Saving Face: Online Reputation Monitoring

Admit it–you’ve googled yourself. The results were probably things you expected: some of your social networking profiles and things you published in the past, as well as links to someone fortunate enough to have the same name as you. But what if you did a search (of yourself or your company) and the results horrified you? And no, we’re not talking someone posting an embarrassing story about your teenage indiscretions. While that is enough to upset some, it can get much, much worse. An enraged former customer could launch a hate-filled campaign via a blog, a fired former employee could leak company secrets thanks to the relative anonymity of cyberspace… the possibilities can be enough to keep you awake at night. Before we make you paranoid, know this: there are steps you can take to protect your online reputation. And while you cannot do away with anyone’s right to post his opinions, you can handle such situations with dignity and care.

A quick google search of JB Chicago bring up the usual: our home site and our Linked In, Facebook, Behance, blogspot, Elance and MySpace profiles come up on the first page. Further pages have links to testimonials on our site and press releases, but so far, it appears we are in the clear. But there are many more ways to check what other are saying about you—and checking them is highly important if you care about your online image. The following are some of the best, based on the blog post titled “5 Free Tools for Personal Reputation Management” by Dan Schawbel (find it at http://ping.fm/wQwWG):

1) Google.com/alerts. Subscribe for this service via e-mail or RSS, and updates about you or your company can be sent directly to your inbox.

2) Technorati.com. This site, according to Schwarbel, is the “largest blog search engine in the world.” It can track any blog that links up to yours and send you RSS updates when someone is talking about your company.
3) Backtype.com. If searching for your company amidst blog comments is your concern, this is your site.

4) Backtracker.com. Discussion boards are a go-to to people looking to vent—and have others share their similar experiences. Get an instant update if you and yours are mentioned.

5) Search.twitter.com. The URL says it all: Use this to search for any tweets related to your business.

If a real-life example is what you need to make this hit home, take a look at one of the most entertaining companies of our time: Cirque Du Soleil. A powerhouse known for its innovative and visually stunning performances, it caught major flack when promoting Criss Angel’s “Believe” show. Though what crowds said was not slanderous or vengeful (for the most part), it could not be left alone. Granted, Criss & Co. were still working out kinks before it debuted in Vegas, but the majority of those who attended the performances were highly disappointed. According to an article by Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Doug Elfman, titled “Angel’s ‘Believe’ Magic: Miffed Fans Disappear,” it was called a “waste of time,” a “dead end” and “appalling.” Cirque fans took to blogs, blasting the show and Cirque’s affiliation with it, and harsh feedback poured in throughout numerous outlets.

The company’s social media manager, Jessica Berlin, addressed this issue at this year’s PubCon conference in Las Vegas. She said some people felt they had “strayed from their core values,” and a charge like that was not something her company could overlook. They hired a social media marketing agency, which helped refocus the public’s attention as well as emphasize the fact the show was still in preview mode. Cirque Du Soleil also began to monitor some of the aforementioned “image-monitoring sites”—plus more.

In an effort to turn things around, they increased their activity on social networking sites. Blogging and releasing info via networking sites was encouraged for employees, which allowed the company to make their company seem more personal. Berlin says this helped them build a community by allowing others to provide comments and suggestions.

And while Cirque critics and advocates alike were providing feedback, Cirque was forthright in providing some info as well. Select bloggers were given access to company news, then encouraged to share it. So instead of fearing what was going to be written, Cirque realized since they cannot control public opinion, they CAN make sure bloggers and journalists alike have info to work with—info that came straight from the horse’s mouth.

This entertainment company is one example of how surviving and learning from a bad experience can create something great. Berlin said the company now strives for a sense of transparency because customers appreciate honesty—and the better the clients/customer relationship, the smoother things go when a crisis does hit. She also emphasized the fact that listening is a huge part of gaining this transparency, because the public opinion truly can make or break a company.

So use the above tools to monitor public opinion of your company. If someone has a problem, instead of simply taking offense and dwelling on negative comments, address them—and take the criticism for what it’s worth: a chance to grow and learn. And above all, see social networking (and the tools to measure and monitor it) as an opportunity to build trust and gain helpful insight into the way things are really going—then make changes accordingly.

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