August 2, 2012

How to take control of your online reputation

Chris AbrahamI have spent years blogging forth everything I know about online brand promotion in the form of social media marketing and digital PR.

Now, I will be focusing primarily on online brand protection in the form of online reputation management and online privacy protection. As some of you may know, I recently onboarded as Team Lead, Special Projects, over at Reputation.com. While 20% of my practice at my last agency included ORM, 100% of my world at Reputation.com is focused on defending the reputations of individuals and businesses from the mad proliferation of online databases rife with intimate personal details and search engines chock full of the spore of what trolls and haters have left behind.

So, while I will be going into a lot more detail over time, I just wanted to share some important things to know about yourself online, your Internet reflection, that will amaze and appall you; then, I will go into some things you can do today to try to reclaim your online reputation and privacy.

Burping in Church

Would you feel more anonymous and safe belching in a quiet, pensive, traditional church with its seemingly amplified echoing acoustics or would you prefer burping out loud in a gospel church rich with music, a choir, and passionate congregants?

Consider a negative search result on the front page to be a massive, Fraternity-class, belch; a second page negative result is a pretty good beer belch; a third-page negative search result is the belch that’s just under your breath that only the closest to you even notice: 89% of all folks who search on Google never search past the first page and 99% don’t get past page two on Google.

Even if you’re not a belcher or have a mad case of the hiccups now, even a meek offense trumps the most ardent, well-funded, and resourced offense.

There’s no shortcut when it comes to claiming (or reclaiming) your first two pages of results on Google. Really, the only long-term way to get unflattering, hurtful, or erroneous content off of the first-two pages of Google, Bing, or Yahoo, is to knock them down by creating more search-specific, search-relevant, germane, salient, timely, recent and popular content than anything else.

In other words, the only way to turn your reserved congregation of search results — none of which is you, your voice, your narrative, your story, your bio, your life, and your wins — into a revival that raises the roof, you’re going to have to commit to being a little less “too busy” or discreet, you’ll have to get over your condescending feeling towards the uselessness of blogs and social media, and you’ll either have to go all-in for at least a while or you’ll have to outsource all that work to someone else such as my company, Reputation.com, as we’re happy to take care of all of this.

But, unless you’re currently burping up a storm or feel one welling up in your gut, and you have the time, the technical prowess, a feeling of passion for getting in there all fisticuffs, you can start building your online foundation right away and for free — yes, free (treasure, not time — nothing’s free and this is going to take a lot of your time, especially up-front).

Song of Myself

It’s essential for everyone within the sound of my blog to sing your own self, as Whitman did. What this means is that all those things you believed were a waste of your time, aren’t. Why not set up a blog on WordPress.com, Blogger, Typepad, Tumblr, and Posterous? Why not join Google+ and Facebook, create a profile as well as a Page? Why not create LinkedIn, Twitter and About.me profile? Do you take photos? Are you sharing them publicly on Flickr, Picasa, and on Facebook and Google+? When you share, are you sharing openly and publicly or do you have your privacy settings on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ locked down?

Have you purchased every relevant domain name possible? All variations of your name, including versions with dashes? Do you own all the international variants of your products and services — as well as your name — where you have clients, services, offerings, friends, competitors, or enemies (international search always prefers its own country’s top-level-domain (ie. .eu, .co.uk, .it, .ru, .mx, etc). Have you created any sites to go with those domains? Have you mapped any of these domains to blogs that allow that, namely Blogger, Typepad, Tumblr, WordPress.com, Posterous, and even About.me, I believe — there are probably more.

Have you explored Instagram? Pinterest? Do you illustrate your blog posts with germane illustrations or photos? Do you write large blocks of texts without any links? Do you weave all of your properties together with links that include your name, brand, company, product? Are your posts too long, are your tweets too short? Are you using proper grammar, even in your tweets?

Water, Water Every Where, Nor Any Drop to Drink

And, are you writing content copy that is optimized for SEO, which is to say, are you using pronouns instead of your full name, brand, or company? Are you writing enough text, often enough? Have you set aside at least one-day-a-week to update your content, to write new posts, to upload your images, or to share a link or two? (I do my best work on Sunday while watching HGTV and DIY Network). Are you developing your following? Are you sharing compelling content that will result in a growing popularity and presence? Do you share all of your blog posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+?

