Occasionally, Wikipedia has spot-on information. On this occasion, it’s their definition of online reputation management: “Online reputation management (or monitoring) is the practice of monitoring the Internet reputation of a person, brand or business, with the goal of suppressing negative mentions entirely, or pushing them lower on search engine results pages to decrease their visibility. [It's] the act of monitoring, addressing or mitigating SERPs (search engine result pages) or mentions in online media and Web sphere content.”

Not bad. Not bad at all. –But is that all ORM is? Suppressing negative mentions? We don’t think so.

Reputation Is All Inclusive, and It Starts With You

ReputationYou don’t build your online reputation in the SERPs alone, as many would have you believe. Word of mouth marketing, for example, is a huge asset – or a huge obstacle – for any business. While WOM may translate to your search rankings eventually, it translates to the consumer first. –And, while you want positive rankings in the SERPs, the search results should never be seen as the end all, be all of your marketing or reputation management concerns.

It starts with you:

Your website. It starts with how visitors perceive your business, based on the information you provide. For example, if you shout “Transparency!” while hiding your privacy policy or (for ecommerce) shipping information, your claims of transparency won’t mesh with your actions.

Other examples are the sites that offer you a “free trial” loud and clear. Once you order the free trial, you find out that you also signed up for a membership. Oh, yes, the membership was mentioned, but in print so tiny you’d need a telescope to see it.

Your customer service and promises kept. It continues with how you deal with your customers’ problems – or don’t deal, as the case may be. For instance:

  • Do you provide more than one way for your customers to reach you, such as a phone number and a dedicated customer email address?
  • Is the phone manned, or do they have to leave a message for you to call back?
  • Do you clearly outline on your website what the customer should expect from your service team?
  • Do you actively watch social networks for positive/negative mentions?
red alert

Red Alert

In social media, you should always keep an eye out for mentions of your company and social accounts. Of course, you don’t have to respond to every comment (although it helps), but certain types of comments should definitely be addressed and not left to float away.

For example, the following hashtags, along with your company name or Twitter account:

  • Alert – Comments with #sucks
  • Yellow Alert – Comments with #fail
  • Orange Alert – Comments with #epicfail
  • Red Alert – Comments with #scam

On Facebook, you might see comments like this: “I went to the [company name] event where I was promised a fancy, four-course meal freshly prepared, and all I got was this T-Shirt. No, really – all I got was the T-Shirt.”

Of course, the truth is that you probably won’t see this comment, because it was posted on their wall instead of yours. Therefore, it’d be hidden for you, but not, unfortunately, to their 500+ friends, family and fans. You can’t fight what you can’t see.

However, keeping your promises and providing excellent customer service really aren’t that important… that is, if your reputation doesn’t mean anything to you.

How you deal with publicity. When you’re publicly lauded, do you brag about it? When you’re publicly criticized, do you whine and moan (or worse, ignore/delete the criticism)? Think about this; you’re online. It’s one of the most public venues the world has ever known. You can’t silence the critics, and you can only cheapen the compliments. Think carefully before you respond to comments for, or against, your company.

How you extend your business. Comment spam, anyone? No? How about article spamming? Many business owners look at tactics like these as the quickest ways to grow their business. However, we have to ask – what does comment spam actually achieve in terms of reputation, other than creating disgust in the spammed bloggers?

True, not all bloggers moderate, their comments. However, what about readers who come across spammy comments with your company name and website in them? How can you not see that it reeks of desperation, when it appears that the only way you can get publicity is to fake it? Enough said, we think.

Bad Stuff Can and Does Happen, BUT…

1989 Corvette C4 Coupe - Wrecked. Dec 21, 2008.

Bad things happen…

Yes, your competition can get online and post fake, horrible reviews about you. –And yes, it’s true that not every customer will be a happy one. This is when Wikipedia’s definition comes in to play.

-BUT –

Online, you are your own worst enemy. To be more exact, you are your company’s worst enemy. Everything you say and do, as we have said multiple times before, is visible online. It can be passed from person to person, and often is.

Online reputation management is more than just dealing with bad publicity. It starts with you, doing your best to make sure the publicity never goes bad.