Here's an interesting statistic I recently learned from Don Sorensen, the online reputation management services expert who heads Big Blue Robot. More than 95 percent of the businesses that hire reputation management experts do so because a disaster has already happened. Having spent numerous hours of my own on evenings, weekends, even in Costco parking lots on my cellphone talking entrepreneurs off of ledges, I can vouch for this finding.
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But here's the thing: There are a few basic steps you can take as a business owner to protect your online reputation, both personally and as a business, that would put you in far better standing on the day the "X files" hit you: an ex-employee, ex-partner, ex-customer, or an ex-friend goes off the rails and posts something negative about you or business online. Or it may be a piece of negative press, such as a negative review of your newest hardware device or software revision, that takes your reputation apart.
If you've proactively established a great reputation in advance, then you'll be in far better standing on the day the bad news arrives. And, better still, you'll eliminate much of the "crisis cost" you'll have to pay a PR practitioner or a reputation repair service to alleviate the situation after the damage is done. (Word to the wise: Organizations like mine have learned to charge plenty and get paid in advance when there's a crisis involved.) So here are a couple of the things that Sorensen suggests business owners do to prevent a crisis from happening, and to make one easier to resolve and recover from when the unthinkable happens.
Think Page One and Top 20
What happens when you run a search on your company name, on your name, and on the category in which you participate, such as customer relationship management (CRM) software? This is the due diligence your customers will see when they're scoping you out. Are the results you see positive? On a category search, where do you rank or are you even present? Are the results on your name clearly you or can you be easily confused with results that belong to others who are sports figures, criminals, or even porn stars (Don't ask. There are good reasons I use my full name, Cheryl Snapp Conner, in bylines. Apparently the name "Cheryl Conner" is common enough to produce search results that are absolutely not me.)
At a minimum, you should be aware of the results of any search on your company or your name that lands on Google's first page. But, for even better protection, think about covering the top 20 results (essentially, the first two Google pages) with accurate and positive results about your product, your company, and even about you and your area of expertise. Email marketing? The intersection of technology and fitness? Whatever it is, be on the record and be sure to add value in all that you publish and share.
Fill Out Your Social Media Profiles
To the end of producing excellent and accurate search results, be sure all of your social media profiles are up and complete. Your company's Facebook page, LinkedIn page, Twitter, Google+ (hey, it may not be the world's biggest platform but Google owns it and it is sure to show up strongly in Google results). YouTube is great for video results.
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If your product can be photographed or people can be photographed enjoying it or using it, think about Pinterest and Instagram, too. These are guaranteed Google results. To ease the process of keeping all of these profiles up to date and accurate, consider a site like IFTT.com (it's free!). The acronym stands for "If This, Then That" and lets you find or create "recipes" that automate the process of adding an update to LinkedIn each time you make a change or a post to Facebook or Twitter, perhaps.
Proactively Manage Sites Like Glassdoor
Here's an element most businesses miss. Your past and current employees rankings of you on Glassdoor are an immediate Google result. There are strong companies with stellar reputations that suffer from out-of-the-blue results they hadn't thought about from prior employees. Low-level people who worked the phone support line can put up remarks for the world such as, "My recommendation to management? Resign immediately."
It pays to invite your employees, past and current, to share their good and authentic opinions on Glassdoor to ensure the overall picture it presents to your future employees (and your customers) is accurate. A feature article in Salt Lake, for example, covered the top 57 technology companies in Utah as ranked by their positive Glassdoor results. Those outcomes can matter for you more than you think.
Put Out a Press Release
And, while you're at it, make it a meaningful release that shares a customer story, perhaps, in a way that could benefit others who are considering your category and solution as well. Put your releases on a leading newswire such as Businesswire or PR Newswire and you will have an instant and high-ranking Google result that you control entirely, and that will continue to appear for many seasons to come.
Think about putting out a release a month, as long as it contains meaningful and legitimate news. The highest SEO strength in the release comes from its headline, the subhead, and the first 149 characters of the intro, so choose the keywords and descriptions you incorporate well.
Don't Leave Customer and Press Reviews to Chance
Interestingly, even (and perhaps especially) when you're in industries that don't derive their business from the media (those that provide original equipment manufacturer solutions or work from referrals only, perhaps), you are vulnerable to anything anyone says in a Yelp or RipOffReport review. The complaint doesn't have to be fair and, unfortunately, it doesn't even have to be true. But if the search results are replete with positive and accurate information, customers are better able to put the out-of-left-field complaints in perspective.
So remind your happy customers to leave a review and make it easy for them to do. If you are a service provider, then you may even do what some businesses are making a standard practice: you can open your interaction with, "What can I do for you today that would make you so pleased with our service that you would want to leave me a 5-star review?"
Then invite the customer again at the end of the interaction. If your product is being reviewed by a reporter, then stay close to the process to ensure that every question is being answered and that you are giving your product every possible opportunity to be viewed in an accurate and positive light. Yes, getting maligned online or in the press is a nightmare. But, by taking these five easy steps, you can do much to prevent or alleviate the pain a complaint or a bad piece of press can provide.