped, with time, the problem would eventually go away. And to a degree I think this strategy worked and had merit. But that won’t work anymore. If we aren’t willing to get in the discussion, especially a negative one, then we risk appearing out of touch, and most importantly we risk letting others present our firm’s image in a light which may not be representative, nor fair.
This type of corporate openness can also have sort of a self-policing aspect to it. If we are open about what is going on inside the company, freely discussing issues head on, there will be more internal effort to make sure nothing actually does goes too wrong internally, as people are being held responsible for their actions, and frankly dealing with problems is a royal pain. I wonder if the stories of Tyco and MCI might have been a bit different if openness from top to bottom was a policy in those organizations? Perhaps.
So, how can we get involved in the online clammer? One method is to pay attention to what others are saying about your company. There are many ways to do this. Michael shared the example of how Comcast monitors Twitter for comments about their company, then quickly responds to these comments, positive or negative, to make sure they are heading off any potential problems. What a wonderfully proactive way to interact, and to be apart of the online social conversation. Obviously watching the Twitter feed to perhaps find something about your firm would be time consuming, and maybe impractical if it is a small firm, but it is also possible to go back and search the archives of Twitter. Then, when we have the time, we can write a blog post using keywords that might associate our firm with the past comments, and deal with the issue head on. I also would suggest contacting the person who made the comment directly, just to see if there isn’t anything that can be done to improve their attitude toward the company. You might find them pretty surprised you cared, and possibly shocked you knew they had commented in the first place.
I personally use Google Alerts to watch for keywords which are important to me. I use it for my name and each firm name, just to keep any eye on things online. If anyone uses these tagged words online, Google alerts me, and we can then go and check it out and deal with it. It is a very helpful, and frankly reassuring system. When a hot topic comes up, and our firm is put in the discussion, we make sure to get some content out there, on a new web page, or in a blog to address the issue, making sure we use the very keywords used in the attack. We all need to make sure that when someone puts across a potentially negative view, that we have provided our own narrative of the situation to buffer a searcher’s reaction. If we are open and honest to the problem, potential clients will give us the well-deserved benefit of the doubt , which we essentially earned by responding directly. I don’t think individuals are naive enough to believe everything they read, but they are more likely to believe when no opposing view is offered.
When considering future pages or blog post, perhaps we should discuss items that might be problems in the future… If you are an injury attorney, I would have a page discussing the term “ambulance chaser.” A used car salesman should discuss the whole sales process and perhaps offer steps on how to avoid buying a lemon. Helpful content like this is not only beneficial in reputation management, but also assists in building a group of loyal readers who appreciate your unique view of your market. We each know our individual markets better than most our clients will, and they might as well learn it from us. Then when shots are taking at our reputations, we have a trusting readership to come to our aide, and participate in the conversation. So the online noise will not only be from some delusional competitor or a disgruntled client, but also from us directly, and others that have learned to trust us over time.
The bigger the firm, the bigger the challenge to manage online reputations. Fortunately there are more complex and technologically advanced methods for larger companies, with more online real estate to protect, but these strategies take a new mindset, a great deal of money and usually new internal and technological architecture to fully implement. Most of us will never have to worry about this extreme level of reputation protection, but if there is a time when your large firm or you yourself do need some help, let us know, we have learned a great deal on how to deal with these challenges, even on the largest of scales.
In short, as a buddy of mine likes to say, “just keep it real,” and online that advice is good as good as any, especially when managing what others can find out about you through search.