How to Optimize the Value of Your Online Reputation


Article ImageIt goes without saying that reputation matters. The impact is more readily apparent in some areas—healthcare, restaurants—than others, but the issue impacts all of us on some level (if not on a daily basis, then during particularly important times, such as during a job interview or leading up to a date).

And reputation is also a sword that cuts both ways. As Warren Buffet famously mused, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it.” In the internet age, when news—good and bad—is disseminated at light speed, those 5 minutes have arguably been compressed to 50 seconds.

Why All the Fuss Over Online Reputation?

Companies and individuals are spending billions of dollars each year on online reputation management (ORM) initiatives. Motives are far-ranging, but coalesce into the following two categories:

Positive reputations drive quality new business—As much as internet growth has caused a tectonic shift in how marketing and advertising programs are executed, many time-tested rules still apply, including the benefits associated with having a generally favorable perception among target audience groups. Many marketing strategists contend that public relations is the most effective tool in their arsenal, and digital technologies and tactics have allowed small and midsize businesses to spread the word about their wares for a fraction of what it would have cost a decade ago. Consider the successes of reality star Kim Kardashian, singer Taylor Swift, and our current president—all of whom benefited extraordinarily from robust social media platforms. And for every high-profile personality who has monetized social media fame, there are thousands of individuals and companies that have advanced their causes using similar tactics.

Negative news, if not managed effectively, can have devastating effects—We’ve all heard the stories: an inadvisable Facebook post, a drunk-driving arrest, or a lapse in judgment caught on video has resulted in public outcry and a firing. Examples like these are well-documented, and most people nowadays are smarter about avoiding such gaffes. Less well-known, however, are the instances in which an evaluator—it could be an HR staff member or procurement professional—is doing due diligence and stumbles across an unfavorable reference online, then a job isn’t offered or a project goes “in a different direction.” It’s these types of scenarios—the digital version of the “silent killer”—that most of us need to be concerned about, because we’ll rarely receive specific feedback to address. Indeed, in many instances, the individual or organization on the other end of the discussion could be legally obligated to not share specific information. It doesn’t require an Anthony Scaramucci-level public meltdown to have a job offer rescinded or a project canceled before it ever began.


Step 1: Understand Your Baseline

No matter what business you’re in, the first thing you’ll want to do as part of an ORM optimization initiative is conduct an audit on yourself or your business to get a firm understanding of what’s already out there. Fortunately, the process is straightforward.

Using two browsers and two search engines—Google Chrome and Microsoft IE or Edge and Bing—scroll to the upper-right corner and launch an “incognito“ or “private” browsing session before you conduct the search. This will ensure a clean inquiry, because the search engine serves up unique results based on browsing history and location. Using an anonymous browser will mitigate the impact.

With this setup in place, conduct searches on the most common version of your name (in my case, it’s “Tim Bourgeois” as opposed to “Timothy Bourgeois”) and document the results using both a spreadsheet and screenshots. This will allow you to establish your baseline, which progress will be measured against.

Keep in mind your occupation and experience level when gathering this data. For obvious reasons, a recently minted college graduate—or new startup—will have a relatively sparse set of results compared to industry veterans. Either way, you’ll want to poke around for a while and get a feel for what’s out there and how impactful (or not) it seems.


Step 2: Go on the Offensive

After you’ve gotten a handle on your digital footprint, it’s time to go on the offensive. A generally accepted rule of thumb in the ORM business is “a formidable offense is the best defense.” The time variable—when a piece of content was posted—is a big factor in the search engine algorithms. This means that a published piece of content with a timestamp of January 2018—with all other variables equal (keywords, length, inbound links, etc.)—is more valuable than a similar piece of content published in January 2016.

From a practical perspective, this means that you should be as active on the internet as possible. However, not all activity is equally valuable, so you’ll want to focus on the following areas:

  • LinkedIn: From a personal branding perspective, Linked-In is the uncontested gold standard. Spend an inordinate amount of time getting familiar with the platform and optimizing your content there. (And spend the $600 to get a premium account if you want to move things along especially quickly.) You’ll be able to reuse much of the work in other areas of the internet, and unless you’re Richard Branson or Elon Musk, your LinkedIn profile will be the first, second, or third result in a search for your name.
  • Twitter: Twitter remains a sort of work in progress, as it’s still both a business and personal platform (compared to Facebook, which is primarily personal and B2C-focused, at least in the U.S.), but it can really move the needle when it comes to burnishing a personal online brand. Another bonus: If you already have a personal account in place that you don’t want to also serve as your go-to business account, it’s easy to launch a new handle and build it out quickly. For most individuals, a business-oriented Twitter account with 500 or so followers is adequate.
  • Google: Google’s role in most ORM strategies is twofold: 1) for creating a Gmail account that will serve as an individual’s primary personal email address (I’m always surprised at how many people I talk with who continue to use their corporate email address for personal use—a bad idea.) and 2) allowing individuals to build out a profile via Google+. To be sure, the Google+ platform has not evolved into what the company expected it to be on launch in 2011. But it helps with SEO performance, so it’s a worthwhile use of time when pursuing ORM strategies.   

LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google serve as the backbone for 90% of our ORM clients. The only time these platforms come into question is for individuals and organizations outside of the U.S. or for crisis management situations—when individuals are responding to specific, negative coverage that needs to be mitigated as quickly as possible.


Step 3: Reputation Management Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint

Always in search of an appropriate metaphor to explain the ORM landscape, we often resort to framing the efforts to be “more analogous to a marathon than a sprint.” Given that Google only effectively updates its database every 45 days or so (it’s not that straightforward, but 45 days is a reasonable standard to monitor progress against), that means a program realistically requires 3 months (90 days or two cycles) to demonstrate meaningful impact.

While the time required to address a situation may seem exorbitant, the upside is that once established, ORM strategies are sticky and persistent. They most certainly require ongoing care and feeding, but with an effective strategy and optimization approach, the results can be extraordinary. 

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