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By this time, just about everybody that has been online has heard about Heartbleed, the devastating superbug that looks like it has turned internet security upside down. Mashable has created a hitlist of the passwords you need to change “right now” and some experts suggest you just go through all your passwords and change each one anyway. But there is an added factor for businesses, and that is your online reputation and the security of your websites.

Even if your sites were not affected by the Heartbleed bug, you need to reassure your customers with reliable proof that your sites are safe. If you were affected, it’s better to say so and explain what you did to fix it. It wouldn’t be out of line to contact your customers with that statement and a link to one of the “check for Heartbleed” sites out there where they can run yours through and check other sites as well. That does two things: they know what is going on and they have a tool to use.

This isn’t an issue that will be going away soon. For every day people read about it but get no information from you to reassure them your business is safe, that is a whole 24 hours for folks to worry, talk, and decide to take their business somewhere else. Proactive strategies to deal with the current situation help you now and they give you a reputation for integrity that will be useful the next time something like this happens.

If you need help figuring out what to do about your online reputation management strategies, you can get that help atĀ reciprocalconsulting.com/online-reputation-management.php#3

When it comes to reputation management, most online marketers have more than one to manage. I’m sure that if you thought about it, you could identify several reputations you have to manage on a day-to-day basis. Here are a few you might consider:

  • Your personal reputation – If you are a CEO or an entrepreneur, then you are managing your personal reputation. Even middle managers or department heads have to manage their own reputations online, especially if they blog or do any social media for their companies.
  • Corporate reputation – If you’ve incorporated, or even if you’re doing business as, your business’s reputation is separate from your own.
  • Brand reputation - Your brand also has a reputation. The brand is the recognizable logo or brand identity associated with a particular product, product line, or corporate face.
  • Products – Each product or product line you manage has a reputation to manage.
  • Slogans and taglines – Believe it or not, your talking points messages need to be managed and develop their own reputations apart from the brands and entities they represent.
  • Marketing messages – Beyond taglines and slogans, marketing messages, ad spots, etc. need a level of reputation management all on their own.

Any aspect of your business that is managed by a single individual or a team of individuals is subject to reputation management. That includes geographic locations, divisions, and branches. In some cases, the different identities that need to be managed may overlap. For instance, your brand and your corporate identity may require separate reputation management campaigns, but there will be some overlap between the two. You should know where those overlap points are.

Reputation management has gone beyond a single entity to manage. You have several reputations to manage.

The last thing in the world any business owner wants to do is respond to negative mentions. It can be especially tedious if you have a really bad negative report that climbs the search rankings and overtakes your own search engine results.

The first thing you should NOT do is panic. Keep in mind that many content pieces rise high in the search engines within the first few hours of publication then fall again. Give the negative content up to three hours to settle before getting too wrapped up about the negative reports. If the content is still ranked higher than you after six hours, then it’s time to respond.

DO NOT respond directly on the page where your negative report appears. That almost always signals to the search engines that the piece is valuable and offers legitimacy for that page to stay high in the search rankings.

Instead, undergo a positive publicity campaign.

If possible, publish two or three press releases. Make them about different newsworthy items. If you can’t do that, then write three separate press releases on the same newsworthy item, and be sure the content in each press release is very unique. Publish them at three separate press release distribution websites, and be sure to send them to relevant news media personnel by e-mail as well.

Write a blog post and send a couple of guest blogging queries out as well. And share as much as you can through social media. The goal is to combat the high search rankings of negative content with promotion of positive content.

Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. And be sure to target the exact keywords that your negative content is ranking for. Be diligent in publishing new, fresh, and original content targeting the proper keywords. It may take a few days to push the negative content down. If you see minimal results, keep going.

The worst thing you can do is react to the negative mentions by retaliating. If you do that, you could have a worse reputation management problem.

Reputation management is an ongoing activity. It shouldn’t be something you do only when you want to lower the search engine rankings of negative reviews. You should be constantly striving to improve and enhance your reputation online. LinkedIn is one tool to help you do that.

