Let 2018 be the year you get proactive about online reputation management. Columnist Chris Silver Smith shares 10 tips to help you reduce the risks to your organization.
In a reputation audit study I conducted with Digitalis UK last year, we found that out of 50 of the world’s top brands, 14 had items with negative sentiment appearing in the first two pages of Google search results.
In many instances, this situation was mostly unnecessary — in that same study, we found that 20 did not have their Twitter profiles appearing on page 1, and 22 didn’t have Facebook pages there, either — significant lost opportunities in their reputation management!
Chances are, your organization may be in an even worse situation. Read on for my top 10 reputation tips for 2018 to help you reduce risks to your organization.
The top 50 global brands are probably not impacted by a sudden negative event as much as smaller companies that are more vulnerable to market fluctuations in their sectors. For instance, large cable companies in the US have poor reputations in customer service, but they continue to have huge numbers of subscribers. Comcast, Charter and AT&T U-verse each have over 10,000 Ripoff Report pages indexed in Google.
My observation has been that some of these types of companies largely ignore the negative things people say about them. They essentially have captive audiences of customers who have few options for going elsewhere — their alternatives are other, similar companies with similarly bad customer experience reputations.
However, most companies are likely more vulnerable in their online reputations than behemoth-sized enterprises, and most would suffer harm if something negative about them appeared on page 1 in search engines. If you work for a small to a medium-sized firm, you do not have the luxury of being ambivalent about your online reputation. Allow it to go sour, and your company may likely feel financial repercussions.
Those of us in the online reputation management industry have long written about the advisability of proactively managing one’s online reputation, but it is a lot like whistling in the wind. We continue to strongly urge people to shore up their online presence, and that advice is mostly ignored — until they are seriously harmed.
Proactive online reputation management is much better than mere insurance. Performing good online reputation management can help improve the prominence of a company — or its perceived prominence. It can help with overall organic rankings, too, increasing the visibility of a company’s products and services when compared against their competitors.
The beginning of the year is a great time to move forward in a strategic manner, rather than merely reactively. Risk avoidance is a good reason to invest in strengthening one’s market position, even though people perceive things like insurance payments as not all that sexy.
Proactive online reputation management not only reduces your vulnerability to harm, but it also will augment all other promotional activities you undertake. So, be sure to add this to your year’s top priority list and set the stage to reap the advantages almost from the very beginning.
10 reputation management tips for 2018
1. Develop your company Twitter account
Many businesses that approached me due to a reputation attack last year either had no Twitter accounts at all or they had ones that were so underdeveloped that they might as well not have had one. In a few instances, businesses that were operating Twitter accounts had small, nonlinked Twitter icons on their websites because their web developers neglected to link up their social media icons.
Twitter is one of the no-brainer go-to’s for a profile page that can be optimal for your name searches, relatively fresh out of the box if you set it up correctly. Often, small companies set up a Twitter account and then do not properly develop them — if it’s not ranking on page 1 for your name in Google, then you likely have room to improve.
Do it properly and you may even see Google embed recent tweets in a row under your Twitter listing in search results, taking up even more real estate on the page.
2. Develop your company’s Facebook Page
As with Twitter, a Facebook Page for your organization can rank very effectively if it has been built out properly. Pages should feature your name, profile photo, website, location, and description. It should be linked from your website and have a growing number of followers, and you should periodically post updates.
3. Ensure that it’s easy to find out who is behind your company
If you want your company to look fly-by-night in 2018, set up your website with absolutely no hints as to the people who run it — I have seen sketchy reputation firms that do that. Would you depend on a company that doesn’t feel secure enough to put the names of its people on its website?
When someone unfamiliar with your company comes to your website for the first time, they ought to be able to find an “About Us” or “Our Team” page and click through to see actual people’s names listed. Even better, put human faces on your brand by including photos. This is good for increasing trust in your company, and it can impact people’s feelings if they need to contact you regarding a customer service issue.
Finally, having a page that shows who you are will set the stage for optimizing the online presence of your top executives, spokespersons and company ambassadors. I’ve even conjectured in the past that having a proper “About Us” page could be one of Google’s quality factors for organic rankings.
4. Manage the online presence of any prominent employee or executive who has neglected it
In many companies, the brand is closely connected to high-profile individuals, so if the reputation of the person takes a hit, it can reflect back on the company and affect its business. For this reason, it’s necessary to conduct proactive online reputation management for those individuals.
Not only should your prominent employees each have their separate profile pages on your site (under an About or Team section, as described above), but they should also develop their own online presences just as you do with your company. They each need Twitter, Facebook Pages, personal websites, LinkedIn profiles, YouTube accounts, biographic profiles, blogs and so on.
Far too many CEOs and executives don’t realize that their desire for privacy shouldn’t equate with zero online presence. People who have unique names and don’t have any profiles at all are simply sitting ducks for an online attack from an unhappy customer, a disgruntled employee, an angry investor or a random crazy. This may represent one of the largest gaps in companies’ reputation management.
