Online Reputation ManagementOne of my favorite quotes about online reputation management is by Tyler Tervooren: “Even if you opt out of participating in the digital world, your online identity still exists in parallel; you’re just not in charge of it.” Basically, it comes down to this: Refusing to acknowledge that people are talking about you does not make that talk go away. And if that talk is negative or inaccurate or untruthful, you have, essentially, decided to allow others to decide who you are and what your brand represents.

Whether due to time constraints, or not knowing enough about how online marketing differs from traditional media, or an inability to keep up with the ever-changing world of online marketing – monitoring online channels is not something the average business professional can reliably do on their own. Many try, only to find sooner rather than later that neither they nor their staff have the time and expertise necessary to develop the Know-Like-Trust factor that leads fans, followers and other online connections to be converted into buyers.

Understanding those challenges is what led me to transform my own business from a general sales and marketing consulting firm to one focused exclusively on branding through social media, online, and email marketing.

Managing Your Online Reputation

There are two equally bad responses to negative online feedback: Ignoring it and arguing about it! The old adage, “The customer is always right,” is even truer today, when every negative comment or complaint about your business can be plastered on Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, and review sites for literally millions of eyes to see. With online feedback, you have the unique opportunity to exhibit to a wide audience your company’s customer care philosophy – so make it count!

Some excellent examples of customer service and online reputation management on Twitter are Southwest Airlines, Comcast Cable and Whole Foods. They really know what they’re doing in this regard and their example can be modeled by every company, both large and small.

Another key to effective online reputation management is having the right person in place to monitor and respond to negative feedback. Take the time to develop written policies and guidelines and provide adequate training before that person ever logs on as the face of your company. And don’t forget to address their “off-the-clock” social media activity. You don’t want their personal views, leisure activities, etc to negatively reflect on your company.

Assembling Your Online Presence

The first thing you must have is a well-presented, user-friendly, informative website with a mechanism (or two or three) in place to capture visitors’ contact information. The purpose of virtually all your other online efforts is to drive website traffic, and knowing which of your online efforts is working is important, so adding analytics to your website is a must. Your website is where you can go into great detail all about you – your history, background, experience, philosophy, portfolio or case histories, your products and services, how to get in touch, and more – but it should also be interactive, offering a free download or a subscription to your email newsletter in exchange for some minimal contact information, which allows your team to follow up. I prefer a website with a blog component (like that offered by WordPress), as I consider your blog to be the “hub” of all your online marketing. Having the blog and website in one place makes it that much easier for blog readers to easily learn all about you.

Secondly, because it’s easier and less costly to keep existing customers and prospects than to obtain new ones, I am a huge believer in email newsletters to nurture and engage those who have entrusted you with their email addresses. Articles within your email newsletter can (and should!) contain links to your blog, and you can also embed video and audio files into your email newsletter. Why is this important? Because it’s engaging – and video and audio are more likely to shared, thus increasing your reach with no further effort on your part!

And finally, for many businesses, having a Facebook business page, Twitter account, and LinkedIn Company Profile can be valuable additions to their online presence – and your email newsletter can be networked together with these social media platforms so that you can write once and post to multiple places with a single click, thus increasing your reach with minimal effort. And if you’re concerned with search engine optimization (SEO) – as you should be – you need to know that every place you appear online potentially helps your search engine rankings, helping more people to find you through organic web searches.

I believe the most common and serious mistake people make with their online presence is not seeing it as an integrated whole.

Strategy Before Tactics

Before diving into social media, online, and email marketing, ask yourself, “What, specifically, do I want to accomplish with this?” Until you can articulate the answer to that question, you will be throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks – and that’s no way to run your marketing. I’m sure you’ve experienced the letdown of “liking” a Facebook page, following someone on Twitter, or connecting with someone on LinkedIn, only to find the person didn’t deliver on what they said they had to offer. There is no doubt about it: You will lose credibility that way. Let “Strategy before tactics!” be your guide.

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© 2013-2015 Linda C. Rooney

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Small business mentor Linda Rooney teaches aspiring, new, and evolving entrepreneurs how to navigate the New Economy with startup, branding, marketing, business & personal growth expertise. Get a FREE subscription to her eNewsletter, “Social Smarts,” at www.LindaRooney.com.

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