Regardless of industry or niche, reputation is one of the most precious commodities that a working professional has. It can take months, even years to build up a strong, positive reputation; then, the whole thing can come crashing down, in an instant. This has never been truer than it is now, in the age of Google, Facebook, and Yelp.com: A bad review or a defamatory post can make its way onto the web and all but destroy a person's image.
Why is online reputation such a precarious thing? It all stems from online consumer behavior. The internet puts a world of information within our reach, so, for the consumer, it is the easiest thing in the world to spend a few minutes on search engines, fully investigating a product, service, person, or brand before agreeing to any kind of commitment or transaction. And it's not just consumers, either: You can bet that prospective employers or business associates are also scoping you out on Google.
For professionals of all kinds, an adverse online reputation can be devastating. For online merchants or marketing professionals, a single negative listing can result in lost sales, a diminished customer base, and an uptick in chargebacks and refund requests. For digital publishing and media professionals, a negative online image can be devastating, personally as well as professionally.
But what can a digital publisher or media professional do to ward off unscrupulous online attacks? The first step toward proper reputation management is coming to the realization that you cannot control what other people say about you on the web. You just can't. There may be defamatory listings or bad reviews, and they may or may not be true-but trying to keep people from exercising their freedom of speech on the internet, no matter how damaging the things they are saying, is an exercise in futility.
You cannot control what other people say about you, but you can ultimately control the way you are presented on the web. This is what online reputation management is all about. Understanding this foundational concept is crucial for understanding how reputation management works: You cannot prevent unfavorable online listings, but you can suppress them. By burying them under positive listings, you can effectively set the tone for how people perceive you on the web.
What does this mean? It means taking a proactive approach to cultivating a strong, positive, resilient online reputation-one that can withstand attacks and defamatory listings. Begin by investing in the prime online real estate-exact-match domain names. If your name is Rodney Smith, for example, and you are looking to protect your good name from online assault, then you might purchase RodneySmith.com, Rodneysmith.net, and so on.
The reason for buying these domains is simple. If someone Google's your name-if someone conducts a search for the query "Rodney Smith"-then those exact-match domains are the first sites that will appear. It's important that you control those sites, and not someone else, because that allows you to maintain control, and to set the stage for the first impressions that people will receive about you when they search for you on the web.
This principle is not just true of exact-match domains. It is also true of social media sites. For professionals, it is invaluable to have a LinkedIn account that matches up with your name, because, once more, that is a piece of online content that will likely rank well within an online search. Facebook and Twitter accounts are effective as well, albeit to a lesser extent.
Of course, the content you put into these sites matters a great deal. On your LinkedIn and Facebook pages, it is imperative to develop content that will present yourself in the best light possible-content that takes note of your professional achievements and your philanthropic activity, of course, but also omits, say, frat party photos, or other potential embarrassments.
Developing content serves two purposes. First, it allows you to determine the information that people find about you on the web. Second, regular content updates help these pages and social media accounts to rank better on Google--with the ultimate goal being that they outperform any potential negative listings, keeping unwanted content off your first page of search results. For those exact-match domains, in particular, it is a good idea to update the content with regularity, ensuring the highest rankings possible.
Finally, it is impossible to overstate the importance of online reputation monitoring. For digital professionals, an online attack could appear at any moment, and the sooner you know about it, the sooner you can double down on fighting it. Google yourself at least once a week, and see what's out there. Set up Google alerts. Make sure that you are vigilant in monitoring your online reputation, because monitoring is the first step toward managing.
("Reputation Button" courtesy of Shutterstock.)