Online Reputation Management for the Average Joe

By Tim Shier on 2008/08/06

Reputation management is nothing new, PR agencies have been crafting careful responses for years and many an individual has made a fortune as a spin-doctor. In today's highly connected environment the ability to spin a tale is no long an option. Your target market no longer has to listen to what you are saying but they do have the ability to do research for themselves and arrive at a decision based on this research.

Reputation management in the online space (Online Reputation Management or ORM) is a completely different kettle of fish. Conversations are happening online about almost all brands, all the time and these conversations are what is defining the brand itself. In the clue-train manifesto this idea was expressed perfectly by declaring that "markets are conversations". And where better to have that conversation than on the Internet?

Anyone Can Now Shape the Conversation

Last time I looked, Facebook was growing by about 100 000 users a day, similarly MySpace was growing by about 150 000 users a day. Add to this the fact that roughly 180 000 new blogs are created daily and you are left with upwards of 450 000 content producers who are able to join and shape the conversations about your brand. The point is that the barrier to entry is now almost non-existent. Just about anybody has the ability to produce internationally accessible content at the click of a button - all without any accountability.

It's a scary world we live in, but it need not all be bad.

In recent years businesses have stood up and taken note of what their online reputation really means to them. Examples like Dell Hell and Kryptonite have cemented this and have illustrated the damage that an unmanaged reputation can do to a brand.
Some brands (like Amazon and Stormhoek) have turned this on its head by levering off of positive word-of-mouth to build a positive client base.

Managing Your Individual Reputation

But what about the individual? Up until now I have spoken about large corporates without a moment's thought for the "lowly" consumer. On a macro level, the collective sentiment towards your company's brand is a virtual statistic to record and manage but, what do we - small people - need to be concerned with?

Consider for a moment the last time you met somebody at a friend's dinner party and found yourself feeling an attraction towards them. I'm almost 100% certain you would have pulled your friend (the host) aside and promptly said something along the lines of "tell me about person X". The value of a 3rd party testimony is vital and is built into almost every part of how we interact in social situations.

On the Internet the same rules apply. Every time I interview somebody, meet somebody for the first time or feel like being a little nosy, I Google them. This has become so important in recent times that it's been coined 'the Google CV' and potential employers, friends and partners are increasingly using it to gather information.

Luckily, there's a whole range of clever little things you can do to protect your personal brand in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) but for the sake of time I'm going to stick to 3 very simple solutions:

  1. Claim Your Identity
    The most important thing to do is to own your individual brand. This means a range of things, from registering all your domains (i.e. johnsmith.com, johnsmith.co.za) through to registering on as many high ranking social media sites as possible. Recommended examples are LinkedIn, Twitter and Flickr - all of which provide good rankings at very little effort (so you can own your Google CV without having to run big SEO campaigns).
  2. Monitor What Is Being Said About You
    There are a whole range of tools which can do this for you, ranging from the free, but often tedious, Google Alerts - which can take anything up to a month to find a mention of your brand - to the inexpensive and quick solutions such as our BrandsEye. BrandsEye is available from $1 a month, and finds mentions very, very quickly (sometimes within an hour).
    Whichever tool you get, the important thing is that you monitor your personal brand religiously! As the old maxim goes, "Knowledge is power". The more you know, the better positioned you are to understand and deal with both positive and negative commentary.
  3. Respond and Manage What is Being Said About You
    Once you know what people are saying about your personal brand you need to be ready to respond and shape the conversation. Negative commentary should be met with honesty, true concern and you should also engage with its originator offline. All it takes is a simple comment like, "Hi X, thank you for your feedback, I will email you shortly and we can discuss this further. Kind Regards, Y". The objective here is to have the person commenting on your brand modify any false or negative content. There are some cases when a "Take Down Notice" can be issued but this is a much more serious situation and I'll leave it up to you to read up on that. The short and simple fact here is that you need to act quickly, contain the problem then work to resolve it.

If the commentary is positive you have a fantastic opportunity to turn this individual into a brand evangelist. Embrace their commentary, talk about them on your own blog, comment on theirs. Positivity breads positivity and as long as you are being genuine this sort of reciprocal thanks can go a very long way!

A Holistic Endeavour

While ORM on its most basic level is quite simple, the more advanced tactics and solutions are very complicated and become a hybrid between ORM, Search Engine Optimisation and WebPR.

If you're still not convinced that ORM is important as an individual or company, here's an opinion from somebody who's made their way to and stayed at the top:
"It takes 20 years to build a reputation, and 5 minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you will do things differently." - Warren Buffet (only the richest man on earth)

And somebody from the bottom:
"Online Reputation Management is the new 'Art of War' and provides an excellent means for companies and individuals to get real time knowledge to provide substantial, cost effective competitive advantage. Knowledge is power." - Tim Shier, (not yet the richest man on earth)