THE BLOG

Digital Reality Meets Jurassic Park

11/08/2013 03:30 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
  • John P. David President, David PR Group ; Partner, WebFactCheck.com

For years, the public relations sales pitch included a reminder that "perception is reality." How we are viewed by others helps define us, whether we like it or not. But the definition of perception is actually changing, and it's not just the mental image that people have of us that matters. Today, we have to look beyond traditional mental imagery and also focus on how we are perceived digitally.

Perception is also digital reality.

Through web searches, review sites and social media channels, the Internet has become the front door for most businesses. In most cases, the first impression and the initial perception that people will have about you and your company will come through the web.

Searches on Google, Facebook and LinkedIn along with reviews from sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp dramatically influence how we are perceived. If we fail to take control of our digital front door, then we are inviting disruptive forces to our branding party.

People still say that they "don't do social media" and that they steer clear of that "silly stuff."
And statistics support this as more than 15 percent of Americans still don't use the Internet. While it seems shocking to those of us who live and breathe marketing, millions of folks continue to have no interest in social media channels. While ignorance is bliss, it's not smart business.

One reason: chaos theory. Or at least chaos theory as I remember it explained in the novel and movie "Jurassic Park." As you may recall from the story, the ecosystem created on the island for the dinosaurs was so complicated and non-linear that its future couldn't be accurately predicted. They tried to suppress the dino instinct to reproduce but nature found a way. Chaos ruled.

Imagine that the Internet is now nature and it has a new kind of T-Rex. You can't hide your image from it. The Internet will find a way.

If someone is looking for information about you, they will find it online - I promise. Everyone has digital breadcrumbs somewhere. The Internet may find benign things like property listings, old newspaper clippings or corporate filings. But it can also find less benign things like arrest reports, lawsuits, and negative reviews and blog posts. If you don't take control of your online reputation, then someone else will - your customers, your competitors or, worst case, no one (a.k.a. chaos.) Ignore your digital image at your own peril.

Here are a few simple things you can do to protect your online image, some you may already be doing.

Build your social profile. You don't have to register on every social media site, but you should start with the big boys. Register for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and post your photo and some basic information. Most people prefer one to the others, but you should be registered on all three, even if you are an infrequent user. This will help identify you on the web because these sites have tremendous "authority" with search engines. Google, Bing and Yahoo give greater weight to sites with high authority. This will help people who are looking for you to find the "real you" instead of a namesake or a competitor. And you will have staked a virtual claim on what can become valuable digital real estate.

Google yourself every once in a while. See how you are perceived by the most powerful digital front door, so you can react if something goes wrong or something weird happens. The unrelated namesake of a client once committed a silly, foolish crime that was all over the Internet. When someone Googled our client's name, they saw a link to stories about the foolish guy. While most people knew that our client wasn't the fool, the crazy story made it harder for potential customers to find him. We fixed it by boosting our client's social and digital profile. The foolish guy stories didn't go away, but our client's links moved up the rankings.

Address negative info. If there's negative information about your company posted online, you have to react in some way. Review sites generally enable companies to respond to comments, both positive and negative. Take advantage of this option. Other damaging content can be addressed by online reputation management firms which "push down negative results" by publishing positive info to the web on your behalf. Such "suppression" tactics can be successful. We also have helped clients respond to negative posts more directly using our own strategies at www.webfactcheck.com. Most importantly, you need to address negative info in some manner. You may decide to let it ride, but thoughtful consideration should win out.

Whether we like it or not, the digital world helps define who we are. It's best to address it now and prevent potential chaos.

What do you think? Are you still late or feeling uninvited to the social media party?

Cross-posted from DavidPRblog.