Bullet-Proofing Your Business From The Inevitable Online Reputation Attack
If your business hasn't yet been hit with an online reputation attack, chances are it will be. Columnist Chris Silver Smith has tips on how to proactively prepare to help reduce the seriousness of an attack.
Your business may be humming along blissfully doing commerce when it gets hit by the inevitable online reputation attack.
It may come from left field; it may be a very atypical experience for your company. And you may discover you weren’t ready for it. It could be prominent and could immediately start eroding your business’s bottom line.
If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it almost certainly will. Let me explain why and share how to prepare for it ahead of time so that you can insulate your business and negate the impact.
It Really Could Happen To You
Companies are nearly always in denial until it happens. You think, “We work hard, produce a great product, and we are honest — everyone appreciates that we are a dependable, good business.” But there are many things that are out of your complete control, and this is where uncertainty enters the picture. Always.
Many mistakenly think that if they’re already effectively promoting themselves online, they are simultaneously performing good reputation management. But a good web presence isn’t sufficient to protect you.
When everything’s coming up roses, it seems like you’re golden and can do no wrong. But that’s an incomplete picture of the situation.
Despite great training and optimum customer service policies, a customer will eventually have a bad interaction with one of your employees. Or one of your employees may have an ax to grind. Or someone may just decide they dislike you.
You may just run across a crazy person, or a competitor may choose to increase their sales at your expense. And one of these interactions is going to get broadcast online.
Once the interaction happens, it will stand out like a sore thumb on a popular reviews site, or it will rank near the top of a search results page when people type in your name. Or even worse — someone will create a whole website or blog to vilify you; they’ll post social media status updates that ridicule you; they’ll lambaste you by making a video.
In the worst-case scenario, they might even do all of the above!
How heavily the inevitable impact hits you will depend upon how well you’ve prepared proactively.
Face it, proactive online reputation management (“Proactive ORM”) is rather like taking out business insurance. Pay the price of preparing up front to avoid the greater costs of scrambling to dig yourself out and the lost revenue that could result.
So how does a business perform Proactive ORM?
Proactive ORM Checklist
• Have a website. This one should be the most obvious, of course. Not only should you have a website, but it should be optimized for search engines pretty well. That means some nicely customized Titles on each page, Meta Descriptions, text content on the pages, images, nice link structure and more.
Also, setting the site up on a good content management system (like WordPress) may convey inbuilt advantages. Whereas, if you build it on a terribly bad system, you’ll hamstring your effectiveness in search results.
• Have your business registered in Google My Business, Google+ and Bing Places for Business. While Google+ keeps on being weakened by Google’s inconsistent strategic direction , it’s still pretty influential in search. Google My Local is closely integrated with it and is ideal for local businesses to optimize through.
If you’re not local, you can still build out your Google+ business/brand page. Once it’s built, you should enhance it by posting to it and developing some audience there.
• Have a Facebook page and develop it. Developing it includes good graphics, description and such for the profile, but also developing a following through posting consistently over time and interacting with your followers.
You may try advertising on Facebook to gain followers, if you’re not familiar with other methods.
• Have a Twitter account and develop it. Developing a Twitter account is similar to Facebook. Not only should your profile be designed optimally, but you also need to post consistently, interact with the community and grow your number of followers.
• Develop photo-sharing social accounts, including Instagram, Pinterest and Flickr. There are also others.
• YouTube. Develop your channel page and post a handful of videos. Also consider building your Vimeo and Vine pages similarly.
• Build business profiles in online business directories and internet yellow pages. Some examples: YP.com, Superpages.com, Yellowbook, Yelp and others, including business directories that are specific to your type of business (think of ones like Hotels.com, Lawyers.com, Restaurants.com and the like).
This is not just for “local” businesses! All businesses have business addresses, so at minimum, you ought to be leveraging that to have your headquarters established in online directories.
• Register memberships with local association directories such as your chamber of commerce, business district alliances and the Better Business Bureau. If the association provides members with profile pages that are accessible by search engines, then it may be useful and beneficial for the purpose of Proactive ORM.
• LinkedIn. Your company ought to have its own LinkedIn page, and employees should be encouraged to have LinkedIn profiles/resumes that cite the company name properly and uniformly. This practice creates a small internal network within LinkedIn that indicates a higher relative popularity for the company page than the pages with fewer to no references.
• Publish some mixed-media content. Different stuff may be more or less suitable to different businesses, but nearly all businesses can publish photos on the image-sharing accounts mentioned earlier.
Add to that other things, such as: slideshow presentations, white papers and PDFs, helpful maps of stuff related to your business, infographics and more.
• Write a book. I’ve written in the past about how writing a book helps local search optimization, and that’s still the case; it also helps with general rankings. But beyond those semi-arcane SEO benefits, it helps with reputations because book pages can rank very prominently in search all on their own.
For instance, search for “Moosewood Restaurant,” and you’re likely to see their eponymous cookbook appearing in their first pages of search results from sites like Amazon.com or Google Books.
• Set up a Wikipedia page for your business. I probably shouldn’t include this one, because it comes with many caveats, and it’s really only for experts. You can only get a Wikipedia article if your business qualifies for it — essentially, your company needs to be almost a household name.
If you do qualify, ask someone skilled in the Wikipedia community to set it up for you, and be sure it includes the company logo and significant information.
Naturally, each of the items that is set up needs to be optimized for the keywords — and variations of keywords — that people would be using to search for your business.
Not only your commonly used form of your business name should be optimized for, but perhaps some variations, or even common misspellings, in some cases. Do people type it in correctly, or is a lot of your visitor traffic coming in after searches for your name leaving out spaces and such?
There is certainly a lot more that can be done, but most of the items I’ve listed are the most common things that are implemented by reputation specialists. Even if one has done the bare-bones setup of these elements, chances are that more development can be focused upon each one.
The most common issue I see when clients bring me reputation projects that have already been begun is that a website, a blog or social media profiles will be set up but not published upon consistently and professionally — so no real audience is developed.
So if you have these elements, review them with a critical eye to see if they each need further strengthening to really be of use to you.
Setting all these items up isn’t a guarantee that you’ll fully shield your business when an inevitable attack occurs. But, much like the old medieval castles in the past, it will insulate you somewhat if an attack happens and will likely reduce the seriousness.
It could be the difference between something nasty appearing in the very first position on the page for your name search, or five items instead of just one.
And if your well-developed elements can keep a nasty thing down at the bottom of page one, that’s still generally less visible and, therefore, less damaging than items ranking higher on the page.
So don’t neglect your reputation preparations. This is not an unnecessary expense, and developing most of these things will have some level of benefit to your company’s SEO and overall marketing, too.