These days, reputations live and lurk online. Take control of it.

If you have not Googled your name or that of your business or organization lately, take a deep breath and do it. Do you like what you find? If so, good work. If not, don’t fret. Effective tools exist to help build and manage an online reputation.

According to one official definition, online reputation management “is the act of monitoring, influencing, growing, and managing what’s being said about a business online.” Trying to highlight positive information about your organization or business online becomes more challenging every year, but it has also never been more critical. That’s due to the explosion in volume and wide variety of channels where consumers search for information; Google is just the easiest example—there are so many more online places to monitor now. Honestly, it can be overwhelming, especially when “it” hits the fan.

For better or worse, consumers are now squarely in the driver’s seat. With incredibly powerful technology literally at their fingertips, information about a business can be shared and spread before a business owner even knows what is happening. Consumers can generate their own content, and they expect companies and brands to be completely transparent and immediately responsive. This trend is not going away, and is precisely why it’s so essential to monitor and actively manage an online reputation.

It should be noted that while hugely important, reputation management is just one spoke on the wheel of a comprehensive digital marketing strategy. Other components of reputation management include review management, business listings, digital advertising, social media management, and search engine optimization, more commonly referred to as SEO.

Online reputation can make or break you

As Warren Buffet famously said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it.” When negative reviews or comments happen online, it’s essential to be on top of them and respond right away.

Some of the most famous examples of companies failing to acknowledge just how bad things are going for them in real-time are permanently etched in our memories. Perhaps the best example is United Airlines issuing tone-deaf statements after video of a bloodied passenger being dragged off one of their airplanes spread like wildfire on the Internet. Need proof that a bad reputation results in real, lost dollars? Soon after that unsettling incident, United Continental Holdings’ value plummeted by $1 billion.

Repairing a damaged reputation

When things are going south fast, delay is the enemy. As a negative narrative begins to take shape online, it must be faced head on, ASAP. So, what should a business that is being attacked online do? One of the simplest ways to approach the problem is outlined well by AXIA, which refers to the three Rs: Repair, rebuild, and recuperate.

“Repair” refers to trying to fix some of the damage before it gets worse. Once things calm down to a more manageable level, it’s time to try and rebuild. This usually involves utilizing classic public relations practices like social media, media relations, op-eds, influencer outreach, blog posts, and other tactics. Finally, it’s time to recuperate. The beauty of the Internet is that it tends to favor fresh, new content, so this is when a business should begin pushing out positive content through strategic use of SEO.

It’s not all gloom and doom: Generate good content!

For companies looking to generate positive SEO, reviews are one of the most effective methods. According to some research, less than half of small businesses encourage customers to leave positive reviews. Savvy businesses and organizations set up systems that proactively seek out good reviews: texts to customers who recently used services or purchased items, follow-up emails with easy-to-click links, and prompts to post to social media sites are all good ideas that don’t necessarily cost much, but do require coordination. It’s a great place to start.

The bottom line is this: The best time to plan for an online reputational crisis is before one happens. Many marketing and public relations professionals can help companies organize effective programs to make a major reputational disaster less likely, and, ideally, implement practices that enhance an online reputation. The key is to be strategic and get started.

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