Let 2018 be the year you get proac­tive about online rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment. Colum­nist Chris Sil­ver Smith shares 10 tips to help you reduce the risks to your orga­ni­za­tion.

In a rep­u­ta­tion audit study I con­duct­ed with Dig­i­tal­is UK last year, we found that out of 50 of the world’s top brands, 14 had items with neg­a­tive sen­ti­ment appear­ing in the first two pages of Google search results.

In many instances, this sit­u­a­tion was most­ly unnec­es­sary — in that same study, we found that 20 did not have their Twit­ter pro­files appear­ing on page 1, and 22 didn’t have Face­book pages there, either — sig­nif­i­cant lost oppor­tu­ni­ties in their rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment!

Chances are, your orga­ni­za­tion may be in an even worse sit­u­a­tion. Read on for my top 10 rep­u­ta­tion tips for 2018 to help you reduce risks to your orga­ni­za­tion.

The top 50 glob­al brands are prob­a­bly not impact­ed by a sud­den neg­a­tive event as much as small­er com­pa­nies that are more vul­ner­a­ble to mar­ket fluc­tu­a­tions in their sec­tors. For instance, large cable com­pa­nies in the US have poor rep­u­ta­tions in cus­tomer ser­vice, but they con­tin­ue to have huge num­bers of sub­scribers. Com­cast, Char­ter and AT&T U‑verse each have over 10,000 Ripoff Report pages indexed in Google.

My obser­va­tion has been that some of these types of com­pa­nies large­ly ignore the neg­a­tive things peo­ple say about them. They essen­tial­ly have cap­tive audi­ences of cus­tomers who have few options for going else­where — their alter­na­tives are oth­er, sim­i­lar com­pa­nies with sim­i­lar­ly bad cus­tomer expe­ri­ence rep­u­ta­tions.

How­ev­er, most com­pa­nies are like­ly more vul­ner­a­ble in their online rep­u­ta­tions than behe­moth-sized enter­pris­es, and most would suf­fer harm if some­thing neg­a­tive about them appeared on page 1 in search engines. If you work for a small to medi­um-sized firm, you do not have the lux­u­ry of being ambiva­lent about your online rep­u­ta­tion. Allow it to go sour, and your com­pa­ny may like­ly feel finan­cial reper­cus­sions.

Those of us in the online rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment indus­try have long writ­ten about the advis­abil­i­ty of proac­tive­ly man­ag­ing one’s online rep­u­ta­tion, but it is a lot like whistling in the wind. We con­tin­ue to strong­ly urge peo­ple to shore up their online pres­ence, and that advice is most­ly ignored — until they are seri­ous­ly harmed.

Proac­tive online rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment is much bet­ter than mere insur­ance. Per­form­ing good online rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment can help improve the promi­nence of a com­pa­ny — or its per­ceived promi­nence. It can help with over­all organ­ic rank­ings, too, increas­ing the vis­i­bil­i­ty of a company’s prod­ucts and ser­vices when com­pared against their com­peti­tors.

The begin­ning of the year is a great time to move for­ward in a strate­gic man­ner, rather than mere­ly reac­tive­ly. Risk avoid­ance is a good rea­son to invest in strength­en­ing one’s mar­ket posi­tion, even though peo­ple per­ceive things like insur­ance pay­ments as not all that sexy.

Proac­tive online rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment not only reduces your vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty to harm, but it also will aug­ment all oth­er pro­mo­tion­al activ­i­ties you under­take. So, be sure to add this to your year’s top pri­or­i­ty list and set the stage to reap the advan­tages almost from the very begin­ning.

10 reputation management tips for 2018

1. Develop your company Twitter account

Many busi­ness­es that approached me due to a rep­u­ta­tion attack last year either had no Twit­ter accounts at all or they had ones that were so under­de­vel­oped that they might as well not have had one. In a few instances, busi­ness­es that were oper­at­ing Twit­ter accounts had small, non­linked Twit­ter icons on their web­sites because their web devel­op­ers neglect­ed to link up their social media icons.

Twit­ter is one of the no-brain­er go-tos for a pro­file page that can be opti­mal for your name search­es, rel­a­tive­ly fresh out of the box if you set it up cor­rect­ly. Often, small com­pa­nies set up a Twit­ter account and then do not prop­er­ly devel­op them — if it’s not rank­ing on page 1 for your name in Google, then you like­ly have room to improve.

Do it prop­er­ly and you may even see Google embed recent tweets in a row under your Twit­ter list­ing in search results, tak­ing up even more real estate on the page.

2. Develop your company’s Facebook Page

As with Twit­ter, a Face­book Page for your orga­ni­za­tion can rank very effec­tive­ly if it has been built out prop­er­ly. Pages should fea­ture your name, pro­file pho­to, web­site, loca­tion and descrip­tion. It should be linked from your web­site and have a grow­ing num­ber of fol­low­ers, and you should peri­od­i­cal­ly post updates.

