7 August 2014 By Northern Lights
Andy Warhol was wrong when he said everyone in the future will have their fifteen minutes of fame. Today, we’re all famous, all of the time. Every aspect of our life is played out in the full glare of the social media spotlight and, while this new era of sharing delivers major opportunities, it can also present massive challenges.
The internet has a long memory and any negative comment, bad review, embarrassing photo or shameful video can have huge implications on your future success and prosperity. This permanent record of your life and business needs to be carefully controlled and that has spawned a need for online reputation management.
Whether it be a disgruntled ex-partner, an angry or vindictive customer or competitor, a slightly tipsy photo, an embarrassing private moment with friends or a slightly foppish velvet blazer (that last one might just be me), we all have them and run the risk of receiving negative online publicity.
The recent headlines about the “right to be forgotten” in Google searches have caused a great deal of excitement among people who now believe that every bad review or negative comment they’ve received can be erased from history. But the reality is that it’s a difficult and arduous process and the rules for having specific records removed are strict and relate to issues like spent convictions. You can read the guidance here, but the likelihood of getting past the Google lawyers is slim.
1. The importance of online reputation
While many may laugh off past embarrassments, they can have far-reaching consequences. Today, everyone uses Google to do their research in advance. Luckily, page two effectively doesn’t exist – only 8 per cent of visitors click through to page two – and that means that if everything good about you appears on page one, you don’t have to worry.
However, if there are any negative images or comments on Page One, you have to work hard to remove them. From a personal point of view, pretty much all potential employers will initially search for you on Google and will quickly make a decision on those findings. From a business point of view, almost every customer will seek reviews for your products or services before even walking through the door or clicking on your site.
Recent research by international sales training organisation Huthwaite International shows people have made 80 per cent of their buying decision before even speaking to a salesman or walking into a shop. That’s because they’ve done their research online.
What this means that everything you post online has to be carefully considered – from your website to staff social media profiles. Any negative comment that mentions you or your brand will be spotted by Google and if people are sharing it, commenting on it or linking to it, it will quickly soar to the top of page one.
2. Check your online profile and personal brand
The first step with all of this is to type your name or brand into Google and see what comes up. If you’re active on social media, you should see a list of profiles for the main accounts and, hopefully, any content you’ve posted online.
Next, assuming all has gone well, start adding letters to the end of your name or brand – for example “Ben Pindar a/b/c/etc” – and see what Google starts to suggest in the predictive text. The results will surprise you. Quickly you will begin to see what others have been typing about your name or brand and these are the issues you need to quickly address.
In my own case, I’ve carefully managed what people see about me. The result (pictured) shows my social media profiles and my work for Northern Lights and Insider Media. The only blip on the radar is an aspiring musician also called Ben Pindar, but that means he faces a future headache should he find success because his fans will be faced with an aging ex-journalist blathering on about the communications issues facing businesses rather than a fresh-faced pop star.
When you begin to dig deeper, the results follow a similar pattern and refer back to my earlier work as a journalist. Surprises for me include a predictive text result shouting “War in Wakefield” about a previous newspaper enterprise I had, construction chief Martyn Harrison saying “Ben Pindar always writes a good article” (I’ve always been a huge fan of Martyn), and my name cropping up on the websites of two rival PR firms.
By doing this you’ll quickly get a picture of your online brand and you’ll instantly spot any negative comments, reviews or images that need addressing.
3. Tackling online reputation management
The first question you have to ask yourself is do you deserve any negative comments or reviews? There is nowhere to hide online and if your behaviour, product or service is substandard you will be exposed.
No longer can companies deliver fast-moving inferior goods and services and be confident there’ll be a new unsuspecting customer along shortly. Today, one bad experience turns into a negative online review and your brand is irreparably damaged. If left unaddressed, the reviews and negative publicity quickly grows and your revenues will plummet.
Similarly, if you fail to react to bad publicity surrounding your personal brand, the likelihood of securing or retaining future work will be greatly diminished.
Before addressing any negative comments online, every person and business first needs to ensure they are delivering what they promise and are behaving in an acceptable and professional fashion. Look closely at what you are doing, be honest, identify the flaws and any online postings that have negative connotations and address them first.
4. How do I respond to negative comments online?
Perhaps the most common question I get asked around this issue is “How do I remove bad reviews/negative comments from Google?. Google is cunning and all-knowing and it constantly updates its search algorithms. The increasingly popular Google+ platform also means that all negative comments and reviews are quickly identified and associated with your brand.
The short answer to this question is you shouldn’t remove negative comments. Granted, if they are malicious or libellous you can take steps and work with Google to have them removed, but in the majority of cases they will be honest opinions of the experiences people have had.
Rather than shy away from this sort of publicity, you should embrace it. These reviews are valuable insights into the way the public perceives you and your business and everyone can help you to improve your offer.
If you receive a complaint, you should act on it. If it’s a review, take appropriate steps and then respond, outlining how you have fixed the issue. If it’s a social media complaint, take the conversation offline and then make sure you post publicly about how the issue has been resolved.
Tesco faced an online reputation management nightmare when staff created a blog called “Very Little Helps” to publicly complain about poor standards at the grocery giant. However, rather than battle to shut it down, Tesco saw the platform as a great way to get feedback from the floor and then interacted with it to address any issues. The result was a happier workforce and a big improvement in their online brand.
Virgin also faced potential brand meltdown when it was sent the “world’s funniest complaint letter” and it went viral, with news organisations around the world running the story. It still ranks as one of the top entries for the Virgin brand, but entrepreneur Richard Branson has embraced the complaint and even made a personal call to apologise, while tackling the issue online.
Having said that, one of the most important messages is not to inadvertently fuel the rise of a negative comment by giving it more attention than it deserves. All too often I’ve seen businesses and people try to turn negative issues into a “fun” poll or create a discussion around the issue. By attracting more people to get involved, you simply help it climb Google’s rankings. Always carefully consider the potential harm and make sure responses are clear, concise, helpful and provide a resolution.
In next week’s blog, I’ll dig deeper and look the rising tiding of cyber extortionism, safeguarding your brand online and, most importantly, how to improve your online reputation.
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