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I’m surprised at the number of business owners who will go out of their way to jeopardize their reputations all for the sake of getting a few notches higher in the search engine rankings. Many webmasters will spend a couple of hundred dollars a month to buy links, then when Google slaps them down they wonder what happened.

What happened is they didn’t respect their own reputation.

Google Panda is the latest major update to get a lot of webmasters. Many of them thought they were following Google’s guidelines, but they failed to understand the real purpose of the guidelines. They went about their link building practices as if following the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of it. Namely, that searchers (and search engines) are looking for natural patterns.

Don’t ever forget that the search engines just want your content to appear naturally – to searchers and to their robots.

Reputation is very important. Spam is more than just getting cross with the search engine guidelines. It’s anything that a normal user of the Internet would find unattractive.

If you catch yourself playing around in the gray areas, ask yourself this question: “If someone else was doing what I am about to do, would I think they were engaging in spammy behavior? Would I like it? Would I do business them?”

If you’d answer Yes, No, and No to those questions, then don’t do it.

Reputation matters because without it you have no business. It doesn’t matter how good you are at SEO, social media, or something else. If your reputation is shot, your business is dead. Protect it at all costs.

There’s a lot to be said for online reputation management. I mean, using articles, blog posts, social media, etc. to management your reputation online. But can you use off line material? Can print publications be used for online reputation management?

Absolutely. But I’m not talking about replacement here. I’m talking about enhancement.

You still want to use traditional online marketing resources to manage your reputation online, but writing articles for print publications, networking at physical events, and writing and publishing a book in print can do wonders for your online reputation as well.

The big thing to keep in mind is using online and off line resources for an integrative approach to marketing. That’s where print comes into play with online reputation management.

When you write articles for print publications, do you add your web address to your bio? Do you let people know where to find you online? You should. And that’s a part of your overall reputation management plan, or should be.

You can do this simple thing every time you engage with an audience off line. Direct them back to where they can find you online. Every time you do that, it helps your online reputation. And that will replicate the more you do it.

Since the inception of Google+, Google has been saying that it plans to integrate all of the Google services with the new social networking service Google+. That’s a lot of services.

Google+ started out with Picasa integration. YouTube integration was minimal, but the service has had video support. Slowly, Google is integrating its other services. Recently, they’ve announced that Blogger integration is happening right now.

This is good news for bloggers who use Google’s own blogging platform.

While we’re big components of WordPress uploaded to your own domain name, there’s a pretty good chance that if you’re stuck on Blogger, then this integration will only boost your small business blog’s presence online. Historically, Blogger has not ranked well despite being owned by Google. But this integration could change that.

If it doesn’t, then there are still other reasons to continue using Blogger.

One reason is because it will be easy to share your blog posts through Google+. I also believe that using Blogger will increase your Google profile’s presence in the search engines making Blogger a great reputation management tool. Already, Google+ is causing that to happen. By using your Google+ profile for your Blogger account, that will make your reputation management efforts even better.

I believe Google+ may very well become the most important reputation management tool you have and I’ll tell you why.

First, if you update your Google+ account on a regular basis – that is, you post to Google+ in the public stream – then your Google profile will rise to the top of the search results for your name (whatever name your Google account is under). Notice that I said “in the public stream.” That’s very important.

With Google+, you have the ability to post only to your circles, which makes distribution of your posts limited only to people within those circles. But those limited posts don’t show up when people look at your Google profile. If that’s all you post, to the outside world it will look like your Google+ account isn’t active. It really doesn’t matter what you post to your public stream, it will be visible to all and it will affect the rank of your Google profile.

Another reason Google+ will become an excellent reputation management tool is because Google is integrating all of its services. You can use Google+, Picasa, Google Docs, Google Reader, and all of the Google services to push your reputation to the forefront of the Google search results.

The more active you are, the higher you rise.

Google Panda has all sorts of websites trying something new. And about every 3-4 months now, Google updates its update and you’ll hear a little murmur ripple through the blogosphere. Well, HubPages is taking a different approach. They’re assigning subdomains.

