Managing your online reputation

Will Critchlow, co-founder of online marketing specialists Distilled, shares his tips for protecting your brand on the web

A strong online reputation is something that you build in the good times. Unfortunately that’s a bit like saying the best way to cure a hangover is to drink a little bit less the night before, but the best time to do this is certainly not when you’re in a crisis situation.

News is increasingly breaking online, and the immediacy of things like Twitter and Facebook means that it can spread very quickly. If your website is revenue-generating, monitoring what’s being said about you online is even more important.

There are a number of monitoring options available, ranging from free tools such as Google Alerts and Twitter Search to relatively low-cost ones. We have one called the Reputation Monitor, and there are a number of others on the market.

If you’re tracking for one phrase, Google Alerts does a really good job; if you’re monitoring for different brand, company and individual names, you might want to use a slightly more sophisticated tool.

One of the biggest risks you face online is that of negative commentary appearing in the search results. The really big risk is where somebody searches for your brand and there are bad headlines above the fold. First and foremost, it’s about making sure that you rank number one for your business name – it sounds obvious, but some businesses don’t.

Then it’s about making sure you’ve got other properties that you control on that first page of search results. That might be your Twitter account, your company’s Facebook page, LinkedIn, a blog, or articles that have been written about you. If you search for my name, for instance, you will see a number of articles I have written alongside others that I’ve been quoted in.

Your online reputation is only a manifestation of the truth, so you need to make sure that there is good stuff out there. That said, some situations will be out of your control. These need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but how you respond depends largely on who you are talking to. It can range from people who are pretty close to being brand evangelists, but just had a bad experience (personally, I would recommend this would be an offline one-to-one, on the phone) to journalists and bloggers, competitors or even disgruntled former employees.

We had a situation with a client (a major high street brand) where unfounded rumours were being spread about the company by people who didn’t like what they stood for. In this instance, we started with an announcement on Twitter from the official brand account before anything went on the website or via PR. It was quite a gentle message, saying ‘you might have seen rumours about this, it’s not true’, and then linking to one of the neutral bits of coverage about the rumour.

It’s really about the weeks and months after that in terms of the long-term search results. It’s about keeping an eye on what’s ranking where, and remembering that these days, Google’s results change very rapidly.

If there’s breaking news, Google often drops in what they call the ‘News One’ box. That’s very hard to do anything about. However, this box shows the most recent news so sometimes, press releasing a decent announcement can move the story on. You’ll find that stories and blog posts will drop in for a day or two, or even up to a week, and then disappear again, so don’t panic pre-emptively.

Building a strong online reputation involves finding good or neutral things that are out there and promoting them. It’s quite a positive process; you’re looking for the good news story about you that you can link to from your media page and help it rank better for your brand in searches. If there’s a negative story on a major news website that’s ranking, often there will be older, more positive stories on that same site. If you link to those, they stand a better chance of being listed instead of the more recent one. Reputation management is about looking for those kinds of opportunities.

Will Critchlow is the co-founder of online marketing company Distilled, which specialises in web design, search engine optimisation, online reputation management and pay-per-click marketing services.



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