These five specific LinkedIn tactics are great ways to keep your online reputation at the front of your mind:

  1. Vanity URL – Get yourself a vanity URL. It conveys instant authority and looks professional. Ideally, you want your LinkedIn profile to be associated with your name – both on LinkedIn and in the search engines. Your vanity URL will do that.
  2. Recommendations - Recommendations are comments left on your LinkedIn profile by people who have worked with you and go a long way to showing you in a good light. Potential customers will read your recommendations to get a feel for how successful you are at delivering your services. You can request recommendations.
  3. Endorsements – Endorsements can only be made on skills you have listed on your profile. They add another level of credibility to your profile and can be made by your 1st level connections.
  4. LinkedIn Groups – LinkedIn Groups allow you to interact with other LinkedIn users with similar interests. By participating in discussions, answering questions, and being helpful, you demonstrate your expertise, which could lead to additional business.
  5. Updates – When you log in to LinkedIn, there is a box that is labeled “Share an update….” This box allows you to share links and insights into topics related to your area of expertise. You can choose the level of visibility of your updates, sharing them with the public, the public plus your Twitter account, and only your connections. At any level, however, you are displaying your knowledge and experience, which are a direct reflection of your reputation.

If you become a nuisance on your status updates or groups, then that will affect your LinkedIn reputation. Only post a couple of times a day. I’d say no more than five on any given day. The less can often be more.

There are many things that can kill your reputation online, but one of the things that will kill it fastest is getting caught buying fake reviews. That’s true whether we are talking about Yelp reviews of your business, reviews of your product on Amazon, or reviews on Google Places. Fake reviews are a reputation killer.

Don’t believe it? See what happened to Samsung.

The sad part about this is Samsung has a strong reputation for making quality products. So why would anyone associated with the company feel the need to post fake reviews of its products? They should be able to get plenty of positive reviews for their products.

Whatever genius came up with this idea should be fired. They should be replaced by someone who can encourage their customers to post positive reviews instead. For instance, run an in-store promotion where you give away a product by random drawing that includes anyone who has posted a review of Samsung’s products. That way, you encourage people to post reviews and reward them for doing so.

It is important to protect your online reputation. The best way to do that is to build great products, provide excellent customer service, and don’t do anything stupid.

I’ll have to agree with Frank Reed about Amazon. Sometimes, you might have to take harsh measures, or extreme measures, to protect your reputation. You can’t have a jelly spine.

This is the first I’ve heard of this brouhaha, but if the security company once employed by Amazon was guilty of any of these allegations, then Amazon did the right thing in breaking off relations with that company. Otherwise, as the story went more mainstream, Amazon would have had a huge public backlash regarding its own policies related to discrimination. By firing the security company now, they can avoid that criticism.

Think about your own company. Do you have any questionable relationships, or do you do business with companies with questionable policies? If so and you know about it, then you might find a way out of that relationship as soon as possible.

The economic reality behind Apple’s relationship with Foxxconn is well taken. If the company you’d like to be free from offers essential services to your company, then you have a tough choice. But your reputation will ultimately pay the price for whatever decision you make.

Think long and hard on these issues. Your reputation is at stake over every little decision you make.

Harris Interactive has released the results of its 14th annual Reputation Quotient Study and there are some interesting results. Here is a short summary:

  • Amazon ranks No. 1
  • Of the 2013 top 5 picks, only Google and Apple lost ranking points since last year
  • Out of the top 10, besides Amazon, only three companies increased in ranking points since last year (The Walt Disney Company, Johnson & Johnson, and Costco, who moved into the top 10 from 19)
  • UPS fell out of the top 10 in 2012 to completely out of the top 60 in 2013
  • Facebook rose from not on the list in 2012 to No. 42 in 2013
  • With Microsoft at No. 15 and Google at No. 4, it makes you wonder how anyone thinks Bing can compete with Google for search share
  • Finally, the ranking quotients are lower overall this year from last year (for instance, Amazon at No. 1 has a lower quotient this year than Apple did last year when it was No. 1; this is true of all the place rankings)

