Believe it or not, you likely have an online reputation to protect. Although Joan Jett said she didn’t “give a damn about my bad reputation” this is not a time to be a baby about your reputation or that of your company. Ninety-two percent of toddlers have a social footprint that they will have to deal with one day. Ultimately, if not already, your social reputation could rival your credit score in the “things I want to look good” department.
Even a mention in a local paper now easily crosses onto the web and social media. How did it get into social media? When a story is published online, it frequently is promoted or shared by users on Facebook and Twitter. That the paper is using a platform that shares with news readers means even a local story can be indexed through Google, Bing, Facebook and be everywhere within minutes. Your problem comes if the content becomes widespread and you are wondering why business is slow.
Knowing how to listen to the Internet is the important first step in preventing problems.
How Do I Find Myself?
Start by going where more people go first: Google.
Search on your name, including common misspellings. Check the different Google options and search on everything, images, videos and so on. What happens if you find something you don’t like? Google says, “Rather than immediately contacting Google, it’s important to first remove it from the site where it’s being published. Google doesn’t own the Internet; our search results simply reflect what’s already out there on the web.”
While you’re at it, set up a Google Alert on your name, company and interests to have these updates sent to your e-mail.
Free sites like Topsy and SocialMention give you powerful insights into how you’re perceived on the web and across social media and forums (message boards). Also do the searches of your company name with a derogatory term after it to find out how bad some posts are.
True business intelligence is better served by paid tools like Radian6, ScoutLabs and CustomScoop (disclosure: MediaBullseye is CustomScoop’s online magazine).
On one hand these are reputation monitoring tools, and on the other hand they are also powerful competitive analysis tool. What your competition isn’t doing becomes your competitive advantage. Check these searches daily, because the day you miss will be filled with things you should know about. (Murphy’s Law is quite functional here too).
I Found Me! What Next?
Some of the best advice comes from personal branding maven Dan Schwabel, “If you don’t own your [online] brand, someone else will.” That could be your name, product or company name. While you may not see too much competition for you name online now, it’s just one barrage of content away from causing you significant problems. On the other hand, owning your “brand,” even if it’s only your name, can make it easier for employers to find you and your interest.
You need to create content to own your brand. LinkedIn, Google or Yahoo profiles all count, but blogs allow you to showcase more depth. Businesses know customers are better prepared to buy, already having done research online. Blogs and Facebook allow businesses to identify brand advocates, who become invaluable to getting your message out when an issue arises in cyberspace.
In addition to being prepared with an online fan base, you get to hear what your strongest advocates are saying. Business is all about conversations, but now it’s the customer who picks where and when. You need to be listening and cultivating these fans the same way you started the business: One good customer at a time.