3. Ensure that it’s easy to find out who is behind your company

If you want your com­pa­ny to look fly-by-night in 2018, set up your web­site with absolute­ly no hints as to the peo­ple who run it — I have seen sketchy rep­u­ta­tion firms that do that. Would you depend on a com­pa­ny that doesn’t feel secure enough to put the names of its peo­ple on its web­site?

When some­one unfa­mil­iar with your com­pa­ny comes to your web­site for the first time, they ought to be able to find an “About Us” or “Our Team” page and click through to see actu­al people’s names list­ed. Even bet­ter, put human faces on your brand by includ­ing pho­tos. This is good for increas­ing trust in your com­pa­ny, and it can impact people’s feel­ings if they need to con­tact you regard­ing a cus­tomer ser­vice issue.

Final­ly, hav­ing a page that shows who you are will set the stage for opti­miz­ing the online pres­ence of your top exec­u­tives, spokesper­sons and com­pa­ny ambas­sadors. I’ve even con­jec­tured in the past that hav­ing a prop­er “About Us” page could be one of Google’s qual­i­ty fac­tors for organ­ic rank­ings.

4. Manage the online presence of any prominent employee or executive who has neglected it

In many com­pa­nies, the brand is close­ly con­nect­ed to high-pro­file indi­vid­u­als, so if the rep­u­ta­tion of the per­son takes a hit, it can reflect back on the com­pa­ny and affect its busi­ness. For this rea­son, it’s nec­es­sary to con­duct proac­tive online rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment for those indi­vid­u­als.

Not only should your promi­nent employ­ees each have their sep­a­rate pro­file pages on your site (under an About or Team sec­tion, as described above), but they should also devel­op their own online pres­ences just as you do with your com­pa­ny. They each need Twit­ter, Face­book Pages, per­son­al web­sites, LinkedIn pro­files, YouTube accounts, bio­graph­ic pro­files, blogs and so on.

Far too many CEOs and exec­u­tives don’t real­ize that their desire for pri­va­cy shouldn’t equate with zero online pres­ence. Peo­ple who have unique names and don’t have any pro­files at all are sim­ply sit­ting ducks for an online attack from an unhap­py cus­tomer, a dis­grun­tled employ­ee, an angry investor or a ran­dom crazy. This may rep­re­sent one of the largest gaps in com­pa­nies’ rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment.

5. Launch an optimized press kit for your company

This is one area where you can crowd-source your online rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment some­what. Not only can post­ing high-qual­i­ty pho­tos and videos on your site help fur­ther man­age your rep­u­ta­tion under image and video search, but this helps oth­ers in post­ing arti­cles about your com­pa­ny.

Make it easy for peo­ple to take and use his­toric time­lines, fact sheets, logos, pho­tos and videos involv­ing your com­pa­ny — use Cre­ative Com­mons licens­ing so that peo­ple don’t have to con­tact you to take and use the media.

6. Optimize your Google My Business listing — even for all of your chain store locations

Sur­pris­ing­ly, some busi­ness­es ignore their Google Maps pres­ence. But pay­ing atten­tion to it has sev­er­al advan­tages. For one, it increas­es the infor­ma­tion about you on the Google search page and takes up more eye-catch­ing real estate. Not only can you add in images with your list­ing, but Google has begun to allow videos as well.

You may not real­ize that you also can have your com­pa­ny head­quar­ters appear here. Even if you’re not a busi­ness that allows on-site vis­its from cus­tomers, you can still have your office’s loca­tion inte­grat­ed. Many com­pa­nies still ignore opti­miz­ing these list­ings, but it’s use­ful to have claimed your list­ings and ver­i­fied them in case there’s erro­neous infor­ma­tion or if you need to respond to a neg­a­tive Google review.

Anoth­er advan­tage is that you can asso­ciate your busi­ness with cat­e­gories that will enable your list­ings to come up in results when some­one seeks your type of busi­ness — increas­ing your vis­i­bil­i­ty. If you’ve neglect­ed this, do not allow anoth­er year go by with­out opti­miz­ing.

7. Start increasing positive online reviews

Many busi­ness oper­a­tors don’t feel com­fort­able ask­ing cus­tomers to review them. How­ev­er, if you have few-to-no reviews online, then you can be heav­i­ly impact­ed by even a sin­gle review.

Get­ting a larg­er vol­ume of reviews can help insu­late you from the neg­a­tive effects of any one review. You should be using a com­bi­na­tion of strate­gies to start get­ting more and pos­i­tive reviews.

The sim­plest strat­a­gem is to ask your most delight­ed cus­tomers to write a review online. Caveat: Yelp is an odd­ball in this respect, and their rule is that busi­ness­es should not ask to be reviewed.