How The Reputation Quotient Is Derived

One of the most surprising aspects of this study are the criteria used to judge reputation and how they’ve changed in the past two years. In 2011, consumers judged reputation by respect and admiration, trust for the company, high ethical standards, whether they outperform the competition, and whether consumers get good value for their money. In 2013, the criteria include:

  • Competitive performance
  • Admiration and respect for the company
  • Trust for the company
  • Whether it plays a valuable social role
  • Is it a good company to work for
  • and the “feel good” factor

I’m with Frank Reed. Those criteria scream narcissism to me. But they do indicate that Amazon’s reputation is based on a perception that consumers have toward the company, namely, that it can be trusted and offers a benefit to consumers, employees, and society as a whole. Not to mention, they’re beating the socks off of their competition, and who doesn’t like a winner?

Now for the million dollar question: What can you take from this study to improve your company’s reputation?

Read all the results of the study here.

What determines your reputation? There are a number of factors that contribute to your overall reputation. It’s not just one thing. I’ve compiled a list of 5 things that factor into how people see your company. These 5 factors are not the only factors that affect your reputation, but they are important factors, at least where online reputation is concerned.

  1. Customer Service – How you treat your customers is perhaps the most important reputation management factor. Is your service a positive or a negative?
  2. What You Say About Your Competition – Believe it or not, people pay attention to what you say about others, even your competition. Do you bad mouth them? It’s OK to point out the flaws in your competition’s product, or to point out how your products are different than theirs, but it’s another thing entirely to continue posting negative rants that are not related to the competitive nature of your business. Keep it professional.
  3. How You Conduct Yourself On Social Media – Social media has become a huge business factor. Even if you don’t talk bad about the competition, if you conduct yourself in an undesirable manner through social media, then it will reflect on your reputation.
  4. Search Engine Optimization – How do you look in the search engines? Can people find you? Admittedly, this isn’t as important as other factors on the list, but if you can’t be found in the search engines or what people do find is all negative, then that will affect your reputation online for sure.
  5. Your Website – If your website is unattractive or hard to navigate, that will hurt your reputation. Make sure your website is helpful and attractive.

How’s your reputation online? Take a look at each of these factors and see if you could use a little help managing your reputation.

Once again, another big company has egg on its face because of one unhappy customer with a YouTube account.

The sad thing about this incident is that UPS could have averted the negative publicity simply by doing what it ended up doing to start with – investigate the man’s claims, fire the dishonest UPS worker, and replace the iPad Mini that was stolen. Simple, right? Then why do so many companies not do it?

My guess is that many of the people in customer service departments of large companies still have not been trained on the repercussions of no action. They are operating like it’s 1985.

At one time not too long ago, if this kind of incident had occurred, a person had no recourse. They couldn’t call the local newspaper and say “UPS employs dishonest workers.” The newspaper wouldn’t run the story unless there was some type of official police investigation where someone was arrested. The home owner would have to file a police report and an investigation would have to take place. That could take weeks or months. Even then, if justice was served, the chances of that kind of event happening to someone else was pretty high because even if the UPS employee was fired for his crime once convicted, the company never realized any negative repercussions because newspapers generally don’t report petty crimes. And the time between the incident and the close of the investigation all but ensured a dishonest employee had access to more merchandise to steal.

Today, instant negative publicity due to one customer with a video, a smartphone camera, or even access to Twitter and SMS, can do far more damage to a company’s reputation.

Let this serve as a lesson to large and small businesses alike, every customer is your most important customer. One little fail can lead to huge PR blemishes that could cost your business for years to come. Social media cannot be ignored, and neither can your customers.

Online reputation management is one of the most important tasks for any business in today’s multimedia culture. Once you decide to start marketing your business online, you are engaged in some type of reputation management. You might as well make your reputation-enhancing activities a proactive agenda item in your efforts to increase your business online.

One of your most important tools for managing your reputation online is social media. That includes Facebook and Twitter as well as any niche social sites you use, social and mobile apps, and collaboration tools. Anything with a social element can be used for your online reputation management needs.