Assigning is correct, unless you claim your own subdomain by August 10.

This is a great article marketing opportunity for Hubbers. If you’re not currently a Hubber, then you can still get the online reputation management benefits.

The way HubPages works, you can put links in your articles, but your articles better be quality articles and not spam. If your articles are low quality, then your subdomain will be low quality and will likely have low search engine rankings if any at all. Bottom line: If you want your subdomain, and your articles, to rank well, then you’d better write high quality articles. Period.

That’s the way article marketing should be. Your high quality articles will produce links for your web pages, send traffic to your website, and provide you with a strong voice of authority with an equally strong reputation.

Start building your HubPages now. Be diligent in your efforts and you will see a huge increase in your reputation and get the traffic and links you want.

An article at WebProNews has an interesting take on marketing online. It says that effective marketers do four things well:

  1. Reach their target audience through traditional media
  2. Use digital new media well
  3. Promote by being a media company
  4. And spread their content by social media

Two things are interesting about this approach: No 1, search engine optimization isn’t mentioned at all, and, secondly, you’re being asked to become a media company.

Now, wait a minute, you say, I never intended on doing that! Now, not so fast. All that means is you think outside of your own website.

Here’s what it really means: You set up one or two, maybe even three or four, online media websites that reach a different target audience or that provide a different publishing service. For instance, it could be a blog or it could be a community wiki. Maybe it’s a forum. It could be anything as long as it gives other people a platform for their voices. In other words, become an owner of media resources and not just a consumer of them.

There actually is a lot of wisdom there. Besides the profit that can be derived from these media websites that you own, there is also a branding element. You can spread your brand out in more directions and reach more people, which leads to more business. It’s just something to think about.

Oh, about that SEO – let’s assume that any community or media sites you build will include a healthy search engine optimization plan. It just makes good sense.

Neil Glassman says it is.

There are two sides to reputation management. There’s the reactive side and the proactive side. Social media can be used for both, but it’s most effective when used proactively.

Reactive reputation management is the practice of using social media, SEO, and other online marketing tools to combat negative information about your company. Most companies that engage in online reputation management are being reactive, but if they had a proactive approach to begin with then the reactive approach might not be necessary.

Why wait until your company’s reputation has come under attack before you start trying to improve your company image? It should be an ongoing thing.

The proactive approach to reputation management is an ongoing strategy of highlighting what is good about your company. Do you support a particular charity? Do you give to local community organizations on a regular basis? Do your products help the environment? These are all social responsibility positives for you and your brand. You can use social media to bring attention to these initiatives at any time in your company’s life.

Online reputation management is not a zero-sum game. Your reputation in the marketplace is based on a number of factors that lead to an aggregate perception of your brand without regard for what your competition is doing. Manage it well and it doesn’t matter what negatives there are – the positives will outweigh them.

Online marketing maven Seth Godin has this saying that if you can gain 1,000 true fans, then you can make a living on your trade. “True fans” are defined as those people who follow your every move and will buy anything you put out. Of course, it’s harder to earn that kind of loyalty than you think. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

But, truth is, it really is easy. People make it hard.

The surest way to earn fans is to provide value. Period. Do one thing really well consistently over time and you will earn your fans.

That’s what Michael Jackson did. You might not be a Michael Jackson fan, but a lot of people are. It’s because he provided them music that they could relate to. He entertained them. They got their money’s worth when they bought a Michael Jackson album or went to one of his concerts.

You could take the most successful icons of any sector of business and say the same thing. They are successful because they consistently provide value.

In business, your medium is your blog or website, your social media, your reputation. Provide consistent value over time and you’ll earn your true fans. It really is that simple.

When it comes to reputation management, too many people don’t think about it until they need it. By then it may be too late.