8. Launch, feed and water your YouTube video channel

If your busi­ness does not already have its own YouTube video chan­nel, it should. If your chan­nel isn’t already opti­mized, you need to do so.

Plan to post at least 12 videos there this year — at least one per month. And opti­mize each of the videos you post.

Videos should have good titles and descrip­tions. As Vidpow’s Jere­my Vest said in a pod­cast, “[M]ost brands and com­pa­nies aren’t think­ing video dis­cov­er­abil­i­ty, even though it’s the sec­ond-largest search engine in the world.”

Videos are often desired by con­sumers, so Google’s algo­rithms are biased in their favor. As you devel­op more videos, you have more con­tent that could rank well for your name. And when you opti­mize your YouTube chan­nel page, it can also rank well in the reg­u­lar search results. In many ways, video is just too easy to do these days for you to con­tin­ue to ignore it.

9. Leverage your employees to be brand ambassadors in social media

In the Busi­ness 1.0 world, all pub­lic rela­tions func­tions for a com­pa­ny were top-down. How­ev­er, in 2018, this shouldn’t be the case — you should be con­fi­dent enough in your employ­ees for them to be your brand’s front-line ambas­sadors and, at times, your pri­ma­ry lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Empow­er­ing employ­ees to speak on your behalf requires you to place a lot of faith in them to make good deci­sions. You can still impose rules around this, and that’s a good idea. Employ­ees should like­ly have a mod­icum of train­ing about the types of things they may and may not say.

In addi­tion, coach­ing your employ­ees to do some net­work­ing and opti­miza­tion of their own online pres­ence can result in aug­men­ta­tions of your company’s web­sites and social media accounts.

Hav­ing your employ­ees update their LinkedIn pro­files to asso­ciate them with your business’s will enable those pages to have stronger rank­ings. Like­wise, invit­ing your employ­ees to con­nect with the company’s pro­file on Twit­ter and Face­book pages will help those as well.

10. Review, revise and improve your customer service policies

You can avoid bad out­comes com­plete­ly in many cas­es by improv­ing your own per­for­mance. Are there fre­quent hic­cups in your sales and ser­vices process­es? Are there aspects of what you do that result in fre­quent com­plaints from cus­tomers? You should find ways to improve your cus­tomers’ expe­ri­ence for all of these things so that you elim­i­nate areas of fric­tion that could even­tu­al­ly esca­late into an online rep­u­ta­tion cri­sis.

Also, edu­cate your employ­ees in how to han­dle crises when they occur, so that issues may be resolved in the eyes of your cus­tomers with­out mak­ing them feel they’re only heard when post­ing loud com­plaints on social media. Do not rest on your lau­rels, but instead ask how you can make doing busi­ness with you eas­i­er and more enjoy­able.

Bonus rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment tip: Tra­di­tion­al pub­lic rela­tions strat­a­gems can still trans­late into con­tem­po­rary cor­po­rate iden­ti­ty-build­ing, pro­mo­tion and proac­tive rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment suc­cess — use them! Write that author­i­ta­tive book about your indus­try. Reach out to the press to do sto­ries about inter­est­ing things your com­pa­ny may be involved with.

Local TV news sta­tions are often look­ing for human inter­est sto­ries for video clips to show — per­haps your com­pa­ny has some­thing that might be of inter­est, or maybe there’s recent news involv­ing your indus­try that you could weigh in on. Involve your com­pa­ny as a spon­sor of a local event, fes­ti­val or kids’ sports team. If you do inno­v­a­tive things and become bet­ter known through dif­fer­ent media, you can build your brand tra­di­tion­al­ly, and these activ­i­ties can fur­ther strength­en your online pres­ence.

All of the above tips can help devel­op your iden­ti­ty, brand recog­ni­tion and the strength of pos­i­tive mate­ri­als about your com­pa­ny in online search results. As mate­ri­als are strength­ened, it will take that much more for any new neg­a­tive item to rise up onto page 1 of Google and Bing. Neg­a­tive mate­ri­als that are not vis­i­ble on page 1 in Google gen­er­al­ly have lit­tle impact on the impres­sion your com­pa­ny makes on prospec­tive new cus­tomers or part­ners.

Fur­ther, if you have a num­ber of assets under your con­trol that rank well for your name online, then you can rep­re­sent your­self and defend your rep­u­ta­tion if or when some­thing may hap­pen. Hav­ing these com­mu­ni­ca­tions options empow­ers you to dif­fuse bad things if there is ever some mis­step or issue that attracts neg­a­tive atten­tion.

Do not allow anoth­er year to pass with­out strength­en­ing your online rep­u­ta­tion! These tips can help you sur­vive if some­thing bad hits you, and the ben­e­fits of doing them often help pay for the invest­ment you put into them.