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2012 January 9 - 12:00 am

TECHNOLOGY TODAY: Online Reputation Management Is New Aspect of Good PR

How do others view you?
Creating and managing others’ impressions of you or your organization is what the industry of public relations is all about. The digital age has spread the need to consider PR beyond big organizations and public figures. These days creating a good impression, or a bad one, can be as easy as a few well placed, or poorly placed, mouse clicks.

Most people online today know about the most common mistakes that can make you look bad, though this doesn’t stop these mistakes from happening.

You reply to a buttoned-down email from a coworker with a flirty one. But instead of sending it just to her, you send it to everyone she sent hers to, the entire department.

You put photos of yourself and your best friend on Facebook having fun impersonating Britney Spears by wearing skimpy outfits and engaging in provocative dance moves. You forget about them. An admissions officer at a college considering you for a scholarship sees them.

In a debate online with someone you consider a know-nothing about a scholarly subject such as Big Bang cosmology, you announce how you really feel about him. Only you get carried away, cursing a blue streak, denigrating his parentage and citizenship, and asking whether he’s an Old World or a New World monkey. In a Google search one of your kids comes across this.

A 2010 study by Cross-Tab Market Research revealed that 70 percent of job recruiters have rejected candidates because of their online reputation while only 7 percent of Americans feel that their online reputation can influence their job search.

Don’t think that using an online handle or pseudonym will necessarily protect you. A few years ago defense contractor Raytheon created headlines by taking disciplinary action against nearly two dozen of its own employees after it uncovered their identities. They had been using aliases to exchange chitchat about the company in a Yahoo public discussion group.

Public relations headaches can also come about through no fault of your own. The Web is home to many complaint sites whose primary purpose appears to be letting people vent and many hate sites whose primary purpose appears to be giving voice to the disturbed.

Online reputation management is now an important part of what many traditional public relations firms do. Many other firms have popped up in recent years whose sole purpose is helping clients clean up their online reputations, as a Google search for “online reputation management” will attest.

Paying someone to provide such services can make sense, depending on your specific situation. But there are steps you can take yourself to help yourself look better online.

  • Track what’s being said about you on the Web in general through Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

  • Track specific sites where you think you may be mentioned, such as Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Google Maps, Yahoo Local, CitySearch, Amazon, Yahoo Shopping, and Angie’s List, plus any that cater specifically to your market niche or particular interests.

  • Respond to negative comments with positivity, not further negativity, by suggesting ways to solve the person’s complaints or problems. Sometimes a public response is more appropriate, other times a private one. Resist the temptation to argue.

  • Respond to comments that appear to be deliberate sabotage by contacting the Web site administrator and requesting that the comments be removed. Needless to say, this isn’t always possible or doesn’t always work.

Create new positive content to displace any negative content you come across through a Facebook page, Twitter account, blog or blogs filled with constructive rather than promotional material, and forum posts that you use to interact with others in a way that genuinely attempts to help them rather than you.

Avoid the temptation, or the offer of a reputation management firm, to plant fake positive reviews or manufactured testimonials, which often backfire by being seen for what they are by those you’re trying to influence. Such deception can also get you in legal trouble, including significant fines, plus the negative publicity that results from it.

Finally, try to mine any negativity you come across for genuine weaknesses or trends in your practices or positions. If approached from the right perspective, criticism can be a catalyst to positive change on your part that in itself can improve your online reputation in the future.

What’s more, you might be able to use a trend regarding a positive you hadn’t previously noticed or had underappreciated to promote yourself or your organization to more people.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@comcast.net or www.reidgoldsborough.com.

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