Amazon has recently been awarded the most reputable company by Forbes Media and Reputation Institute. That’s quite an honor, but the surprising part is that the company didn’t win that distinction on the strength of its brand, but on the strength of its leadership. Other companies didn’t do so well:

  • Google – 9th
  • Apple – 46th
  • Microsoft – 47th
  • Best Buy – 78th
  • eBay – 81st

Many of these companies have strong products and brands, but its the leadership of a company that determines its reputation. Amazon proves it.

The criteria used to judge reputation for this award include:

trust in companies and leaders rather than product brands, multiple stakeholders and their interactions, and building a connection between a company’s reputation strategy and its business strategy.

If you’re wondering whether your company can be judged by these same criteria, the answer is yes. In fact, your business will be judged by these criteria – and more. Whether you are a small business or a multi-national enterprise, your leadership will determine the reputation your company maintains in the marketplace. Leadership, not products.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t build good products that people want to buy. It means, in addition to building great products, you should focus on great leadership. That’s the best reputation management you’ll ever have.

GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons seems to enjoy being the center of controversy. He’s come under fire for his racy Super Bowl commercials and lost business on account of it. Now, he’s shooting elephants and has a ton of people ticked at him for that.

The issue is, he posted a video of the escapade online. It would have been bad had he gone to Africa and shot the elephant then had it reported on in the news, but he shot himself in the foot on this one. And it doesn’t seem to bother him.

I’m not sure that there is any amount of reputation management that Bob Parsons can do to dig himself out of this hole. He went looking for this controversy and, it seems, he went out of his way to attract it. Now he’s forced to defend his actions by focusing on interviews with media outlets. Wouldn’t his time be better spent doing something else?

He had to have known that posting the video would lead to this much controversy. So is that why he did it? Some people are claiming it is.

There’s a fine line between being controversial for the sake of controversy and making controversial claims to draw attention to yourself in hopes of gaining new business. I can’t imagine anyone seeing the video and saying, “Just what I’ve been looking for – a CEO that loves shooting elephants. Let’s switch to GoDaddy.” Can you?

In fact, many high profile clients are leaving GoDaddy because of the video. This is the kind of thing that makes me wonder if Bob Parsons may be a little bit unstable. He couldn’t have thought it was a good thing, or would be perceived as a good thing. Could he have?

Online reviews can help or hurt your business. If you get a lot of positive reviews, then it can certainly give a big boost to your online reputation. On the other hand, negative reviews can put a dent in your reputation. That is, unless you can find a way to turn those negatives into positives. That’s precisely what I’m going to teach you how to do today.

Here are 5 ways to turn negative reviews into a positive:

  1. Refrain from being a jerkwad – Instead of getting angry and lambasting the reviewer with insults for the entire world to see, take a step back and don’t do anything at all. Cool down first. After you have had a chance to calm down and think about what the reviewer said, then you can offer a level-headed response with some reason.
  2. Thank the reviewer – When you do respond, thank the reviewer for their input. Then, offer to resolve their situation amicably.
  3. Issue a sincere apology – Be sincere and apologize for the bad experience. Most businesses won’t apologize at all and most that do will do so badly. If you apologize sincerely and make the reviewer believe it, then you’ll be way ahead of your competition.
  4. Offer to fix the problem – If possible, send a private message to the reviewer offering to resolve their problem amicably. Offer a coupon or a discount on a future service. Maybe you can offer a free product or service on their next visit. Whatever it takes to make them a happy customer, do it. There’s a good chance you could turn a negative review into a positive review – and keep a customer.
  5. Leave your phone number – If you cannot send a private message through the review site, leave your phone number instead, and offer to have that reviewer call you so that you can resolve the problem. If you offer a discount or free service in lieu of the phone call, then you could turn a negative into a positive with just one phone call.

When it comes to online reviews, every review is a reputation management opportunity. Turn those negative reviews into an opportunity to perform an awesome service and see what happens.

Loyalty in a business has several different components. You have customer loyalty, staff loyalty, and perhaps even supplier loyalty. When it comes to an online business, you can have social media loyalty, and for some businesses, affiliate loyalty. That’s a lot of loyalty that needs managing, yet it only takes one of those loyalty areas to unravel, and your whole businesses reputation could be down the drain.