5. Launch an optimized press kit for your company
This is one area where you can crowd-source your online reputation management somewhat. Not only can posting high-quality photos and videos on your site help further manage your reputation under image and video search, but this helps others in posting articles about your company.
Make it easy for people to take and use historic timelines, fact sheets, logos, photos and videos involving your company — use Creative Commons licensing so that people don’t have to contact you to take and use the media.
6. Optimize your Google My Business listing — even for all of your chain store locations
Surprisingly, some businesses ignore their Google Maps presence. But paying attention to it has several advantages. For one, it increases the information about you on the Google search page and takes up the more eye-catching real estate. Not only can you add in images with your listing, but Google has begun to allow videos as well.
You may not realize that you also can have your company headquarters appear here. Even if you’re not a business that allows on-site visits from customers, you can still have your office’s location integrated. Many companies still ignore optimizing these listings, but it’s useful to have claimed your listings and verified them in case there’s erroneous information or if you need to respond to a negative Google review.
Another advantage is that you can associate your business with categories that will enable your listings to come up in results when someone seeks your type of business — increasing your visibility. If you’ve neglected this, do not allow another year go by without optimizing.
7. Start increasing positive online reviews
Many business operators don’t feel comfortable asking customers to review them. However, if you have few-to-no reviews online, then you can be heavily impacted by even a single review.
Getting a larger volume of reviews can help insulate you from the negative effects of any one review. You should be using a combination of strategies to start getting more and positive reviews.
The simplest stratagem is to ask your most delighted customers to write a review online. Caveat: Yelp is an oddball in this respect, and their rule is that businesses should not ask to be reviewed.
8. Launch, feed and water your YouTube video channel
If your business does not already have its own YouTube video channel, it should. If your channel isn’t already optimized, you need to do so.
Plan to post at least 12 videos there this year — at least one per month. And optimize each of the videos you post.
Videos should have good titles and descriptions. As Vidpow’s Jeremy Vest said in a podcast, “[M]ost brands and companies aren’t thinking video discoverability, even though it’s the second-largest search engine in the world.”
Videos are often desired by consumers, so Google’s algorithms are biased in their favor. As you develop more videos, you have more content that could rank well for your name. And when you optimize your YouTube channel page, it can also rank well in the regular search results. In many ways, a video is just too easy to do these days for you to continue to ignore it.
9. Leverage your employees to be brand ambassadors in social media
In the Business 1.0 world, all public relations functions for a company were top-down. However, in 2018, this shouldn’t be the case — you should be confident enough in your employees for them to be your brand’s front-line ambassadors and, at times, your primary lines of communication.
Empowering employees to speak on your behalf requires you to place a lot of faith in them to make good decisions. You can still impose rules around this, and that’s a good idea. Employees should likely have a modicum of training about the types of things they may and may not say.
In addition, coaching your employees to do some networking and optimization of their own online presence can result in augmentations of your company’s websites and social media accounts.
Having your employees update their LinkedIn profiles to associate them with your business’s will enable those pages to have stronger rankings. Likewise, inviting your employees to connect with the company’s profile on Twitter and Facebook pages will help those as well.
10. Review, revise and improve your customer service policies
You can avoid bad outcomes completely in many cases by improving your own performance. Are there frequent hiccups in your sales and services processes? Are there aspects of what you do that result in frequent complaints from customers? You should find ways to improve your customers’ experience for all of these things so that you eliminate areas of friction that could eventually escalate into an online reputation crisis.
Also, educate your employees in how to handle crises when they occur, so that issues may be resolved in the eyes of your customers without making them feel they’re only heard when posting loud complaints on social media. Do not rest on your laurels, but instead ask how you can make doing business with you easier and more enjoyable.
Bonus reputation management tip: Traditional public relations stratagems can still translate into contemporary corporate identity-building, promotion and proactive reputation management success — use them! Write that authoritative book about your industry. Reach out to the press to do stories about interesting things your company may be involved with.
Local TV news stations are often looking for human interest stories for video clips to show — perhaps your company has something that might be of interest, or maybe there’s recent news involving your industry that you could weigh in on. Involve your company as a sponsor of a local event, festival or kids’ sports team. If you do innovative things and become better known through different media, you can build your brand traditionally, and these activities can further strengthen your online presence.
All of the above tips can help develop your identity, brand recognition and the strength of positive materials about your company in online search results. As materials are strengthened, it will take that much more for any new negative item to rise up onto page 1 of Google and Bing. Negative materials that are not visible on page 1 in Google generally have little impact on the impression your company makes on prospective new customers or partners.
Further, if you have a number of assets under your control that rank well for your name online, then you can represent yourself and defend your reputation if or when something may happen. Having these communications options empowers you to diffuse bad things if there is ever some misstep or issue that attracts negative attention.
Do not allow another year to pass without strengthening your online reputation! These tips can help you survive if something bad hits you, and the benefits of doing them often help pay for the investment you put into them.