A Reputation Online = An Operational Bottom Line

Back in the early 1990s, President George H.W. Bush gave a famous speech in which he referenced “the new world order.”

Although President Bush was referring to something completely different, the term ‘new world order’ would, I believe, be appropriate as a moniker for conducting business in the Internet age; put another way, the Internet has created a “new world order” in which businesses are exposed on a 24/7 basis to a worldwide audience, and are also subject to constant scrutiny.

And that ‘New World Order’ reality has lead to the growing importance of what has become known as “online reputation management”.

To be clear, “online reputation management” is generally defined as an organization’s—or individual’s—efforts to influence or control the business’ or individual’s online reputation; in the age of the Internet and social media, most often reputation management is seen as a concerted effort to have some influence in protecting a singular reputation.

And there is far more than simple ego or narcissism at play with reputation management. For businesses, it is critically important that misinformation about any aspect of a company not be allowed to circulate without any attempt made at correcting errors or falsehoods; search engines—particularly Google—have become important drivers of business, as both consumers and other businesses seek out information on companies prior to selecting with whom they will conduct business.

With that reality in mind—and the understanding that often the ‘best defense is a strong offense”– a growing number of companies are devoting considerable time and resources to their own online reputation management. While it is, of course, impossible to have ‘control’ over everything that is written about an organization, it is possible to both monitor and influence what is online; at a minimum, the goal of successful online reputation management should be ensuring that factually incorrect information that could potentially damage the company and its reputation is not disseminated without any response.

For many business owners, especially smaller to mid-size companies with limited resources, the notion of diverting precious time and money to a somewhat ‘abstract concept’ such as reputation management might seem to be a bit of a stretch. And while I can empathize with those who believe that there are other priorities that must be addressed in order to succeed in business, I would respectfully disagree.

In the year 2015—and likely for many years to come—the Internet plays an integral role in shaping public perception of all businesses, from the largest multinational corporations to the corner pizzeria or grocery store. In fact, according to a recent study by the Reputation Institute, more than 56 percent of companies say the reputation management is a “high priority” for their Executive Management and Board of Directors.

And the simple fact of the matter is smart businesses recognize this reality, and rather than bemoan the need to divert resources, they develop an intelligent reputation management plan and include it as a basic tenet in their organization’s overall business plan.

To that end, here are some simple facts that need to be taken into consideration when a business or organization is considering what efforts it will need to succeed in the field of online reputation management:

  • Assess The Current State of Your Company’s Online Reputation:

Before a company can begin to devise an appropriate plan for dealing with the challenges presented by managing its online reputation, it’s vital that there be an accurate assessment of what the public currently finds when it researches your company online. While some larger organizations may have the resources required to perform this task, given the breadth and scope of the Internet, most companies will likely have to consider hiring an external vendor that specializes in this field.

To assist in this effort, it may also be useful for those in Senior Management to perform an honest and thorough assessment of the company’s recent past, and current strengths and weaknesses; all companies have areas in which they excel, and other areas that present challenges, and this type of honest assessment may prove useful in addressing any negative issues regarding the company’s online reputation—to paraphrase an old saying, the goal in developing a strong online reputation is to ‘accentuate the positive, and eliminate the negative.’

  • Recognize That Reputation Management Must Be Ongoing & Plan Accordingly:

Most business owners understand the notion of “putting out fires”, which translates as tackling often unforeseen challenges that arise during the course of conducting business.

However, unlike singular problems that may arise during the course of everyday business, the issue of online reputation management is an ongoing, continuous effort. The search engines—such as Google or Bing—that decide what information and where is posted about a company on their websites rely on a multitude of factors, including news, social media and other events.  In other words, just because your company’s online reputation looked fine last week doesn’t guarantee it will remain that way going forward.

The ‘battle’ to protect your company’s reputation online is unrelenting—or at least, it should be if done properly.

  • Understand—And Plan To Act Upon—The Impact of Social Media:

Whether it’s via Facebook, Twitter, or any number of other social media websites, the ability of a business’ customers to voice their opinions about the company is easily accessible—and frankly, omnipresent.

Now, on a big picture level, that’s actually a positive—unlike many other nations around the world, we live in a thriving democracy and the right to Free Speech is one of the most critically important civil rights that are enjoyed by all Americans. In lieu of recent world events, Americans should—now more than ever—appreciate and value the right to free speech, and understand that it’s neither universal nor irreversible.

However, like all rights and freedoms, the right to free speech is subject to abuse, and there are those who—for whatever personal or professional reasons—choose to use social media to deliberately do damage to the reputation of either individuals or businesses. It is, in a sense, the ‘price’ we all pay for the right to universal free speech. Still, incorrect or deliberately negative attacks on a business on social media can be quite harmful—as information is shared online between thousands of individuals within a matter of minutes.

That’s why many businesses hire staff whose sole duties revolve around the company’s presence in the world of social media; any efforts made in protecting a company’s online reputation must ensure that it includes monitoring—and providing content and input into—social media sites.

Ultimately, like all aspects of running a successful business, the responsibility for protecting a company’s hard-earned reputation cannot be entirely outsourced. It falls to Senior Management of any organization to recognize the critical role that the Internet plays in determining how their company is seen by current and potential customers, literally around the globe.

It can often take many years of hard work to build a strong reputation as a quality business. Therefore, it’s well worth the time and effort required to ensure that hard-earned reputation is not lost or damaged as a result of some erroneous–or nefarious–online information.