How to Manage Your Reputation
Bad news is good news. It’s a cliché, I know. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. If you want to know what other people want to read, ask yourself: What would you rather read? A story about how a parliamentary debate went smoothly, leaving all present parties satisfied, or a story about how a parliamentary debate descended into insult-hurling, chair-throwing and various acts of mindless violence that were only stopped by the arrival of the police? Exactly.
We can deny all we like that we have a natural interest in bad events, but it won’t do us any good. We’ve adapted to be that way: Biologically, we have more to lose from failing to react to a negative event than a positive one. It’s one of the reasons why tabloids continue to sell so well. But what can you do as an individual to make sure that, should something “bad” get attached to your name, your reputation isn’t forever tarnished? The answer is simple: Take preemptive measures.
Online reputation management and repair is arduous and time-consuming work if you have little or no expertise in the area—and those who do have expertise have countless tips and tricks to protect your Internet image, if you’re willing to pay. But there are still simple things that individuals can do.
One highly effective way to cultivate a good reputation online is to take control of all the main social media accounts with “vanity URLs.” For example, if your name is John Smith, then take over the domains facebook.com/johnsmith or twitter.com/johnsmith, and be active. Google loves fresh content so make sure you regularly update your accounts with tweets, blog articles and other posts. Try to build a following and engage with the wider Internet community. Let others see your best characteristics and get to know you. You’re more likely to get a fair hearing should you be accused of doing something wrong.
Another powerful tool in your online arsenal is a personal website, preferably with a domain name like johnsmith.com (to continue with the above example) and content that is updated frequently. Having your business profiles comprehensive, up-to-date and well-written is important, too: LinkedIn, to name one site, ranks highly on Google. And, of course, it’s fundamental that you also consider the reactive steps to take should something negative become attached to your name—fairly or unfairly.
Don’t make it worse
Maybe all this isn’t so apropos if you’re a nine-to-fiver. But it is relevant when you have something to lose, and in the era of Twitter and Google it’s more pertinent than ever before. When footage emerged in April of the aviation officers of a United Airlines flight dragging a man off a plane, a 95-year-old airline with a perfectly good record of reliability and passenger safety became the world’s most hated overnight. #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos trended on Twitter. China was appalled at what they believed at the time to be the deliberate targeting of someone of Asian origin. All major networks covered the story. Comedy writers and comedians had a field day. Then, United Airlines’ CEO, Oscar Munoz, gave what Vanity Fair called “the worst possible response.” First, he apologized for “overbooking” the flight (making no mention of the passenger), and then he blamed the passenger for “refusing” to leave his seat. United is still in the public eye, and it will be a long time before any mention of the airline isn’t followed by: “Aren’t they the people that dragged off the doctor?”
If Munoz had taken the time to develop a positive online profile and a rapport with the Internet community, he might not have been mocked and criticized so roundly. Clearly, however, there was a lot that United should have done: for instance, put in place a formal crisis response plan and monitor the relevant social media channels for references to the organization or any of its members. Even casual surveillance of Twitter by a single member of the large team at United would have seen that this particular incident was not the kind that could not be dismissed or waited-out, and what was needed was an admission of responsibility, a sincere apology and a promise of compensation. Consequently, the response was slow and inappropriate, and not only that, but the reactions to the CEO’s statement were instinctively hostile because little was known about Munoz.
It can happen to anyone
On Google, negative material appears earliest. Any attempts by a person or business to “game the system” so that positive coverage appears first are punished by Google’s algorithm so that the negative links become even more deeply embedded. For the successful and the very wealthy, failing to keep an eye on your online reputation can have terrible consequences. There’s nothing lazy or glib about saying that reputations take years to build and only a click of the mouse to destroy. And I would know—not only because I’ve been in the reputation management game for more than 20 years, but because we, like many others, didn’t appreciate the importance of online reputation and repair until four or five years ago. Now it’s one of the most successful arms of our practice.
The reason this area has been neglected—and I’ve found this stubborn misconception in my conversations with clients—is that it’s assumed that if you’re a hardworking and decent person, you vaccinate yourself against negative press. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Crises happen, and they can happen to anyone. There are resentful former employees, jealous bloggers, amoral social media trolls. I have stories about good people who have fallen into disrepute through nothing but misfortune that could fill an entire website, and the consequences include broken networks, strained family relationships, poor health. The list goes on.
Hope for the best, plan for the worst
By proactively managing your online reputation and having a carefully developed crisis response plan in place, you immediately—and often, completely—offset a huge amount of potential damage to your name and to the name of your company. You could describe it as creating a sort of virtual protective shell that allows you to sleep easy and get on with your life and your work unhindered.
Of course, good online reputation management has the added benefit of promoting and presenting you in the best light possible. It helps you to be found by the people you would like to find you and to be heard by those you would like to hear you. But what’s absolutely certain—and it isn’t in my nature to be doom-and-gloom—is that if you neglect your online reputation, it’s at your peril.