I cannot think of two areas of the Web 2.0 with greater synergy than Personal Branding and Online Reputation. In fact, the importance of Online Reputation Management (ORM) for Personal Branding is such that it is highly improbable you will be able to negotiate your way to the top in the often turbulent waters of the online medium unless you are well versed in the more basic and helpful ORM tools and techniques.
We live in a digital democracy, where all of us are exposed to both grounded and ungrounded criticism by friends, colleagues, customers, acquaintances and total strangers. Moreover, none of us are immune to the highly damaging consequences that our own uncouth, half-baked online contributions and actions – which may range from posting the wrong picture or video to unwittingly saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and in the wrong channel – can bring on to us. As an ORM professional, I am only too acquainted with the often disastrous results yielded by poorly managed (or, even worse, ignored!) ‘online communication crises’, potentially devastating as these can be to our careers. The lesson is clear: ignore your online reputation at your peril!
The good news is: if you are intent and serious about building your personal brand, you’ve already taken a giant leap forward toward building a solid online reputation too. The process of Creating your personal brand is what we refer to as a ‘proactive’ online reputation strategy. Especially when you set out to build a brand you can feel proud of, it is of paramount importance that you pay close attention to the channels and the social media you’ll be making use of to reach this worthy goal: each has its unique set of advantages and pitfalls, and some will undoubtedly be more useful to you than others depending on your unique blend of talent, experience and skills. In all probability you will end up with a multi-channel online presence that includes mutually-reinforcing social networks and media in order to convey your brand to your target audience. And your familiarity with each and every one of them from a technical and communications perspective is taking for granted if you are to avoid the most common traps.
Sadly, this is only half of the story. For as soon as your online reputation (and influence!) gains momentum, a ‘reactive’ online reputation strategy must kick in if you are not to lose your hard-earned kudos fast-track in the Social Media and Web 2.0 arenas. This is where monitorization comes in. It is essential that you regularly check your name in the most important search engines and that you set up real-time alerts to ensure that you are never caught with your pants down and can react as quickly as possible to any entries that represent a potential hazard to that brand called ‘You.’ There are lists of free monitorization tools that go a long way to ensure that you are quickly updated, and even measure the sentiment about your brand online and offer other useful KPIs. But for monitorization to be effective, you need to set up a list of keywords that are crucial to your brand and your goals (your name will undoubtedly be one of them) and monitor them effectively with a targeted and strategic use of the most appropriate of tools.
Beware. You can have a clean record in Google or the other search engines – especially in that all-important first page, where 93% of searchers will stop – when someone looks up your name, product, or service and yet have your reputation in tatters in the social media. Even when the implementation of Google Social has made this scenario more unlikely, it is still the case that your monitoring should not stop with the search engines. What is being said about you in the social networks (watch out! not just in your social network pages but in those of others!)? What sort of comments do your contributions generate and how well are they received? What is the general sentiment about you and how are your actions or your inaction contributing to it?
Let me offer some quick advice for when things seem to be going wrong:
- Never ignore negative messages, opinions and/or complaints. Strive to react to and address them as quickly as possible in a polite and friendly manner. Make sure you go to the core of why you are generating a negative reaction and never hesitate to apologize if you have made a genuine mistake
- Whatever you do, don’t lose your cool when you are under attack. Stake the high ground. Don’t add fuel to the fire by venting your anger or your frustration, whether the criticism is justified or unjustified in your own eyes. And reprisals are a ‘no-no’ unless you want to risk the attack going viral.
- Be sure you tell apart genuine, ‘spontaneous’ negative comments and reviews from malicious ones. The latter require a different response than the former.
- Blocking or kicking someone out of your social networks should always be the last resort. Remember they can continue the (negative) conversation about you elsewhere!
- Be prepared to stick to your guns and remain firm in the defense of your brand when your conciliatory efforts have failed and you are convinced that you’ve said or done nothing wrong. The sad fact is that we cannot please everyone no matter how irreproachable our actions. Some people are going to dislike you no matter what, but that does not give them the right to spread false rumors or make false allegations. Mount a strong defence and prove the opposition wrong when required.
- Remain flexible. If your strategy and your approach are not giving you the desired outcome over a period of time, it may be time to re-think how you are putting your message across and to modify social media profiles, pictures, web design, and the nature of your online interactions. Remain committed to your values but be ready to change course and do not regard this as a defeat but as a lesson learned. Nobody ever said that building a successful brand would be anything other than a bumpy ride!
Online Reputation can truly help you in the pursuit of your Personal Branding and career goals. I encourage you to adopt an Online Reputation Management strategy for your personal brand and invite you to become familiar with Online Reputation as one of the best guarantees of your online success.