8 steps to clean up your online reputation

Nothing is more valuable to a brand than its reputation. Follow this guide to keep yours squeaky clean.

Do you remember the story about the pizza shop owner in Florida, Scott Van Duzer, who hugged President Obama during a campaign stop in 2012?

The president stopped by Van Duzer’s restaurant to recognize him for his efforts in helping provide blood to patients in his county. What Van Duzer didn’t expect was the big bear hug he gave the president to make national news-and bring trolls to his company’s Yelp page.

People from across the country left negative reviews on the page, even if they’d never eaten at the restaurant. One reviewer wrote, “Most of y’all Democrats can’t afford to eat at this restaurant anyway. They don’t accept food stamps.”

Hundreds of anti-Obama reviewers flooded the page to criticize Van Duzer, his restaurant and his political beliefs.

In working with Yelp, Van Duzer was able to have some of the comments removed because they violated the site’s content guidelines. Yet, many remained.

Then something magical happened: Van Duzer’s loyal customers came to the rescue! They left five-star reviews—they actually ate at the restaurant—and pushed the negative and untrue reviews farther down.

Clean up your online reputation

If there are some unsavory things hurting you online and you don’t have a community to come to your rescue, you can clean up your online reputation with some elbow grease and a good strategy.

The process goes a little something like this:

1. Conduct an online audit.

You likely already know what’s there, but it doesn’t hurt to do a Google search to see what people are saying and where it lands in search results. Do this both logged into your Google account and logged out. (You can also open an incognito tab in your browser without having to log out by going to “File” > “New Incognito Window”).

When you’re logged in, you will see the results your friends, colleagues, peers and clients will see. The incognito search will show you what the rest of the world sees. It’s important to have both.

Search Google, Bing and Yahoo, social networks, review sites, the Better Business Bureau, Ripoff Report and employee sites such as Glassdoor. Use terms such as “I hate COMPANY NAME” or “COMPANY NAME sucks.”

2. Create a strategy.

Based on what you learn from the audit and what internal/external implementation resources are in place, put together the company’s online strategy—and make sure it’s tied to your goals.

The very first thing you should do (if you haven’t already) is set up Talkwalker alerts to let you know when someone says something about you online, whether it’s positive, neutral or negative.

3. Create a clean-up list.

With the audit complete and your online strategy in place, it’s time to clean up.

In some cases, there will be multiple accounts for your organization. There might be profiles on social networks that are either defunct or don’t help your strategy, or negative reviews or blog posts on the first page of search results that you don’t want to come up before your site and the positive reviews.

Maybe there are “I hate Company X” groups on Facebook or untrue reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor. Perhaps former employees said terrible things about you on Glassdoor, or set up social media profiles for the company and you don’t have the login information.

Whatever it happens to be, the list begins with these types of things. Write down everything you need to clean up so the person or team responsible understands what you want done.

4. Assign someone to do the work.

The person (or team) will need usernames and passwords, branding guidelines, a sign-off on copy/images and the power to make changes without a laborious approval process. It’s not critical for this person be in marketing or PR as long he or she understands what you want to accomplish, can get the work done and updates you in a timely manner.

5. Begin the clean-up.

Some of this is a big pain in the rear because you’ll need to work with the social networks’ customer service departments to reset login data, delete a profile or take down an untrue review. This could take weeks.

We have a client who had a very social media savvy employee. He set up the company on all of the social networks and then quit his job, taking the login information with him. With LinkedIn, it took about five weeks to reset the password and get additional administrator access. In some cases, such as on review sites, you have to prove the review is untrue, sometimes with legal action.

6. Build your online presence through social media.

There is one social network every organization should be on: Google+. Not only does Google rank you higher if you use its social network to promote your content, it helps push down the negative content if it has been shared on Google+. You don’t have to be social on the site, but please use it to promote your content.

7. Know content is king—or at least prince.

There are going to be many of you who have negative reviews that are, unfortunately, true. There are many organizations who claim they will clean up your online reputation for $40 per month, deleting all of the negative reviews from search results.

This is illegal.

Not illegal from the “I’ll be arrested and spend time in jail” point of view, but from the “it’s impossible to delete things on a site where you are not an administrator” perspective.

Good, valuable content that is shared is the only way to push some of the negative results.

8. Implement the strategy.

Once you’ve cleaned up the organization’s online presence and figured out how you’re going to use content to build a strong reputation, it’s time to put your strategy into action.

This is the scary part. You’re about to become transparent.

The curtain is pulled back and the only way to participate in the conversation is by being transparent, which means you’re opening yourself up to criticism and feedback.

Once you’ve decided to be transparent, honest, authentic and human in your online conversations, the content, brand ambassadors, influencer marketing, customer reviews and a solid product or service will help you cross the finish line.

Warren Buffett famously said, “If you lose money for the firm, I will be understanding. If you lose reputation, I will be ruthless.”

An organization’s reputation is only as good as its search results. If your operations are solid, you have a responsive customer service team and you run things ethically, the rest will sort itself out.

Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. A version of this article originally ran on Spin Sucks.

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