The Guardian reported this week that some of the world’s least democratic countries are turning to British PR firms for a reputation makeover. The London office of PR firm Racepoint has been hired by Rwandan president Paul Kagame to spearhead a public relations drive in a bid to rid itself of the legacy of its murderous history. Positive pictures of the country’s famous gorilla trails are being used to change Rwanda’s image and to oust the negative from that critical first page of a Google search.
Other countries with controversial human rights records such as China, Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka have also turned to London-based companies for image makeovers. Distasteful? But on the other hand there are plenty of other countries, including the UK, with skeletons in their closets.
Meanwhile celebrities such as Kate Moss are rumoured to be using online brand reputation management companies to clean up their online images. Good reputation management might be able to push the damaging stories further down the search results. A good reputation manager could even help to suppress Lindsay Lohan’s ill-advised Tweets from her jail cell.
And it’s not just the rich and famous who may need an online detox. Have you Googled your company or your own name recently? More than 75% of all clicks are on the first three links of Google results and 90% of users do not look beyond the first page of results. Worse than not finding yourself in that first page is seeing negative comments or a story you thought was long forgotten.
People and companies leave an online footprint, whether we like it or not. And that can have a potentially damaging impact on our careers and our businesses. However, there are simple steps you can take to manage your own online reputation.
Don’t let someone else do the talking
Even if you’re not blogging or Tweeting there will be other people out there who could be commenting on and writing about your business. Better to engage directly online with your customers than to wait for someone else to do it.
Who’s talking about me?
Find out what people are saying about you online. It’s easy – and costs nothing – to set up a daily Google alert to search on your company name and products.
Keep it fresh
Negative stories surface high up in searches because there is little new, positive information about that person, or business, on the internet. Stale websites, blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts make your business look unprofessional and harder to shift those online skeletons. Keeping your digital content fresh and up to date will help to push you up the search rankings.
Have a crisis communications strategy
Apply the same rules as you would for managing your offline reputation – have a strategy in place in case of a crisis. This should include the chain of command (who needs to know), the procedures to be followed, spokespeople and their contact details. But do make sure that the person looking after your online content has the authority to deal with a crisis, or spot a potential crisis.
Have a social media policy
Have a social media policy to give employees clear guidelines about acceptable – and unacceptable – online communications. IBM has an excellent policy which they are happy for people to download.
Make sure that more than one person knows how to upload blogs and access backroom functions. The same goes for passwords and usernames for social media accounts.
Avoid online fighting
Be prepared for online criticism. You can correct factual errors but don’t get involved in an online fight. A good tip is “if you don’t like what’s being said, then change the conversation!”