This is a guest post by Leah Hunt, public relations director with Hope for Women magazine.
When we want to learn more about another person, the first place we turn is Google. Every day, over 1 billion names are searched on Google and 77 percent of job recruiters are required to Google potential employees during the hiring process. While you may not have Googled yourself, it’s certain that someone else has ─ and they are making judgments about you based on what they find. A recent survey suggest 45 percent of people have found something in a Google search that made them decide not to do business with someone.
This is the world we live in. In an age of social media and websites dedicated to consumer reviews, anyone – from an unhappy customer or a disgruntled employee to an industry competitor, can post negative content about you and your company that hundreds, even thousands of people will see. These tactics can extend to search engine suggestions that influence how people are searching your brand, usually through targeting phrases like, ‘scam’ and ‘fraud’.
Reputation management is about taking an active role in the perception of your brand. The first step toward building a positive online identity is knowing what the internet is actually saying about you and your company’s brand. What’s so fantastic about building and maintaining a positive online identity is that you can control what shows up when someone performs a Google search on your brand.
And that’s exactly what prominent online reputation management and search engine optimization company Elixir Interactive faced. The company proved that no one is immune from a smear attack. Elixir began receiving unsolicited e-mails for online reputation management services which did not adhere to legal requirements governing unsolicited commercial emails and were, in fact, illegal. Over the next few weeks, more false complaints began to show up on multiple complaint sites.
The reports quickly escalated in tone and replicated themselves across the web due to the fact that numerous complaint sites pull feeds and repost reports, magnifying the damage. Elixir appears to have been aggressively targeted because of their high Google rankings. It appeared to be the work of a competitor determined to dominate this space by tarnishing the names of their competitors. In the end, Elixir contacted the various complaint sites hosting the false reports. They also proceeded to promote positive content, issue press releases about upcoming engagements, and optimize digital assets to help clean up the results.
Here are four steps to protecting your online identity:
1. Online reputation management takes planning and research.
In order to be successful, it is imperative to research, research and research again. At this phase, it is vital to question what the internet is saying about you and your brand. Are you trying to repair the damage that’s already done, or are you trying to protect your brand from future damage? Establishing a plan of action will allow you to brand your online identity positively, while gaging how current and potential consumers perceive it.
2. Focus your efforts on identifying warning signs.
This is so you can defend against an attack before it actually becomes a problem. Develop a plan to manage and repair your reputation if and when negative content goes live.
3. Monitor and identify weak points.
Categorize the situation as high-risk or low-risk, and develop a list of tools to manage your online presence. Set up Google Alerts for the keywords that normally bring people to your website or social media pages, including your company’s name, products, services and key corporate executives. You should also identify and monitor influential blogs and forums in your industry. The more specialized your offerings, the more likely it is that clients will turn to forums and blogs for information. More advanced SEO techniques should also be used so that only sites with positive reviews on your company see the first page of search results.
4. Search for your brand on social.
Social media is more difficult to monitor, but simple searches for your brand name and user names are available for free on most social networking sites. There are also tools that will monitor your brand across multiple channels. SocialMention.com has alerts that will inform you when you pop up in a tweet or are tagged in a photo on Flickr or Facebook.
When a negative comment appears online, look at it as an opportunity to position your company as one that really cares about its customer’s satisfaction. Responding to a negative review, when done correctly, can reinforce your brand and create a positive image in readers’ minds of you, your company and its products or services, so respond with care. Online reputation management must continually be on the front of your agenda.
Residing in Columbus, Ohio, Leah Hunt is a full-time public relations director with Hope for Women magazine, based in Muncie, Indiana. With a passion for writing and creating content, her work has appeared in Hope for Women magazine, The Boss Network and CPAVoice. You can find Leah on Twitter.