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Building Your Online Reputation

If your website is already or is becoming a significant part of your marketing or operation, it is going to start to be more and more important that you are aware of your online reputation. The internet has many venues for individuals to voice their opinions and concerns about your product or service, so its going to be to your advantage to be aware if your name is being praised, or dragged through the mud. If youre not sure how to do this, here are a few suggestions:

The first and probably most important thing to do is set up an RSS feed for search results for your company name online. If your are familiar with subscribing to RSS feeds, this is a pretty simple maneuver. If youre not familiar with this, start by reading our Web Smart newsletter, RSS: When the Web Comes to You. Since blogs are one of the most likely formats to find current consumer feedback, go to Google blog search and search for your company name (also, read another of our newsletters, Blogging: The Bedrock of Advertising 2.0- it covers just about all of what Im dealing with here and more). Depending upon your name, some of the results will not be related to you. Thats ok- you can filter through these quickly. What you want to catch are the correct ones, so you may want to include some other terms if appropriate. Notice that on the left column of the search results page, there is an RSS feed for your search. By subscribing to that feed, youll now get an alert every time your query is used in a blog somewhere.

Even if blogging is not a part of your online strategy, being in touch with blog activity that is related to your company is essential for both building your reputation, and repairing it if its damaged. Since you now get these handy alerts, you can respond to posts related to you promptly. For example, if you see an article that is recommending your product or service, or describing a good experience with your company, you can quickly view it and add a comment of your own thanking the blogger for their post. This communicates to everyone involved that you value consumer opinion, and are willing to submit to a certain level of transparency to interact with customers or clients. Keep in mind that time is of the essence, so if your comment is vastly outdated compared to the original post, its visibility will be pretty low. This kind of activity can really help to build your reputation, even if the blog search feed youve subscribed to is not specifically related to your company name. It could even be topical (i.e. searching for agency web strategy) so that you can contribute your expertise to the general conversation thats occurring online. On the other hand, if your reputation is being damaged through blog activity, this gives you the opportunity to either correct false information, or apologize if the criticisms are accurate.

Required Reading:
Were reading through Selling the Invisible, by Harry Beckwith, as a company right now, which Id highly recommend. Be sure to read the part called A Butterfly Named Roger.

Also, check out this great post on Corporate Blogging 101.

Lastly, a word about online ethics. If you do start to post comments on blogs or groups online, be sure to be clear about your identity. Many companies have gotten in to serious trouble by posting misleading comments and blogs under the guise of being a consumer, often to inflate value or compensate for a damaged reputation. This is really a big mistake. Information is often extremely traceable online, and if it becomes apparent that there has been dishonesty or conflicts of interest with your online behavior, its going to be much harder to repair your reputation then had you played fair from the start. The same guidelines apply to how you engage with your competition online. The last thing you want to do is attempt to turn consumers against your competition through dishonest or malicious means (i.e. posing as a consumer and posting negative reviews of their product or service). Let your product or service speak for itself, and if it cant, get it to a place where it can.

02/05/2008: Here are a couple of blog posts from the HubSpot blog about blogging:
10 Commandments of the Blogosphere
5 Tips for Efficient Blogging

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