Do you use your blogs and your social networking profiles as platforms on which to share all the wins you can find about yourself online? Have you been mentioned in the online version of a paper? Have you been mentioned as attending a conference or are you on a board or a member of a club that lists you? Are you covering your own career by linking to these gladly? Are you sharing these online mentions liberally via the sharing functions most modern sites offer to all of your profiles?

Do you know what Klout is? Do you know your score? Do you care? Have you explored Google Analytics? Do you have a favorite host? If not, the founder of WordPress, Matthew Mullenweg, personally recommended Bluehost, for what it’s worth — straight from the horse’s mouth.

Any Press is Good Press (Until it Isn’t)

Have you dug up all of the stories, clips, press releases, narratives, bios, history, and legends you can find; scanned them, OCR’d them, and turned them into delicious copy and content that you can feed into your online world? Have you decided what your point of pain is? The more content, the more details about yourself, and the more you can find written about you — even if it’s lame, dull, and even less-than-flattering — would you be willing to post it, link to it, share it, or promote it?

And, do you space all of this out over time or do you expect to create an entire “world of you” in one weekend or do you have the stick-with-it-ness required to build your new, complete, online empire, your own personal Whitmanesque, song of yourself?

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

Not enough people invest the money or time to actively maintain their roofs until they leak or collapse; even fewer people call their plumber over to check and maintain their plumbing before pipes freeze, burst, and flood the house, and always at 3am on Christmas morning, too.

In my six years of experience in what I called defensive SEO (what is now called reputation defense or ORM), no one has ever come to me asking for my services before the proverbial poop hit the fan.

If I can give you any heartfelt advice it’s this: be proactive about defining and protecting your reputations online; it can cost 1/20th or 1/10th to prevent a problem versus repairing it. Also, being proactive allows you to generate revenue, build a client base, and all that good digital PR and social media marketing stuff I have been sharing with you shamelessly year after year — it’s surely win, win, win.

Space is Big. You Just Won’t Believe How Vastly, Hugely, Mind-Bogglingly Big it Is

This is no small feat. Search results do not have a linear progression — it’s geometric, verging on being exponential. The difficulty of getting yourself from the third to the second organic result on Google is half as hard as getting to the first, which would be four-times as challenging and competitive as it was to get all the way to third.

Online reputation management, the act of controlling your brand, in search, isn’t about getting one result to the top of organic search, it’s about getting all of your sites, blogs, and social network profiles as well as everyone else’s positive and neutral content to command 20 organic search results — all good, constant, quality content, too. Google ain’t nobody’s fool. And it all needs to be useful, current, and entertaining content because Google cares about user and search experience and quality of results more than anything in their world — so Google hates digital ghost towns: online properties that are created, populated, and then mostly abandoned. All of this takes a lot of work indeed.

There’s no panacea. Even at Reputation.com, our team has put R&D, resources, time, and money — plus sweat equity work into a huge numbers of clients and data points in order to build up a knowledge base of how best to do this over time — and by sector and by discipline and by geography and by language, etc.. We spend a lot of time working through sectors, how search engines change over time, etc.

If you’re going to do online reputation defense on a DIY basis, you need to add new, fresh, ongoing content — forever; and, if you’re ever attacked, maligned, or flamed, you’ll need to double-down to the 10th power. One of the key reasons to hire a professional is that we know how to do it, and that knowledge comes from a scientific approach to all of the questions.

The Power of Predictive Search on Google

Before I started my training two weeks ago, I had given up on even helping clients who are saddled with messages of fraud, malfeasance, or incompetence even before the search is complete in the form of Google Instant AKA Google Suggest, their pesky search enhancement that shows results as you type, predicting your search and showing results before you finish typing, proffering 5 or 10 instant predictions of what you might be searching for, even before you finish, offering the most likely based on general traffic, popularity, and how search is trending. But, Reputation.com has the capability to influence these instant suggestions, which I find astonishing, magic, and a clear proof that magic exists in the world.

Finally, if all the above gave you a migraine, hiccups, or gas, you’re always welcome to email, tweet, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Skype, or call me and we can talk about getting all of this off your already-burdened shoulders.

Naked Under Glass

Next week, I will discuss the terrorizing world of online privacy databases and some steps you can take to try to abate revealing and personal information that’s readily available on any number of publicly-accessible online database, content that include your personal address, worth, purchases, homes, as well as too much information about your kids and the people you love — very threatening information in an increasingly desperate world.

(Disclosure: I am a former employee of Reputation.com and they continue to sponsor my work)Chris Abraham is a partner in Socialmedia.biz. Contact Chris via email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.