Your online reputation may be the most important business tool you have. It’s your personal brand.
It takes hard work and patience to develop a positive online reputation, but, unfortunately, it takes only one or two negative items to ruin it. If you own a business, a single bad review can cost you customers. If you have ongoing personal disputes with someone, (ex-spouse?) they might start an online smear campaign to destroy your good name. Sometimes, your reputation can turn negative merely due to incorrect information. What makes this tricky is that information on the internet can be difficult to remove, though it’s not impossible.
It’s a good idea to regularly check your online reputation. Make sure that the information in all of your online profiles (Facebook, LinkedIn) is accurate and complete. Google/Bing your name/business and see what shows up. If you have a business, check with sites that provide user reviews, like Yelp.com, the BBB or Angie’s List.
I have a client who was involved in an internet “spat” with an online acquaintance. Their relationship soured. Some months later, my client Googled herself and was shocked at what she found. Someone (who, no doubt, was this internet “enemy”) had posted on a forum my client had never heard of using her identity. This person pretended to be my client and made up a story about how she was deeply in debt, couldn’t pay her bills and would “probably be filing bankruptcy again.” (My client had never filed bankruptcy and this person knew nothing of her finances). Fortunately, when my client contacted the site administrator, he removed the libelous posting immediately. However, had he not been so cooperative, my client might have had to resort to legal action.
What do you do when you find derogatory information/reviews? There are a few steps you can take to minimize the damage:
If the information is true, but unflattering, don’t run from it. Take ownership and inform a potential employer or client about it before they stumble on it themselves. This gives you a chance to explain what you are doing to resolve the problem. It’s better to be proactive about it than have them uncover it and think you were hiding something.
If you posted or tweeted something you regret, delete it. If you are unable to delete it yourself, contact the site administrator and request that it be removed. Some will cooperate. Others may not be so helpful. If it becomes necessary, seek legal advice.
If you find a bad review or negative comment about your business, don’t ignore it or try to hide it. Respond politely, quickly and publicly. Apologize, don’t make excuses. If appropriate, work to make things right with your customer and make sure you include those details in your online response so that future customers will see how you handled it. We’ve seen that even the largest companies can find themselves on the receiving end of negative social media, and the way the company handles it can make a huge difference in public opinion. A genuine “mea culpa” and swift resolution can actually earn you customer loyalty if they feel your response was handled well.
If there is anything that cannot be removed, the next step is to minimize its visibility. You can do this by creating enough content that it pushes the bad stuff to page 2 or 3 of the search results. Most people don’t get beyond the first page of search results. Optimize your search results with positive content. Blog. Tweet. Complete your profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn and participate there frequently. Comment on other blogs or forums, making sure you are using your professional name. Publish trade articles online. Eventually, you’ll have a clean first page of search results.
There are many services that claim they can improve your online reputation. They will, for a fee, perform these same steps for you. But why not do it yourself and save some money? It may take a little time, and effort, but you can build an online reputation that you are proud to share.