Why should I care about my 'online reputation'?
Imagine the scene: Let’s say you’re a professional architect based in Bristol. You type the name of your firm into Google, and scan the first page. But instead of seeing your website in the number one spot, as it is usually, right at the top of the page is a site that unflatteringly mentions your company name in the title- together with a list of client grievances in the snippet of text below the heading . This effectively damages the reputation you have been building as an approachable professional at the top of your field. At first you might get some concerned emails from current clients, but you would then almost certainly begin to see the level of enquiries from your website tailing off. This one link alone could seriously damage your credibility and reputation on the web. In this case, all publicity is not good publicity.
For most this is a merely a hypothetical nightmare scenario, yet this example illustrates an important point: whatever your online presence, it is worth considering paying attention to your reputation on the internet. It’s one thing to try and get your website ranked highly on Google, but if you aren’t also paying attention to what people might actually see when they use Google to find you, then you risk that online visibility undermining your reputation and all your hard work.
How do you get an ‘online reputation’? Find out more...
A business’ online reputation is constructed out of any information pertaining to that company on the internet. This comes from your website (of course, it is important that you communicate the key aspects of your business in the design of your website) but also from any other site that links to it, or uses your name. With the increasing use of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, the sources from which potential clients can hear about your services are exponentially multiplying. And what’s more, so many of these sites act as mouthpieces for opinions, good and bad (or even just plain wrong).
Your online reputation is made up of:
1. Any comments you post on Social Media (Twitter, Digg etc) or blogs, message boards or newspaper sites
2. Comments made about you by others
3. Any images or videos you share on Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, youtube, vimeo
4. Images or videos of you that others share
5. Blog Posts or articles you publish
6. Location information if you use Foursquare or Gowalla (you won’t necessarily want to share your location with all and sundry!)
Why should I be concerned?
The recent example of the BP oil spill clearly demonstrates the power of the internet to harm your reputation. Not only was BP very publicly involved in an accident of disastrous proportions, but their reputation was further damaged by events on the web, such as the then-MD’s series of ill-advised remarks (like saying ‘I want my life back’ on TV...!) that were well documented, and the creation of a fake Twitter account satirising BP’s apparent lack of action.
Any customer service error has the potential to be magnified hugely by the internet. 02’s perceived ‘rip off’, relating to an Iphone upgrade, led customers to start a Twitter petition in 2009 which gained huge negative publicity; the group even created a damning hashtag, #02fail. The potential that new forms of social media have to impact on your brand becomes greater the more customers you have. Even the act of typing a phrase into Google can demonstrate the exposure which negativity can create about a brand. As you type in a search phrase, Google suggests the words which might come next – another area with potential for impacting on your online reputation (just try typing in ‘BP is’ and see what appears after it). Of course, individuals should also be concerned- potential employers are regularly Googling names and checking Facebook as part of recruitment screening processes- so caution should extend into your personal online life, too.
In our next post, we’ll be discussing various ways you can take control of your online reputation. In the meantime, try Googling yourself- first your business’ name, then your own name. It can be an interesting exercise. For example, if you have posted a comment on the wall of a Facebook group, that page may be public and therefore searchable- even if you spent time configuring your own profile’s privacy settings. You might also be surprised, if you own a customer service-based business like a hairdresser or a restaurant, just how many public opinions of your business there are out there. One chain of hairdressers (with a central Bristol branch) is represented on page 1 of Google by Ciao giving them a 2 star review and by a Yelp customer miserably wailing “Where did it all go wrong?” This kind of negativity can easily be counteracted with a few easy to follow guidelines.
To sum up…
So, clearly online visibility should be matched by positivity about your brand, or that visibility will not enhance and may even harm your reputation. This is perhaps an obvious point, but it is crucial, particularly if your business exists in a highly competitive and trust-driven sphere, such as the legal or accountancy profession; or one-to-one services in which your ‘likeability’ as well as professional expertise are important to clients; for example, beauty professions, relationship counselling or wedding photography. So how can you make sure your online reputation works for you- without spending thousands on expensive promotion and marketing?
There are a number of things that can be done to enhance your online image, with a little time and thought. GWS don’t want to leave you on tenterhooks until next week, when we get down to the practical how-to tips: so in the meantime try reading the helpful information here to find out why it is particularly important that those working as freelancers keep a careful eye on their reputation on the web. The GWS team will be back with some practical tips to help clean up your online reputation very soon; if you have specific questions you'd like us to address, do let us know.