Online Reputation Management

I had an interesting email discussion with a journalist this week about online reputation management. She was doing initial research for a story that will focus on the importance of online reputation for not-for-profits. I think it is an interesting story and it is a topic that is relevant to most organizations, especially in challenging times. People are talking about you, whether you know it or not.

All organizations, especially not-for-profits, are being affected by the current economic situation. The organization’s reputation is even more important now when it seems that a majority of people are watching their money and being more careful about how and where they spend.

We are consistently online checking what is being discussed about each of our clients, good and bad. It’s a part of the day-to-day for us. We check traditional media, relevant online and social media sites, blogs, microblogs like Twitter, and forums. Pretty much anywhere that we can access, we are following and monitoring. The key thing is what happens next, you have to review the information and take action if it is warranted.

Being responsive is essential online. A negative blog post or someone talking about an issue with your organization on Twitter needs to be responded to immediately, not at the end of the week when you get around to reading your Google Alerts, RSS feeds or other feeds (we monitor lots of other feeds and know how challenging it can be for you to monitor). This monitoring isn’t an easy thing to do – communications professionals are busy and this just adds to the stack of deadlines.

There are two approaches to online reputation management, one is the proactive approach that includes search engine optimization (SEO), reaching out and connecting with bloggers and others that could be talking about your organization (which should include staff, volunteers and other stakeholders). The other approach is reactive – responding to criticism (whether you believe it is accurate or not) and dealing with misinformation or leaked confidential information. Well, perhaps there are three approaches. The ostrich approach of burying your head in the sand and pretending that no one online is talking about you is one that we strongly recommend against.

You can’t delete what is being written online about you, but some organizations have managed to push it down in a Google search so that it doesn’t come up first. In our opinion, that’s a Band-Aid. If there are negative discussions going on about your organization online, you should find out what they are, check their source and make sure that it’s not a competitor or some other person or group that has a negative agenda (this kind of attack is dealt with differently).

If it is an individual or group that has an issue, listen to what they have to say, engage with them about what went wrong and why and, if it is authentic, make it right. See this as an opportunity to learn what your organization can be doing better and to hear directly from your customers, clients, critics and supporters.

Having the ability to learn what is being said about your organization—good and bad—and to respond immediately is a huge asset for a communicator.

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