Have you been sullied or besmirched online? They are great words with horrific repercussions. Can you go no further than a Google search on your or your company name before you witness the literal slamming of your reputation, corporate philosophy, product and/or service quality, or worse?
This is a huge issue in this day and age where the internet rules and everyone is an expert by means of just tapping what is out there on the great WWW.
Here’s an anecdote for you to put this issue into perspective.
Six months ago you engaged an employee to work for your small to mid-size company. You knew within the first two weeks that it probably wouldn’t be a marriage made in heaven. Your hire wasn’t communicating with management, wasn’t fulfilling the goals of the position and had already started showing up late for work, but you held back judgment and decided to give them a chance to get their feet on the ground in your business.
Unfortunately, by 8 weeks on the job things had only gotten worse and it necessitated a review meeting and the probation discussion. Not exactly where you wanted to go when, after a year of a hiring freeze, you excitedly brought on a new staffer.
At 12 weeks, it was obvious that this hire was not interested in growing into the position and you were frustrated. In a frenzied moment when you discovered the employee was taking two hour lunches, surfing the net during office hours and harassing other staffers you very professionally called the person into your office and after explaining your position on their choices very privately let them go, effective immediately. In your mind 12 weeks was sufficient enough time to let them prove their value and get on board. You were fair with compensation and even gave them a severance pay of 2 weeks.
Fast forward 3 weeks and while you are vanity surfing your name and your company’s name on the internet to see how your website fares against competitors in your market, you SEE it!
A complaint! In fact, it’s worse than just a complaint. Hell, complaints give you an opportunity to do better and actually make it right by someone. This was a complete trashing of your reputation, your standards, your philosophy and your entire staff! It’s written from the standpoint of a disgruntled customer, but immediately you recognize the rhetoric, the vocabulary, the energy and essence of this virtual attack, and know intuitively that this was written by the employee you fired.
What do you do? This reputation destroyer begins to post complaints in many high profile optimized sites and suddenly your recently updated, highly optimized company website falls in the 5th position below all the bashing being done to your company by this angry, and probably still out-of-work ex-employee.
In 2009, a study commissioned by Microsoft found that of the almost 80% of U.S. hiring managers who had searched for candidates online, 70% of them said they had rejected a candidate based on what they found in his or her search results.
Can you imagine what this means when translated into a prospective customer looking for services or products like those your company has delivered with integrity since its inception?
While there are many companies that manage reputations online they charge a pretty good sum to do so. For immediate damage control, you should start by utilizing some simple SEO techniques on your own. You might not be able to remove the damaging results from the Internet but you can definitely minimize their impact without having to engage a specialty company to do it for you.
Here’s where you should start.
Step 1: Assess the Damage
Before you begin to manage your online reputation, you should assess it. Type your names in search engines. Set up search alerts for your name (Google recently made this easier to do from the Google dashboard through a new “Me on the Web” tool).
If you find something negative, ask yourself:
• Did I post it? If, for instance, photos from your Facebook account are showing up in search results for your name, you can simply delete the photos or adjust your privacy settings.
After you’ve removed the content, you can use Google’s URL removal tool to stop it from appearing as a cached copy or snippet in search results.
• Is it personal information that could be used in a crime? If someone posts your social security number, bank account number, credit card number or an image of your handwritten signature, Google will make efforts to remove it from search results. It will also contact the site’s hosting company to request that the page be taken down.
• Is it posted on a high-traffic news site? Competing for search results with a popular news site is difficult. But Patrick Ambron, the cofounder of a personal online reputation management service called Brand-Yourself, says that all hope is not lost. “Google usually only likes to rank one result per domain name per page,” he says. “So if you could get another result on the same domain name like Huffington Post that was better optimized for your name, you could theoretically knock the bad article off.” One way to do this is to create a profile on that news site using your full name. Use as many links as possible, and link to the profile from all of your other web properties.
If you didn’t answer “yes” to any of these questions, your best bet for reducing the visibility of negative content is through the use of positive content.
Step 2: Post Positive Content
“If you can’t get the content removed from the original site, you probably won’t be able to completely remove it from Google’s search results, either,” reads Google’s guide to keeping personal information out of Google. “Instead, you can try to reduce its visibility in the search results by proactively publishing useful, positive information about yourself or your business.”
In other words, if you want to make negative webpages appear lower in search, you’ll need to create content of relevance to push the negative links down. Google suggests responding to negative reviews of your business, for instance.
Profiles on social networks are powerful tools for this purpose, as results from large sites like Facebook and Twitter often carry more SEO power than a single post on something like a personal blog.
Step 3. Create an Identity Hub
One secret to pushing your positive online presence further up in search results is to make a hub that links to all of your content. Ambron recommends these tips for pushing your hub to the top of search results for your name.
• Claim your domain name. Including the search term (in this case, your name or your company name) in the URL of your web page tells search engines what the page is about.
• Mention yourself and your company. You’re trying to tell search spiders, “This page is about me and my company!” A good way to do that is to use names a lot. Use your name in tabs and headers.
• Link to your content. “[Google] considers each link to your site a vote for the site,” Ambron says. “Google has gotten pretty smart, so where those links come from is very important. The more reputable links are better votes. A vote from CNN is better than some site you made that you just linked to yourself.”
Remember all of those social media profiles that you created in step two? They’re attached to reputable sources like Facebook and Twitter, which makes their “votes” count as much more reputable than a page you just created.
Sign up for as many of them as possible and then link them all to your hub.
• Post often. Search engines love fresh content. One easy way to create it is to post your social media feeds to your blog.
(Thanks to http://mashable.com/2011/06/27/manage-online-reputation-seo/for the specific steps to online management of ones reputation)________________________________________
In the end, the integrity of your business and your reputation are your greatest assets. Protecting them is a matter of priority and enlisting outside help in addition to your proactivity is often the best method.
There are many online reputation companies to choose from with varying rates and maintenance programs. I've included a list reprinted from my book, Be the News: A Guide to Going Viral With Your Human Interest Story below. Make sure the company you do hire understands your business philosophy and has a keen sense for small to mid size business and you are well on your way to recovering your brand identity and reputation!
Top 10 Reputation Management Companies (listed in order) as chosen by Visibility, the Magazine for Online Marketing Strategies (tinyurl.com/avg8p)