Source: Mashable, Author – Andy Beal
1. Know your achilles heel
Do you know your weaknesses? No, seriously! I don’t mean the “we try too hard to please our customers” bunk. Do you know the flaws in your products, the areas of your service that suck, or the member of your management team most likely to stick his foot firmly in his mouth?
If Kryptonite had known their locks could be picked with Bic pen, they might have been able to react faster to the meme that spread like a virus. You might not be able to correct your company’s flaws but, by being honest about them now, you can better prepare should they become the topic of a reputation attack.
2. Assume everything will make it’s way to the web
You should assume that every phone conversation will be taped, every internal memo leaked, and every hallway conversation shared with a blogger. No matter what policies you put in place, not matter how many times you tell a journalist something is “off the record” you should utter only the words you’d want to see on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
This is at the essence of being radically transparent–the message you share behind closed doors should match the one you share with employees, customers, and investors.
3. Create a great online impression; dress to impress!
You already know that a great suit can help you impress a VC or win that new client account, but what about the way you dress-up your web site? I see so many companies suffer from a poor reputation, only to discover they’re abusing their biggest reputation asset–their own web site content.
Prospective customers, future employees, investors, and journalists are just a small sample of those that will turn to your own web site when determining the reputation of your company. Make sure they find all the information they could possible need and then throw-in the stuff they might normally look for elsewhere. Link to reviews of your products, highlight praise received by bloggers, upload your videos and podcasts, and make sure all content is RSS enabled and social media sharable.
4. Choose your blog voice carefully
If you want to do wonders for your company’s online reputation, you should definitely consider joining the blogosphere–that’s almost a no-brainer reputation management decision. A blog will allow you to hold conversations with your customers and gain valuable feedback. What’s not quite so easy to get right is the style of blog that will best help your business.
Unless your CEO has the charisma and thought-leadership of Jason Calacanis or Jonathan Schwartz, letting him lose on WordPress might do more harm than good. Instead consider establishing a team blog (such as Southwest Airlines’ “Nuts About Southwest”) where there’s less focus placed on a single individual and more attention on who your customers really want to hear from; your employees.
5. Hangout at the right social network
Look, just because MySpace and Facebook are the most popular social networks, doesn’t mean that’s where your customers and employees are hanging-out. While social networks are great for building brand loyalty, there’s a need to be selective in where you setup shop. If you customers skew towards those over 50-years old, you likely won’t find them “sheep throwing” or “zombie biting” on Facebook.
Find the “centers of influence” for your reputation–the social networks where you’ll most likely find conversations about your company–and create your social network profile there. If you really want to tap into the most appropriate social network, consider building your own. Companies such as Ning.com are empowering companies to create their own social network–sheep throwing optional.
6. Send blogger’s love letters, not PR pitches
Do you know why Jeff Jarvis’ infamous “Dell hell” blog post started a reputation blogstorm for Dell? One factor was Dell’s lack of previous conversations with Jarvis–and other computer bloggers. Lesson learned. If you look at Dell know, they’re keeping in touch with influential bloggers, commenting on their posts, and treating them with respect. Now when Dell’s products don’t live up to expectations, the fallout is less severe and bloggers are more apt to speak to the company first, before hitting “publish” on that reputation-crushing post. How does that compare to your normal mass-email PR pitch?
7. Build your Google reputation now, not later
Google’s not just a search engine, it’s a reputation engine. When a prospective client wants more information about your products, a journalist needs background on your business, or an investor seeks details about your history, it’s Google they ultimately turn to for information. I speak to so many companies that screw-up their reputation, then try to cleanup the mess by trying to push down the evidence on Google.
It can take many weeks–sometimes months–to create new content that will rank on the first page of Google for your brand. Don’t wait until your already knee-deep in a crisis to decide you need to build positive content for Google. Do it now–while you’re not fighting reputation fires–and it will likely keep out future negative listings.
8. Monitor your online reputation as often as your email
The web has empowered individuals to share even the smallest of complaints online. In fact, with sites such as ePinions, RipOff Report, and the Consumerist, your customers complaints are practically encouraged.
When a laptop’s battery caught fire at a gate at LAX, Lenovo knew within an hour that reports where circulating the web that the laptop was a Thinkpad. Thanks to their reputation monitoring efforts the company was able to act quickly and prevent a reputation crisis. Lenovo quickly identified that the battery wasn’t manufactured by them and was able to spread that message before it hurt consumer sentiment towards the Thinkpad line.
Their are lots of online reputation monitoring tools to choose from, but even a simple Google Alert is better than nothing.
9. Ostriches are not great role-models
If you find yourself facing a stampede of angry bloggers, with the mission of calling you out on your company’s foul, sticking your head in the sand does not make them go away. You might initially convince yourself that the problem will simply disappear and besides, what harm can a blogger do anyway? In all likelihood your denial will buy you just a day or two before your scandal makes it to the inbox of a New York Times journalist. Game over.
Instead, the moment you see any reputation attack you should take action. It might only need a comment from you in the blogger’s comments section, or it might require your own blog post or video, announcing what steps you’re taking to resolve the issue. The key is to respond quickly, address the situation, apologize if needed, and prevent it becoming the lead story in the evening news.
10. Three words to remember
I’ve written thousands of words on the topic of building a great online reputation, but I’ve managed to condense everything down to just three words for you to remember: sincerity, transparency, and consistency.
Sincerity means wanting to hear from your customers and the desire to truly provide a positive experience with your company. Transparency involves tearing down the walls of corporate rhetoric and PR spin–the more you share with your customers the more you’ll win their trust. Consistency is a vital component for any reputation management efforts. Your customers will forgive your isolated failure, but if you’re not consistently living-up to your brand promise, they’ll find a company that does.