Managing that loyalty is not as difficult as it sounds. If you take the top three components for most online businesses – staff, customers, and social media – they all cross paths at some stage. Here are a few suggestions for managing each component.

  • Staff Loyalty – Staff loyalty requires both a firm hand and good management skills. Providing fair work conditions is always a good start. Having social media policies in place that are fair but firm are also a necessity. If you manage those two areas carefully, then staff loyalty need not be an issue, even if one employee leaves and tries to bad mouth your business.
  • Customer Loyalty – Customer loyalty comes to the basics of good business. Provide a good product at a fair price and back it up with a good customer service policy and you should have customers coming back time after time.
  • Social Media Loyalty – Social media loyalty is perhaps the hardest of the three to manage. However, if your social media approach is social and less marketing, and your communication is honest two-way communication, then you have a good start. Understanding why users are connecting with you through social media and feeding that motive in a positive way will seal their loyalty.

Loyalty is not that difficult to attain if your approach is positive and honest. With a strong loyalty base, you have a rock solid reputation management foundation. If anyone does try to undermine your business, those loyal to you will stand up and defend you without having to be asked.

Experts in the field of reputation management will all agree on one thing, prevention is better than the cure. Prevention includes providing a good product at a fair price. It also includes providing a good service, and this includes after-sales service. Here is a new take on how after-sales service can help with your reputation management.

I recently received an article that reported on how an Australian telco had discovered that an employee from a rival telco had left unkind remarks about the Australian telco’s service. The Australian telco has a customer service department that follows up on such complaints in an effort to placate the customer and improve their own service. It came as a real surprise to find that the person in question was not a customer, but was an employee of a competitor as well.

The rival telco has naturally denied any association with the remarks left. Given the rather amateur way these comments were left, it’s hard to see them being involved. However,  what is important is that these comments were not just left sitting there. The affected company didn’t try to get into any slanging match, or war of words – they simply investigated the complaint to try and rectify the issue.

This is not the first case of one company (or one of their employees) being involved in an attack on another. It does, however, reinforce how valuable a customer service department can be if they are diligent. Companies spend a lot of money managing online reputations – sometimes, its starts at home.

There has been a lot of background noise in recent days about website security – or rather the lack of it. One phrase that has been coined, probably by a journalist eager to sensationalize things, is the danger of a digital 9-11 attack. There’s no doubt that many businesses and governments aren’t protected sufficiently to ward off such an attack, but what about smaller businesses – how much protection do they need?

If we’re talking about a digital 9-11 attack, I don’t think small businesses need to worry. Any attack of that nature is going be directed at governments and financial sectors. That doesn’t mean you are safe from other attacks. Most businesses lack any real security measure to protect themselves, yet a small digital attack on their website could do immeasurable harm to that business’s reputation.

We can’t do much about the causes of these attacks. In some cases, people are targeting a business because of its policies; in other instances, it is purely random. So how can you protect yourself? There are a number of ways.

First and foremost, regularly back up your site and your database if you use one. Every day is the ideal situation with the backup copies stored away from your server. With backups, you can at least restore your site to a good copy should anything untoward happen. Your website should also include software designed to block hackers and viruses from getting a foothold. It is estimated that websites unknowingly help to spread 15% of all computer viruses and malware. I am sure you wouldn’t like to see your website suddenly listed as a malware site.

Your reputation is important. Take the steps to protect your website, and to protect your visitors. At the same time, you will be protecting your own online reputation.

Most people have probably heard of the recent online phenomena surrounding Ted Williams. He was a homeless individual whom someone decided had a great voice. They made a short video and posted it to YouTube. From there, it went viral, and suddenly Ted Williams became one of the most popular men in the US – at least, for a short period of time.

