The digital dark arts are real. They are a real threat to your company’s online reputation. Investigative journalists aren’t digging through archives anymore, they are digging through old tweets. Comments that you made ten years ago are being taken out of time and context and used to inform news stories today.
And it’s not just old tweets you need to concern yourself with when it comes to your online reputation management. Review sites are being weaponised, bot accounts are being used to spread disinformation, activist investors are running targeted ads, the dark web is a hotbed for sensitive company information and phishing emails are being directed at directors with the sole intent of gaining access and causing chaos across search results. Online threats have a real-world impact on your bottom line.
Where to start with your online reputation management
So, how do you start to fight back? Think of your digital presence as your business’s front garden. The first page of your Google search results are the flower beds, pride of place and you want to plant your most favourable digital assets here. But don’t neglect the bushes in the back, reputationally damaging content can be lurking and it needs to be uncovered and weeded out.
This is online reputation management in a nutshell. Make sure you are putting your best foot forward and producing positive digital content that well represents your business. Your online identity and digital reputation are everything. At the same time, be aware of all the threats to your online reputation that are out there and work to mitigate them.
It’s a minefield out there. Sometimes it can be hard to wrap your head around the breadth of the threats out there to your online reputation in the digital space. Ultimately, the more you know about these threats, the better. It’s critical to understand what information is out there about your company and your top executives to pre-empt, mitigate and ultimately protect your online reputation.
For starters, here are some tangible steps you can take to protect your online reputation:
Look into your senior stakeholder ecosystem
The online reputation of your leadership has a direct impact on your business. Business leaders are expected to be thought leaders, social media influencers and their own publishers. With this comes greater risk, as they are exposing themselves to criticism. And it’s not just your leadership that is under the microscope, their inner circle is also relevant.
Say your CEO’s brother has been accused of tax fraud. Or their great aunty is very active on some very questionable groups on Facebook. This information can be used to paint a narrative about the CEO, which will have a knock-on effect on the business. It’s therefore important to audit your entire stakeholder ecosystem, finding all reputational risks, so you can be fully prepared for all eventualities.
Map out your detractors
Unfortunately, there is a lot of negativity on social media. Often, this is just generalised unpleasantness but it can damage your brand’s reputation. On occasion, you will come across a user with a full-on agenda against your brand. And their scope is firmly aimed at your company and its reputation.
Sometimes the gripe is justified, maybe they’ve had a bad experience or some poor customer service. However, the motive could be more malicious and intentional. Whatever the reasoning behind it, it’s worth it to be aware of all the active brand detractors there are, particularly on social media.
Mapping out these detractors, and working out whether they are bot accounts or real users, will give you a benchmark to work from. You can either address the issues with an active community management approach or monitor to get a read on how their activity changes over time. It’s better to be in the know than out of it, even if it can be a hard read sometimes.
It’s also possible to actively participate in discussions and take a conversation offline with a detractor.
Decide your key search terms
Google is the gateway to your online reputation. It’s often the first impression you give as a company, so knowing what users are searching to find your company is necessary. You need to be aware of that first impression you are giving. Where many companies go wrong is only concerning themselves with core branded keywords, for example, “Coca Cola”.
Yes, this keyword is clearly important to coke but it shouldn’t be the sole focus of a search engine results page (SERP) review. Keywords such as “Coca Cola sustainability” should also be considered. A SERP management plan could then consist of creating assets that rank for “Coca Cola sustainability”. This is a way to ensure you are putting your best foot forward reputationally across a range of business-critical areas. Ensure your keywords enhance your brand’s online presence.
Never neglect online reviews
One of the first things your target audience looks for when interested in purchasing products and services is your online reviews in Google search. Google is the world’s largest search engine which is why you should consider Google first when planning for your online reputation management.
Your potential customers are looking to understand more about what you offer and the results when people have used them. Positive reviews are worth a huge amount as they significantly increase your brand’s trustability. Personal recommendations will influence a potential buyer much more than an ad campaign.
However, as mentioned above, unhappy customers with your company will look for platforms where to share their unhappiness. Trust platforms are a typical place to receive negative reviews and comments that could affect your online reputation. But don’t ignore negative reviews posted by an unhappy customer:
- 90% of people say their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews.
- 89% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business.
- 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
- 72% of consumers say positive reviews make them trust a business more.
- Consumers are likely to spend 31% more money at a business with excellent reviews.
- The average business on Google has 39 reviews.
Take note of online reviews:
- 98% of consumers indicate reviews are an essential resource when making purchase decisions.
The right response to a negative review can change the perception of your business. 96% of consumers who read online reviews will also read the business’s response to their reviews. Ensure that you deal with negative reviews; don’t ignore them as your audience will also notice the lack of engagement. Consider how to respond to negative comments as part of a wider online reputation management strategy.
As you can see, online reviews are a large part of a buyer’s journey and you should consider how yours appear in search results. Your online reputation is everything when your potential customers are searching for a solution. Ensure they don’t receive negative search results about your business online. Positive reviews and comments will help building your brand image.
Check novel social media channels
New social media channels are popping up all the time. Just a few years ago, no one had heard of Tik Tok and now it’s a household name with over 1 billion active users. While new channels present new opportunities to communicate with your audience, they can also pose a reputational risk. If you aren’t aware of them, you aren’t aware of how your brand is represented.
Discord is a perfect example of a new social media platform to pay attention to. Alike to Club House, users can hold chats on public ‘servers’ and discuss relevant topics. Could your brand be being discussed without your knowledge?
The same goes for forums, such as Reddit. It’s not a new platform but it’s certainly growing and is gearing up for an IPO. The anonymous nature of Reddit means that users feel free to speak openly – how do they view your brand and leadership? These are all questions you need to be asking yourself
Don’t dismiss Wikipedia
No, Wikipedia isn’t always the most reliable. The open-source nature of editing allows for misrepresentation at times and agenda-driven edits being made to profiles. However, despite the shortcomings of the platform, it can’t be ignored. In a very literal sense, Wikipedia results are pretty much guaranteed to rank within the first few positions of the search results.
As such, you need to be aware of how your brand and or leadership is being represented on the platform. In extreme situations, it can also be worth considering direct action. If your brand is being misrepresented through invalid sources or statistics, then righting those wrongs is a justifiable action to take. It’s up to you to ensure your online reputation is the best that it can be.
Next steps for your online reputation
There is no getting away from the fact that the world of online reputation management is much more complex than it used to be. The internet’s memory is infinite and that can be a scary prospect. Ultimately, the more you know the better – knowledge really is power in this situation. The more you know about how your brand’s online reputation is represented the easier you can arm yourself to protect your reputation and your search results.