One day, he Googled himself to discover an adult movie called The Fluffer had been released…and the star character’s name was none other than, you guessed it, Sean McGinnis.
An SEO expert and web strategist, he set about to take back the rights to his name on Google.
As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy.
Negative reviews, untrue comments, and trolls are pushing their way to the top of search rankings so, when someone Googles you, they find all of these negative things said about you online that might be 100 percent false. Cleaning up your online reputation is now a very real thing—and just one person, or one movie, can ruin for you fairly quickly. The proper process goes a little like this.
Conduct an Online Audit
Likely you already know what’s there, but it doesn’t hurt to do a Google search, see what is being said, and where it lands in search results (second listing, first page or third listing, second page). Do this both logged into your Google account and logged out (or you can open an incognito window in your browser without having to actually log out; do this in Chrome by going to “file” and then click on “new incognito window”). Logged-in results will show you what your friends, colleagues, peers, and clients will see, and incognito results will show how the rest of the world perceives your online reputation. It’s important to have both.
- Search Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
- Search the social networks.
- Search the review sites, such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google Places.
- Search the Better Business Bureau and Ripoff Report.
- Search employee sites such as Glassdoor.
- Look at sites such as Spokeo that aggregate content from all over the web—including personal information such as a home address—to determine what is out there that you may not like.
Use terms such as “I hate COMPANY NAME” or “COMPANY NAME sucks.” Also, do searches on key employees or executives at your organization.
Create an Online Reputation Strategy
Based on what you learn from the audit and what internal and external implementation resources are in place, put together the company’s online reputation strategy—and make sure it’s tied to your goals. The very first thing you should do (if you haven’t already) is set up Talkwalker alerts to let you know when someone says something about you online—positive, neutral, or negative. Then write down what it is you’re trying to accomplish (push one review from the first page to the second or fill the first page of search results with positive information about your organization) and get to work.
Create a Clean-up List
With the online reputation audit complete and your strategy in place, now comes the clean-up. As you create the list, read the reviews, read the comments on blogs and in discussion forums, and read all other negative things people are saying about you. Aggregate all of that information into one place to help you decide if your products need to be tweaked, your customer service needs to be enhanced, or your operations need some work, particularly if there are negative comments about the same things over and over again. More often than not, people just want you to respond to them. They want to be heard. When they post something and it goes unanswered, their fire is fueled.
As you create the list of things that need to be cleaned up, make a list of sites where your team should respond to complaints. You will want to create some pre-approved messages for your team to use when responding—such as, “I am so sorry to hear about your troubles with our company. If you’ll privately send me your phone number or email address, I’ll be glad to help you offline.” What this does is show anyone else who reads the complaints that you are responsive, but takes the conversation offline where you can be helpful. In the best cases, the person will go back to the site after you’ve helped them and post how grateful they are for your help.
Assign a Person or a Team to Do the Work
They will need usernames and passwords, branding guidelines, sign-off on copy/images, and the power to make changes without a laborious approval process. There is one thing you should think about when you assign a team to do the work, particularly for those who are responding to customer complaints, these people are representing your organization in a very public forum. Just like you’d only send experienced people out to meet with high-profile clients or to close a big sales deal, you want your clean-up representatives to have enough business experience to make informed decisions.
That’s not to say an intern or a young professional who has great social media expertise can’t help—they can. You just want those people to be supervised by someone who has the expertise to make the right decisions devoid of emotion and defensiveness.
Begin the Clean-up
Some of this is painful because you’ll need to work with the social networks’ customer service departments to reset login data, delete a profile, or take down an untrue review. This could take weeks. According to the social networks, you are guilty until proven innocent. They assume you’ll say and do anything to take down negative reviews…especially if they are true. You have the burden of proof on you and they’ll make you jump through a gazillion hoops to make sure you’re telling the truth. Be patient. Follow the messaging outlined above. Create compelling content that iswritten both for humans and robots. The negative reviews will move.
Build Your Online Reputation through Social Media
There was a time when social media didn’t make sense for every organization. Now, though, it is the best and most efficient way to connect with your customers and prospects. There is one social network every organization should be on, no matter what you sell: Google+. Not only does Google rank you higher if you use their social network to promote your content, it helps to push down the negative content if it has been shared on Google+.
Google also now allows you to connect your social networks to your analytics so you can see not only which are the biggest drivers of traffic to your site, but also what keywords they used to find you, what conversations (or pictures, or links) drove them to you, and what they did once they arrived.
Content is Prince
Like Sean, you may find a fictional character has your name. Or you may find untrue reviews, blog posts, or stories. But many of you will have negative reviews that are, unfortunately, true. The very best way to manage these is to create content that is interesting and valuable, and something people want to share.
You cannot delete the negative information. The best you can do is push it off of page one results.
Implement the Strategy
Once you’ve cleaned up the organization’s online reputation and figured out how you’re going to use content to build a strong reputation, it’s time to put your strategy into action. You’re about to become transparent. In the past, we had the perception that we are in control of our reputation even with an issue or crisis. The curtain has been pulled back now, and the only way to participate in the conversation is by being transparent: You’re opening yourself up to criticism and feedback.
- Allow employees to talk about your products or services publicly.
- Establish a one-to-one communication channel where customers can engage and converse with you in real time every day.
- Proactively ask for feedback.
- Don’t hide criticism: Address it publicly.
Once you’ve decided to be transparent, honest, authentic, and human in your online conversations, the content, brand ambassadors, influencer marketing, customer reviews, and a solid product or service will help you cross the marathon finish line. Warren Buffett famously said:
If you lose money for the firm, I will be understanding. If you lose reputation, I will be ruthless.
An organization’s online reputation, today, is only as good as its search results.
About the author: Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now. Visit SpinSucks where this excerpt is originally appeared.