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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.

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.

Should you be a guest blogger? There are a lot of people online right now telling you that guest blogging is the holy grail of Internet marketing. That’s debatable, but what’s not debatable is that guest blogging does have its benefits. What are they?

Here are 5 benefits to guest blogging that you should consider and chase. There’s nothing wrong with coveting your neighbor’s online reputation.

  1. Enhanced reputation management – If you guest blog on the right industry blogs within your niche, you will build a solid reputation for yourself. Merely being associated with highly valuable and recognized blogs will enhance your online reputation.
  2. Position yourself as an expert – By writing about industry topics and offering solutions to problems you can make yourself an overnight expert on your topic.
  3. Expand your audience – When you write posts on other blogs within your industry you’ll reach people who otherwise might never hear of you. You have the opportunity to expand your audience and tap into someone else’s reservoir.
  4. More traffic to your website – There’s hardly a benefit more important than more traffic to your website. This is an extension of your reputation, your perceived expertise, and your audience expansion efforts.
  5. Search engine optimization – You might as well go for the link while you’re there. You don’t want to appear as if the link is the most important thing to guest blogging, but since you’re there, you might as well take the link.

Focus on the benefits of guest blogging and take advantage of them. It will only help your business.

Friday we talked about AuthorRank, which is the new model of ranking for search phrases in Google. There is actually a lot more to say and today I’m going to say it.

I think it’s inevitable that Google will consider author reputations when ranking web pages for specific key phrases. Gone are the days when search marketers wrote spammy keyword-based content and focused instead on reputation enhancing content that addressed the needs of a specific audience.

That’s not to say that keywords aren’t going to be important. What it does mean is that keywords for the sake of keywords are definitely NOT important.

How To Rank Web Pages Going Forward

Instead of writing keyword-based schlock and spending all your time and money building links to it, here are 5 things you should start doing right now, and keep doing, if you want to rank for content related to your business:

  1. Write great content that solves a real need among your community.
  2. Develop a social media presence on networks where your target audience hangs out, but don’t just publish keyword-based schlock. Instead, interact with your client base and build relationships.
  3. Connect your social profiles with your blog and website.
  4. Reach out to industry leaders within your niche, comment on their blogs leaving helpful, valuable blog posts that aren’t necessarily keyword-driven. Link back to your website without spamming.
  5. Work judiciously to establish one online identity using Google+, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube.

The key to this online marketing approach is to produce valuable content that people want to read. Become a content king, then share your content widely on your social networks.

If you haven’t heard of AuthorRank yet, allow me to be the first to let you in on the secret. Google is planning some big changes in how website content is ranked. In fact, the plan is already underway. The key is your reputation as an author.

Five years ago, or even three years ago, Google didn’t have the resources available to be able to separate content according to who wrote it. Now they do. That big resource, which you’ve likely heard of by now, is Google+. If you want your author reputation to expand and grow, then you should join Google+ now.

Google+ is often billed as just another social network, but I assure you it’s not. This is Google’s flagship search engine marketing arm.

More and more, Google is ranking content by the reputation of the person who wrote it. That means more than simply having an article rank well for your name when someone Google’s your name. It also means that when someone Google’s a specific key phrase, if you’ve written about that topic and you have a credible reputation according to Google’s AuthorRank algorithm, then you’ll rank for that key phrase. This is the new search engine optimization.

AuthorRank is a big deal. If you want to learn more about it, give us a ring. The future begins now.

If you’re one of the few companies that have yet to start a blog because you’re not sure it’s wise to invest the time and expense, then I’d say you are way behind the tugboat. A lot more companies are still not using social media, which is halfway understandable. Keyword: Half way.

But I believe that blogging and social media go hand in hand. You should do both, and you should do them together. At the very least, they are most powerful when done together.

Blogging is the practice of staying in communication with your target audience – customers and prospects – by way of a specific type of platform where you create posts as often as you like and discuss issues that are specific to the niche you serve. It’s a useful tool for branding, reputation management, search engine optimization, and social media marketing.

Social media marketing is an online marketing tactic that allows you to push your content out in various directions in order to get it in front of the people you want to do business with. Then, that content – if it is good – will pull your prospects back into your website. Preferably, you pull them into your blog and converse with them.

This is all a part of the online marketing funnel. It’s a recognized way of building relationships with your prospects and customers. It’s effective and I’d encourage you to give it a try.

Now that blog marketing is more than a decade old it is apropos to ask if it is still effective. To answer that question, let’s look at what the benefits to blogging have been for the past ten years.

  • Fresh content published on your website
  • Solid inbound or internal links with great anchor text
  • More web pages with the potential to rank for your key search terms
  • The more you publish the more your site gets crawled
  • Branding
  • Reputation management
  • Traffic increases to your website
  • Relationship building with your audience
  • Social media interaction
  • Expertise positioning
  • The ability to share your knowledge and experience while presenting yourself as an authority within your niche

These are just some of the benefits that blog marketing has offered businesses over the past decade. But does blogging still provide these benefits or has it run its course? The answer is a resounding “Yes! Blogging still provides the same benefits.”

Of course, there is a lot more competition today than there has been. There are more blogs and more bloggers vying for attention – in your niche and in every niche under the sun. This makes it more difficult to achieve the same results that you could achieve ten, or even five, years ago. But it can be done. The key is to have a strategy and to be diligent in pursuing it.

Blog marketing is still as effective as it ever was. Focus on delivering great content that is optimized well for the search engines and that is pushed out through social media. Position yourself as an expert and you’ll be perceived as one.

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.

There’s a new social media site in town. It’s called Pinterest. And in the last month the site has gained 7 million new visitors.

Pinterest is an interesting social media experiment. And it looks like it could become one of the powerhouse websites, especially for women, its largest set of users.

The cool thing about Pinterest is that it is highly graphic. Take a look at its home page and you’ll see all the photos and images, and it isn’t cluttered.

The way it works is you set up your own pinboard. You can have one for your company just like Mashable has. And just like Mashable’s, it can be branded.

Notice how Mashable’s pinboard has the Mashable name in it. That’s great for reputation management and branding. Then, on the left, you can see the big Mashable logo with the website URL underneat. Again, that’s great for branding, but the URL back to the website provides a useful inbound link for SEO purposes.

If you look at the pins that Mashable includes on its pinboard, they’re not all self-promotional. They spend a great deal of time promoting other items around the Web. That’s great stuff. It’s the way that it should be done.

You don’t have to be a rabid self-promoter to be successful in social media generally or at Pinterest in particular. You just have to have a solid strategy for your online content, a strategy that includes promoting others while branding yourself. That’s the best social media strategy in the world, and your company can make that happen.

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.

There’s no doubt that SEO is a necessary component to your online marketing efforts. But what about branding? Is it necessary for online marketing? Which is more important?

Let’s take a look at the functions (purposes) for each of these efforts.

    Search engine optimization – The purpose for SEO is to get your content to rank in the search engines so that you can increase your website visitor traffic and convert it into sales. That’s obviously an important task, but if all you did was SEO in the way of marketing your content and your website, then you’d be woefully undershooting your target.

    Online branding – Online branding has a much wider reach. It can, and should, include SEO. But it should also include your social media initiatives and everything else you do – online and off line.

If you think of online branding as a part of overall reputation management strategy and your overall business strategy, then it is far more important than SEO, which is simply part of your overall marketing strategy. Granted, it’s an important part, but it’s not the only part worth considering.

In terms of online marketing, everything you do is a part of your branding effort. That includes SEO.