Just because you do not know about it, it does not mean that people are not saying good (or bad) things about you and your business on the Internet. Follow these ten steps to protect your reputation online.
Step 1: Do not Do Anything Foolish Online
"An employee of a large, well-respected public relations firm was flying to Memphis, Tennessee to discuss, of all things, social media with one of the firm's largest clients, FedEx. Unfortunately, this employee, who, as a social media expert , Should have known better, decided to tweet his disdain for the city of Memphis just as he was exiting the city's airport.
Twenty minutes later, as he was entering the FedEx headquarters, all hell broke loose. A number of FedEx employees who followed this gentleman on Twitter saw his tweet about Memphis and, as proud residents of said city, took offense.
Within days, the story had spread around the globe, embarrassing the employee and the PR agency, and bringing into question FedEx's wisdom for hiring a social media expert who assumed nobody was reading his tweets, "say Jamie Turner and Reshma Shah, authors of How To Make Money With Social Media .
Step 2: Find Out What Others Are Saying About You Online
You may claim, "But I've never done anything so foolish online!" What can be said about you by others on the Internet can also have an immediate and drastic impact on your business. Consider this next example:
"One morning in late 2008, a software glitch occurred, and an outdated article about United Airlines' 2002 bankruptcy filings suddenly appeared in the Google News system as if it were new. The sudden appearance of a new-seeming article led a writer at the 'Income Securities Advisor' newsletter to mention the possibility of a bankruptcy in his own article.
The article was then automatically distributed by the Bloomberg wire to hundreds of websites. Once a (false) story about the new United bankruptcy rumor appeared on hundreds of sites, the Google newsbot mistook the story's popularity as confirmation of its importance and made the story even more prominent on the Google News site. The cycle continued.
Stock traders immediately reacted, send UAL stock into a tailspin that ended with a 76 percent drop in the company's value before trading was automatically halted. By afternoon, United was able to deny the rumor, but UAL stock still closed down 10 percent on the day. Of course, all parties involved claim that someone else was responsible for the error, "say Michael Fertik and David Thompson, authors of Wild West 2.0 .
So you may ask, "How can I find out what others may be saying about me online?"
Step 3: Begin by Conducting a Google Search
The place to start discovering this information is by doing what people do over one billion times each day: conduct a Google search. Start by searching on your own name.
When I recently searched on Google using my name, for instance, on the first page of the results, I found links to:
My Google Profile
My LinkedIn account
Articles I have written
My Facebook account
A speakers bureau to which I belong
EBay University, for which I taught
What results do you get for a Google search on your name? What results do you get when you conduct a search for your business?
Step 4: Create a Google Profile
Next, to insert the information that you want others to read about you in what is likely to be that first valuable piece of online real estate, create a Google Profile, using a free tool from Google at profiles.Google.com.
According to Google, your profile is the way you present yourself on Google and across the Web. With your profile, you can manage the information – such as your bio, contact details, and links to other sites about you or created by you – that people will see.
At a minimum, your first name, last name, and photo will be public on the Internet. You can then provide a variety of additional information about yourself in your profile. You can also enable people to contact you without displaying your contact information.
Step 5: Set Up a Google Alert
To stay continuously up-to-date on what people are saying about you online, sign up for another free Google service called Google Alerts at http://www.google.com/alerts .
Similar to the old-fashioned clipping services which would send you copies of articles from newspapers and magazines on topics of your choice, Google will do the same for you for the Internet – but for free. You determine how often you would like Google to notify you by e-mail when an article containing your keywords of choice appears on the Web.
In fact, sign up for Google Alerts for your business, colleges, clients and vendors – to keep abreast of what is happening with your entire world online.
Step 6: Sign Up for Social Media Accounts
Why should you do this? Google will consistently rank these sites high, since they are some of the most popular sites on the Internet.
If you do not already have them, sign up for LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts. For LinkedIn and Facebook, you can even create a URL that contains your name. For Twitter and YouTube, choose a username as close to your real name as possible.
Step 7: Create Your Own Website
Another defensive post you can take is to purchase a domain with your name, even if you do not have a current need for a Website. "If you discover online content for which you do not want to be associated," says Kristin Burnham, of CIO.com, "you can use this site to build additional pages all of which will rank high on a Google search of you, Since it contains your name in the URL. "
But what should you do if someone does try to sully your reputation or that of your business online?
Step 8: Play Great Defense
"Monitoring the Web will not prevent an online attack," says Jon Bernstein of BNET.com. "If you fall victim, do not panic: Think before you respond … If a blogger has their facts wrong, correct them – most will quickly amend their post. If their criticism is true, apologize using the same medium as the message … Your willingness to engage is likely to win over the skeptics. "
"If it is an isolated incident and no one has replied," says Andy Beal, co-author of Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online, "you might consider letting sleeping dogs lie."
But if it is a serious attack, follow the lead of J. Patrick Doyle, president of the Domino's pizza chain. After two disgruntled employees caused an immediate uproar by posting a disgusting video supposedly exposing operations at their Domino's restaurant on YouTube, Doyle created and posted his own video on the site to tell his side of the story. Doyle's video has received over 150,000 views.
"In most cases, people will remove the offending item from the blog or forum," Bernstein states. "But if they do not, you can consider a more public approach. Be open, constructive, conciliatory, and willing to engage. Try something along these lines: Jim, I've already spoken to you about this, and you know, What you are saying about me is inaccurate. I would like you to r
emove it. Meanwhile, if anyone out there is reading this has any questions, this is how to reach me. "
We discussed the possibility of others posting malicious, untrue information about you or your business on the Web during a recent conference session I conducted on social media. One attendee responded by saying, "You may be surprised at the number of your fans who will also come to your rescue online to help you set the record straight."
Step 9: Play Good Offense
The best way to manage your online reputation, says Amanda Berlin of Forbes.com, is to continue to generate positive search results that will rank as highly as possible in a Google search, to edge out anything negative that may appear on the list of search Results.
"The goal is to get the negative results from appearing in the top 20 hits," says George Brown, Internet Marketing architect. "People rarely look that far down when they search for you."
Crowd out anything negative that has been said about you online with as much positive information as you can, especially with content on popular, highly-ranked sites.
In fact, in writing this article, I am trying to follow some additional advice from Jon Bernstein: "Be proactive. Offer to blog and write articles about your specialist subjects for online publications that hit your current and future customers. 'Player' in your field. Get your name out there. "
EzineArticles is a site you may also want to consider to post your articles on the Internet.
Step 10: Remember that the Internet is Not Your Grandfather's Newspaper
Finally, keep in mind that the media of today is quite different from it was in the time of Babe Ruth.
According to Jeff Klinkenberg, writer for the St. Louis Petersburg Times, "Sports writers of his era usually hid character flaws from the public. In one spring-training story now, but not then, Babe Ruth ran naked through a railroad car while being chased by a woman with a butcher's knife."
Not only was the event not captured by a video camera for instant upload onto the Internet for the entire world to view by midnight that evening, one writer who observed the event even reportedly remarked, "There's another story we're not going to cover. "
What is the new reality? According to Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics : "What happens in Vegas, stays on YouTube."