Rich Gorman has a short-but-sweet article at Marketing Pilgrim that touches on how to use use social media for online reputation management. His three recommendations include:

  • Picking the right platform
  • Engaging the user
  • Using keywords

These are really easy to decipher. When it comes to picking the right social media platforms, all you have to do is ask where your target audience is, and where will your content have the biggest impact? That may be Facebook or it could be LinkedIn. It could even be a smaller network like Quora or FourSquare.

User engagement is also important. Don’t just spam the social media sites with useless information. Try to engage and interact with other users with posts that will help them and make you an expert in your niche.

Finally, keywords are searchable. Don’t overdo it, but do include keywords in your posts.

Social media engagement is reputation management. The more you do, the more you’re likely to increase your standing in the community and the more you risk doing something that will have a backlash on your reputation. Be wise and stay connected.

Social media has become much more than a marketing tool. It can also be used for customer service. In fact, it should be.

An article on the Constant Contact blog got me to thinking about this. What emerged from the reading of this article is a realization of three very important customer service precepts for social media.

  1. Don’t delete negative feedback – The tendency for a lot of companies – and I do mean A LOT – is to either ignore or try to delete negative information about their companies. That’s a big no-no. Chances are, someone has already seen it, and if you delete it, then it will look like you are trying to cover it up. It’s best just to address the concerns brought up by the post and address it head on. Your reputation will survive.
  2. An apology goes a long way – If your company has been caught in the wrong, apologize. That will show people that you are taking responsibility. Making excuses will only dig your hole deeper. Say you’re sorry and move on.
  3. Look at bad publicity as an opportunity – Any attention your company gets is an opportunity. Once you’ve acknowledged your customer’s concerns, and you’ve apologized, offer a discount or freebie to make up for their bad experience. Do it out in the open. Make sure everyone can see it and that will show the world that you care about your customers and you care about doing the right thing.

The best reputation management you can give to yourself is to treat your customers like you care. Social media is a great platform for doing just that.

I’ve been reading more and more about AuthorRank lately. So let’s define what that is.

AuthorRank is a new ranking algorithm instituted by Google. While it isn’t official in terms of Google itself saying this is what they do, speculation among SEOs and Internet marketers is that this is the direction Google is moving and the way authority will be judged in the future. It actually makes a lot of sense.

Instead of analyzing raw back links, Google will analyze who those links are from. Not “who” as in web properties, but “who” as in actual authors.

For instance, if you are linked to from another website in your niche, that’s grand. But if Bob Jones links to you from that website and Bob Jones is the most authoritative author in your niche, then that’s pure gold. If Sally Matthews is a new author with a slightly positive authority, then that link from her article will carry some weight based on the authority of the website, but it won’t carry as much authority as a link from Bob Jones.

Under this system, AuthorRank makes recommendations (links) from established authoritative authors much more valuable. The system will invariably do away with spam and link gaming. But it has to be managed.

In other words, AuthorRank is a score (kind of like a credit score) that will force web authors to pay much more careful attention to who they link to and why. They will have to manage their authority within their various niches. You might as well call it a type of reputation management.

As I said, this isn’t official, but I can see the Web moving in that direction and it’s all going to start making Web authors be more careful with what they with with their links.

Last year Bing made it possible for people to find you easier in its search index by including Facebook results. Now, they are introducing Linked Pages.

This is an interesting concept, though I doubt that it will have the same power as your Google+ profile.

Linked Pages allows you to link any page on the web to search results related to you. Naturally, this will only have value if you anticipate people searching for you in Bing. If you’re a hermit, that likely won’t happen.

You start by going to Linked Pages on Bing.com. After logging in, you can allow Bing to post your linked pages to Facebook. Then you can search for yourself in Bing and start linking pages about you to Bing’s search results.

Interestingly, they don’t all have to be websites that you own. Of course, you’ll want to link your blog and your website. If you are an employee of a company, you might link yourself to the company website. You can also link yourself to your social media profiles at Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and other places around the web. Anywhere you have an online presence, you can link yourself to your Bing search results.

