A handful of companies offer free and paid online reputation management services for consumers and businesses, including Reputation.com and Brand Yourself. In addition to using these services, or in lieu of them, both small and midsize businesses and enterprise digital marketers can take strategic steps to ensure their companies' online reputations are solid.
[Related: Mastering the Business Basics of Online Reputation Management]
The following 15 tips and eight tools are all valuable and effective ways to help manage your organization's corporate reputation online.
Top 15 Online Reputation Management Tips
1) Monitoring your online reputation regularly will "increase the chance that by the time there's negative content out there, it will be overshadowed by the content you want to be seen," says Jason Brietstein, founder, Brandamos.
2) Google your company's name and see what shows up. "If there are any sites that are negative or that you don't control, try to push them down in the search results with your own profiles on social media sites," as well as with Wikipedia, BBB.org, and CrunchBase (if relevant), says Takeshi Young, SEO team lead for EntirelyPets.
3) Several experts suggested using Google Chrome's Incognito mode to search for your company or brand names. Incognito strips out some, though not all, of the personalized search results Google serves to recognized users and presents a more generic view that's closer to what others might see.
4) Look at the first three pages of your search results, not just the first page, because a negative piece of content on page 3 can eventually make its way to page 1.
5) Create a spreadsheet that contains all of the search results from the first three pages of your search. Indicate which results are positive, negative or neutral, as well as which ones you control or influence and the ones you don't. This establishes a baseline for your online reputation that you can later use to assess your reputation enhancement efforts. Take screen shots of each Google search results page at the beginning and periodically repeat the exercise.
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6) Immediately respond to unhappy customers on social media and directory sites such as Yelp. "Try, if you can, to respond publicly," says Daniel Scalco, owner, Digitalux. "Showing compassion and owning up to any mistakes you make goes a long way toward repairing the damage and proves to anyone viewing the conversation that you take customer service seriously."
"Give yourself time to think about the response" to a negative review, says Jayme Pretzloff, marketing director, Wixon Jewelers. "Don't go on the defensive. Try to understand why the client had a bad experience. Respond to the review to address not only the upset client, but also to reassure other readers that the client's experience isn't routine."
7) If someone mentions something positive about you on a site such as Yelp, reward him or her with a coupon, freebie or a simple thank you. "People will remember and they'll become brand evangelists," according to Clayburn Griffin, senior SEO content strategist, 360i.
8) Brandon Seymour, owner, Beymour Consulting, suggests getting as many positive online reviews as possible. "Not only do consumers usually trust online reviews, but Google usually gives higher search result placement to listings with a higher number of positive reviews."
9) If your customers are active on Twitter, "make sure you have someone on your team [who is] dedicated to responding to them," says Young of EntirelyPets. "Customers on Twitter generally expect a quick response to their requests."
10) Optimize brand video with your company name on YouTube, which is widely considered to be the second largest search engine. "In some cases, Google ranks YouTube videos higher than actual websites," according to Brandamos's Brietstein.
"Google Images also display for some search results," Brietstein says. "In some of our clients' cases, there are negative images, such as mug shots, that rank for their names." Posting video and image content related to your business or personal name can help push the negative content further down in search results.
11) Be cautious about your personal activities, both past and present. "More reputations have been compromised by nonbusiness activities than actions taken on the job," says Karen Kessler, founding partner, Evergreen Partners."It's the doctor's social calendar that gets her in trouble, not her dermatology practice. The CEO's out-of-control behavior as a Little League parent caught on someone's cellphone video is what goes viral, not a decision to downsize the company."
Even if you're a Boy Scout now, Kessler says, "you have to worry about what you've done in the past." Be on the lookout for "old friends who, in a fit of nostalgia, post photos or reminiscences of wild escapes of their youth -- the usual sex, drugs and rock-and-roll stuff -- and who drag you into it, linking your name to the good times on their social media site."
12) Andrew Herrault, lead strategist, Connective Insights, says quality content is key. "The more awesome blog content you publish and promote, the more authority your brand name will carry. It will also serve to help push down in search results any negative reviews you may have accumulated."
13) Connect with the media. "Developing relationships with journalists locally and in your field should be part of your overall marketing and reputation management plan," says Anthony Kirlew, co-founder, Imagine WOW! "You should also use trusted resources such as Help a Reporter Out, which can help you get positive media exposure."
14) You should claim all of your online directory and review site listings right away, according to Josh Rubin, owner, Creative California. If someone else, such as a disgruntled employee, claims or has access to those accounts, "it could cause major (reputation) issues down the road."
15) Focus is essential. "Monitoring your online reputation can be a huge, ongoing responsibility, and the bigger the brand, the bigger the job," says Chase Anderson, online operations director, Clicks and Clients. As a result, focus on monitoring "the biggest portals" such as Facebook, Twitter and Yelp.
Top 8 Online Reputation Management Tools
1) The no. 1 tool for online reputation management, according to the digital marketers we consulted, is Google Alerts. The free service lets you set up automated email alerts for your business name, product name and high-level executives' names, so you'll know as soon as a new mention is posted online.
2) Brand Yourself "is a good site for helping you manage your online reputation if you don't have much experience with SEO," according to EntirelyPets' Young. "It provides recommendations for things you can do to optimize your site so it shows up higher in the search results for your brand terms."
Other experts recommend Reputation.com for online reputation management.
[Related: Top 25 DIY Tips for Better SEO]
3) You should use platforms that help you monitor your online reviews, such as ReviewPush, Sendible and Trackur, as well as any other sites specific to your industry, according to Herrault of Connective Insights.
4) The Google My Business toolset is impressive and it includes great visualizations of your reviews, according to Digitalux's Scalco. "Gaining favorable reviews on your Google My Business page will increase your chances of making it into the local search results."
5) Social Mention is useful for monitoring your reputation on social media, according to Seymour of Beymour Consulting. It's a free service that lets you "see who's talking about your brand on social media and more importantly, what they're saying, Seymour says. "It even provides a breakdown of brand sentiment, which can help businesses identify and address negative brand mentions."
7) IFTTT lets you set up customized processes and automatic alerts in addition to Google Alerts. For example, with IFTTT, "if someone is asking a question about your vertical industry on AskReddit, you can get an email alert so you know to respond, further cementing your place as an industry expert," says Griffin of 360i.
8) There's no tool that "provides as many actionable insights into your website as Google Analytics," according to Guy Martin Smalley, founder of Bowery Creative. "It can be used to monitor referral traffic, see geographically where your visitors are coming from, and monitor exactly what they're doing when they get to your site."
For example, if you spot a surge in traffic, Google Analytics can help you see exactly where it's coming from. The traffic could be coming from a positive article about your company -- or from a terrible review. Either way, you should be aware of the source.
For more advice on how to manage your organization's online reputation, read "Mastering the Business Basics of Online Reputation Management."