“But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.”
So says Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello and, while he may be a villainous, lying, manipulative bad guy, he is right. Fail to protect your reputation and your new business levels will suffer.
A good reputation has always been a precious business commodity but since the web changed the way the world does business, it has become even more vital and even harder to maintain.
In the past, a company could survive a scandal simply through radio silence. The press was transitory, daily newspapers thrown away and forgotten within a few days. This has all been changed by the arrival of the World Wide Web.
Scandal, negative comment and bad publicity will all now possible last forever, accessible to anyone searching using the right words.
If your scandal is particularly terrible and ends up being linked to and referenced by authoritative sources, you could see the story ranking in the first page of search results for your firm’s name, right alongside your own website, such as these results for Esso. It is easy to imagine the effects of that on a smaller company.
You do not have to be a mega corporation performing atrocious deeds of misery-making mayhem in order to be concerned about your online reputation.
Negative comment can come from any number of places; bloggers with an issue with your sector, disgruntled former employees, bitter competitors or unhappy customers, to name just a few.
It is important not to consider yourself too small or too ethical to need to worry about your reputation.
So, in response to this, many companies have begun to consider online reputation management. Here are a few things you can do to make sure your web-based reputation is as clear of problems as possible.
Consider reaction before taking action
I know this is pretty obvious but this is a fairly important aspect of your online reputation. Prevention is always better than a cure. Consider how your actions will be interpreted by the web community and the blogosphere.
Even if you are too small a company to come to the attention of the national press, the blogosphere may well pick up on corporate decisions you would rather keep quiet.
The obvious answer is to remember your ethical position at all times and never do anything you would not happily put out a press release for but if this is not possible, read on!
Prepare a response before acting
If you need to take an action you think will not be well received in all quarters, prepare your response before you act.
Putting forward the reasons behind a decision, or your side of the story as soon as possible is vital if you are to avoid being left at the mercy of less favourable commentators.
Take the blogger by the horns
If the press pick up on a negative story, they will more often than not invite you to make your defence or provide comment.
However, bloggers are unlikely to proactively invite you to react. If a popular blogger comments negatively a corporate decision or action, it is sometimes worth getting in touch and asking if you can put forward your defence.
If you ask politely, many people will happily provide a link on their blog to your defence, or perhaps publish your defence.
Ensure you are optimised for search engines
Make sure your online profile is as high as possible. If you do not rank on the first page of the results for at least your own name, searchers may not take your company as seriously as it deserves.
Ranking well for relevant terms strengthens your seeming importance in the eyes of the searcher. Your brand needs to look authoritative and appearing at the bottom of page two for an important phrase simply does not!
Become an authority
Online reputation management should not just be protecting from and reacting to negative publicity. There are ways to develop your company’s position and strengthen its reputation.
By blogging, networking and communicating with the press wherever appropriate, you can show yourself to the world as the expert you are.
It is usually best for the company director or one specific person to develop this reputation.
This allows the expert to be a positive marketing force, showing the company in an excellent light.
It also puts the expert in a good position should a negative story ever break. They will have all the connections they need to get their side of the story out into the public eye as soon as possible.