Bing will also allow you to remove links, so if you leave an organization, then you can remove your association from the Bing search results.

Is this practical?

I think, for reputation management purposes, it might be a good thing. Other than that, my hope is that Bing doesn’t get too intrusive where privacy is concerned. But beyond personal reputation management, I’m not sure about the practical implications of how it will impact search.

By now you’ve likely heard of e-books, Kindle, Nook, and Amazon.com. But are you aware of the brand new opportunity that you have as a small business owner to increase your reputation and authority by using these tools to your advantage?

First, let’s talk about what an e-book is. If your impression is that the e-book is a digital product and nothing more, then you need to correct your thinking. What makes an e-book valuable – just as what makes a print book valuable – is not the packaging but the information inside.

You have valuable knowledge and experience that you can share with the world. Don’t you?

Well, then. You should package and sell it. And that’s where e-books come in.

With e-books, you don’t have material costs. That means you can make more profit. And with technology being what it is, you can cut out the middle men of agents and publishers and do it all on your own. You get to keep more of your profits and you can sell your books for less since you don’t have to put out huge amounts of money into the cost of paper and production. Save your money for the marketing.

You have a platform, right? A platform is a mechanism for communicating with an audience. That’s your blog, your Twitter account, your Facebook page, etc. The people you want to connect with are your followers.

So, you have followers and fans. Are you just shouting messages to them on a daily basis without promoting a product that they can buy? I mean, beyond your basic services? Once you establish yourself as an authority, you can publish a book and that will increase your authority rating presenting new opportunities for doing more business with more people. And it’s something you can do on your own.

Reputation management has become one of the most important tasks for any Internet marketer, particularly an author. Google has a tool that can help webmasters test their reputations online to see if their content is doing what it should. That tool is the Rich Snippet Testing Tool.

So what does it do?

In a word, it looks at a web page on your website, or any website you want to test, and tells you whether or not that web page is using microformats to present your authorship of the page in the best light. Specifically, it will:

  • Tell you whether the page is linked adequately to your Google profile.
  • Let you know if the page is linked to your social media profiles at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, StumbleUpon, Quora, and other social networks.
  • Show you a preview of your Google snippet for that page should it be returned in a search results page for your author name.
  • Give you the extracted rich snippet data from the page.
  • And show you what a custom search engine would see if it were to look at your rich snippet data.

That’s a lot of information. More importantly, it’s a lot of useful information.

Rich snippets are very important for authors and other creatives who spend a lot of time creating content in their own names. Even if you employ a ghostwriter to create your content, you are its author. You should test your rich snippet data on a semi-regular basis to ensure that you are making the most of your microformatting opportunities. It not only has reputation management consequences, but it can affect your SEO as well.

Remember when everyone went ga-ga over video marketing? The talk of the town was it’s the next thing. Remember?

It happened right after YouTube started to climb sharply in popularity.

Then, remember when mobile marketing was the big thing? When did it happen? Right after everybody and his dog decided that you could Facebook on your phone. Now mobile phones are supposedly smarter and marketers are trying to figure out a way to get into your ear through them.

That’s cool.

Well, it seems that now nearly 20% of consumers have e-books and another 19% have tablets. So it’s time to start on the tablet marketing bandwagon, right?

Hold on before you start mocking me. I’m not being facetious. Not entirely anyway.

What can a tablet do? Play music and other audio files. Broadcast videos. Display e-books. Think any of those could be useful in promoting your business? How about that Internet radio show you wanted to start last year? Or that YouTube video channel? Maybe that e-book you’ve been putting off writing?

Yep, all of those can be marketed to tablet owners. So maybe now is the time to start looking at tablet and e-book marketing.

There are other benefits to promoting you and your business through these media. It also doubles as reputation management. That is, the more you publish and the more you promote yourself in a positive light the bigger and better your reputation will be online and off line.

Don’t just take up tablet marketing because it becomes a fad – it will. Do it because it delivers on the benefits.

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.