Ted was flown around the country, interviewed by the best, including Dr Phil. He even had large sums of money thrown at him to do advertising voice overs. A true rags to riches story. Unfortunately, he was detained by police days later for being drunk and disturbing the peace. The problem was, much of his story centered on him being a reformed alcoholic. Now, he is yesterday’s news and no one want to know him.

It’s not our role to comment on the rights or wrongs of what happened to Ted Williams. Rather, it provides a very telling lesson on the difficulties of online reputation management. Consider how your business would have fared if a similar situation arose.

Rather than Ted Williams’ voice being the draw card, it was a video of your product in action. Everyone loves the video, the product looks great, and suddenly sales are booming. You have achieved every marketer’s dream, a viral marketing campaign.

But what happens if, a week or two later, someone posts a comment about how your product started a fire, or some similar catastrophic situation. Your reputation will suddenly go down hill, fast. Your video will sit unwanted, and your sales will drop altogether. Ted Williams, despite everything that has happened, still has that perfect on-air voice. Your product may be totally harmless, the fire or event being caused by misuse rather than poor quality.

The final result is still the same – like Ted Williams, the Internet skyrocketed your product to the starry heights – just as quickly, the Internet brought your product, and your business, back down to earth with a grinding thud. Online reputation management can be tough, especially in situations that involve viral campaigns.

It’s amazing how a few words can trigger a train of thought a mile long. Seth Godin has a short piece on the art of juggling. So what does juggling have to do with reputation management? Plenty really. To quote from Seth’s blog:

Throwing is more important than catching. If you’re good at throwing, the catching takes care of itself. Emergency response is overrated compared to emergency avoidance.

Of course, it’s the last sentence that caught my eye (that’s his italics, not mine). You can apply the philosophy that response is overrated compared with avoidance to reputation management. Operating online with a policy of providing good products with a good service and you will develop a reputation for excellence.

However, what had me thinking was human nature. We do make mistakes, and they can sometimes be blown right out of proportion. Imagine a juggler that has been distracted for a moment – there’s a good chance they will drop the lot. And that can happen to reputations as well – take your eye off the game for a moment and suddenly your name is mud.

Unlike a juggler, you can protect yourself to a certain degree. By building a strong reputation early, it becomes harder to undo. Those that believe in you and your products will doubt any negatives until they can prove for themselves that what is being said is true. What is important in the reputation management process is to build a strong reputation in all the places you operate in.

This includes search results, social media, and your own websites. If you can develop that reputation from day one, you will lessen the chance of any stray incident or a disgruntled employee (or customer) starting a negative campaign against you. In simple terms – reputation management starts with your activities. Like a juggler, it takes constant concentration to ensure your business is doing everything possible to build and support your reputation.

If 2011 is like any other year there will be fads that come and go, perhaps even some that come and stay. What has been evident over the years is that some have proven to be good while others have proven to not only be bad, but to run the risk of getting your website removed from the search index. If you’re good at picking the winners and losers, then you don’t need to read on. If you want to protect your reputation, then the best piece of advice to offer is to be cautious.

The problem with fads is that they come and go. Some fads hang around, but they can still be dangerous. Some of the more notable include automatic software – the type that seeks out blogs to leave robotic comments; spins a document and then lodges it with hundreds of directories; and the type that automatically bookmarks pages in social bookmarking sites.

If automatic isn’t enough, there are still a lot of individuals offering to do the same by hand. Oh yes, they ‘hand pick’ the directories, social sites, and blogs – but ultimately, it’s still spam.

This past year we have seen groups touting local search as a ‘clever’ way to game the search results. Claiming a listing in many locations around the US, even though you’re sitting at home in the UK, or Australia, or wherever. Google will soon find a way to filter those tactics, then hit those websites that games the system right out of the ball park.

2011 will see new creative ways to get to the top of the search results. If they sound a little fishy, then they probably are. If you have spent a lot of hours building your business, and building your business’s reputation, then forget any of the fads as they come around – use a little caution to see if they are valid, and acceptable by the Internet at large.

