It’s tempting to look at the reputation issues your company faces as evidence of past mistakes or missed opportunities. That’s not fair. The digital world is still young. Until quite recently, no one really understood how it could influence public perceptions of real-world reputation of businesses. Even now, business leaders continue to refine policies and strategies for dealing with public relations issues in the online space.
But as we’ve seen, the fact that you’re not to blame for reputation problems doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about them. You can protect online reputation. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything to prevent them from bubbling back to the surface again — or protect yourself against future issues that you can’t foresee right now. Here’s what we mean.
It’s one thing to deal with negative mentions that can hurt your online reputation and threaten your company’s sales. It’s quite another to face malicious attacks from those who actively wish you harm. Such attacks do far more than push negative content onto the first page of your company’s search results. They can threaten its finances, its ability to obtain credit, even its very existence.
According to the FTC, nearly 10 million Americans fell victim to identity theft in 2013. For individuals, identity theft is a nightmare that can damage credit ratings and ruin careers. For businesses, it’s arguably more serious: A data breach can affect the finances of everyone who does business with you and destroy your real-world reputation. And if a hacker is able to access your company’s internal servers or the admin section of your website, he or she can spam your clients with requests for their own user data or financial information — a deadly serious situation.
In addition to commonsense precautions like regularly updating your antivirus software and encrypting your company’s (and customers’) financial data, these steps can reduce your exposure to bad actors:
Not using obvious usernames, such as employees’ full names or initials, for sensitive accounts or admin portals
Varying passwords across accounts or using randomly generated, time-limited codes for access
Use no-follow tags to prevent sensitive online content from being indexed by search engine robots, rendering it invisible on your results page. This isn’t foolproof though, there are search engines that ignore these.
Protection goes hand-in-hand with prevention. Though it would be nice if you could devote hours of your day to checking the results for relevant terms and monitoring your company’s social media channels for negative noise, you don’t have that kind of time.
Remember, there’s no such thing as monitoring too carefully. Protecting your online reputation means catching potential problems before they spiral out of control — preferably before search engine robots and social media users bring them to light.
While it would be nice if we could separate the digital world from the brick-and-mortar one, that’s wishful thinking. The lines between the two have blurred to the point where it barely makes sense to consider them independently of one another.
That’s both good and bad. On the one hand, it means that any misstep you make in the analog world can affect your online reputation — as long as there’s someone with a smartphone and Facebook page to document it, at least. On the other, it means that your real-world good deeds can burnish your online image.
What kinds of good deeds are we talking about? Simple stuff:
Playing up your strengths and achievements with blog posts, press releases and outreach to media
Ultimately, your reputation — both online and offline — is about credibility, trust and authority. Everything you do, from securing the removal of defamatory content to going the extra mile for a customer in your store (and hinting they should go online and say something nice), should be done with these things in mind. If you’re successful, you’ll no longer feel overwhelming panic when you think about your reputation. You might actually feel a teensy-tiny twinge of optimism.