How to protect your digital reputation

By Stieve DeLance

Practically everyone now has a Facebook page, a Google Review page or a Twitter account.  But what can you do if someone decides they don’t like you or your services online and decides to target those pages?  

our reputation or what people can read about you on the Internet is a fragile thing open to abuse by others. One bad review can stick around forever and can turn customers off. As Benjamin Franklin said “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”   

Research by Retailing Today shows that 81% of shoppers conduct online research before they make a purchase. 60% begin by using a search engine to find the products they want and 61% will read product reviews before making any purchase. Even local purchases are affected by online research. A study by BIA/Kelsey found nearly all consumers (97%) now use online media when researching products or services in their local area.

The Harvard Business Review also points out that potential employers look on the internet to investigate candidates for employment and more than 70% have decided NOT to hire a candidate based on what they’ve found. Recruiters have been shown to not just look people up on search engines, but to dig very deep, through social media profiles, shopping profiles, online gaming sites, classifieds and auction sites (think eBay and Gumtree).   

Have you ever Goggled yourself? Go on, it’s ok to admit it.  In fact, I insist on it, if you are ever going to get to grips with your online reputation. Search your name, industry and products and try any search terms that might display your company in results. Use multiple word combinations and common misspellings.  Do it often and set up a Google Alert for these terms. Yahoo Alerts works the same way. There are more professional subscription services that you can join to monitor your name online but many of these are fee-based or require experienced heads to properly interpret the data.   

Have you bought your name URL e.g. www.johnsmith.com?  Who’s got your name on Twitter? Anyone can claim your name as a URL in a social network or elsewhere. Make sure you own your identity because its up for grabs and you must claim it. The Internet is a race across the digital fields to flag territory and stake a claim.  Any combination of word is up for grabs and if you don’t grab yours, someone else might.   

Getting a good online reputation isn’t all about being defensive.  It’s about being responsible and proactive in a positive way.  Generate content. Every time you use your name or company name in online discussions, you open yourself up to feedback. Deliberately offensive or antagonistic posts, emails, phone calls or letters generate negative comments. Think before clicking on the ‘post comment’ button. Is it helpful to share intolerant posts and criticise others

Instead, you might prefer to create positive comments and posts.  

Have a look at all your profiles online and make sure all the information is up to date and that you have good helpful details about you or your business.  There is nothing more frustrating than an out-of-date contact page.   Even if you do all the right things you may fall foul of a dissatisfied customer or angry competitor. Contact the commenter immediately and take the conversation offline.  Ask them for their details so you can contact them personally to resolve the issue.  When they are happy they can remove the post.  If they won’t remove the complaint after you have honestly and calmly attempted to fix the issue, post a public apology and an explanation. No matter how much a negative review hurts, resist the urge to fire back with angry words. You’ll only make the situation worse.   

Specialist lawyer Paul Davis from Integroe Partners says that the Internet can be a minefield of potential pitfalls for people and businesses that have an online presence.  He said, “It is important to take immediate and assertive action to respond to offensive and inaccurate remarks on social media to ensure that your reputation or that of your organisation is protected.”   

In the end the best way to deal with online attacks is to keep it calm and civil.  If it is getting out of hand, contact a professional.  At Reputation Australia, we manage the online reputation for people who have been victims of online bullying, unfair news reports and negative campaigns.  We take a long-term approach to resolving the situation.   It’s never easy but a good strategy and sound approach does help.   

Stieve De Lance is a Director at Reputation Australia with nearly two decade of experience in crisis management. She has a Master's Degree in Communication.