What is your reputation worth? Reputation and brand awareness go hand in hand – in fact, they both rely on each other when it comes to building a successful business. Mention a brand, any brand, and you will have positive or negative views on that brand (unless the brand is unknown to you, of course). As a business, you spend a lot of time promoting that brand, and a lot of time building a positive image around the brand. So what happens when you lose that brand?

That’s an issue that is facing right now. They have built their website and brand to a point where they have a huge following. More importantly, they have a good reputation amongst both parents and businesses that provide goods and services to parents. I can imagine their horror then when they received a notice from Twitter to cease using their brand name.

TwitterMoms is about to become, and while the transition will no doubt be smooth, they will still have to do a lot of work to rebrand themselves, and to transfer their reputation from TwitterMoms to SocialMoms. Being a very successful website, they will be back on track in a very short time. But what if your business wasn’t quite as successful? What if it was only doing reasonably well in a highly competitive niche?

That one simple branding error could cost you business. It is difficult to build a positive image that is attached to a brand. Lose that brand and you have to rebuild a new one, and with it a reputation. In highly competitive niches, that could prove to be impossible. Your brand and reputation are closely tied together – lose one, and you potentially lose the other. When deciding on a brand name, the more unique you are and the easier it is to remember, the better. While riding on the wave of another brand may make life easier initially, it could, over time, prove to be a huge mistake – just ask TwitterMoms.

Sometimes the smallest things can have the biggest effect on any business. There are reports from Australia that a leading business group ‘forgot’ to renew their domain name.  Not only did they forget, they were unaware that it had then been sold off in a domain auction for over A$30,000.  It wasn’t a brand name or business name that they could lay any claim to either – it was the very generic, and one would have thought, highly desirable domain.

To add insult to injury, the business group that picked the domain name up was one of their biggest rivals. Any reputation that can be attributed to that domain name will now flow to that business’s biggest rival. That’s more than just loss of reputation, that is taking the power of your reputation and gifting it to your competitor.

Some would claim bad management, and perhaps it was. How did they lose a domain name that was that important? They simply forgot to update the email address in the registrant details.  The lesson here for all businesses is to keep a firm eye on the little things behind an online business. Your domain name, and even your hosting account – forgetting to pay either can see your site disappearing overnight.

Losing a domain name like that is really unforgivable. Allowing your competitor to pick it up and use it is even worse.  Do you know when your domain name is due for renewal? Is all your information up to date in the registrant details?  Perhaps you had better check!

The Internet is a dangerous place in more ways that one. We have all read stories of employers coming across disparaging remarks written by employees or employers using social media to check on potential employees. Reputation management has become an important issue for both businesses and individuals and the focus is not just on what others say. Your own words are just as important.

One of the worst aspects of the Internet has been the amount of online dishonesty perpetrated over the years. The result now is that people will often check Google or Facebook before making friends online. Trust has become the number one issue when doing business, and again, reputations are the key factor.

It does raise a number of questions. For example, if I did a search on your name, business, or brand right now, do you know what I would find? If not, then you have no idea how the online world is affecting your reputation. A second question – what are you doing to protect your reputation?

There are a number of ways in which you could manage your reputation. One method suggests filling the front page of the search engines with your data, often in the form of social media profiles. But then, what of social media? What is being said there? Reputation management starts at home and there are three key areas that you need to consider.

What you say – What you say online can and will be used against you. For example, if you condemn someone, or another product, you had better be right. If you are wrong, or if people consider your comment to be in poor taste, then your reputation is going to fall.  These days, you have to be careful about what you say in jest as well.

What you do – Customer service has once again become an important consideration – provide a good customer experience and they will return, often with their friends.

How you respond –  When individuals raise issues publicly, you need to be sensitive to the fact that the problem is in public. Others will, over time, see your responses. With that in mind, you need to be positive and need to be seen to be trying to resolve the issues in a friendly manner. If they get nasty while you remain positive and in resolution mode, your reputation should remain strong.

Reputation management focuses on what you do, what you say, and what others say. You can manage the first two while working to reduce the third.