In 2006, 60 Minutes aired a story about a famous, yet secretive hedge fund billionaire who was embroiled in a stock-shorting lawsuit. While the story itself was interesting, one thing that struck me was that 60 Minutes didn't have a photograph of the famous trader. The background was that he had purchased the rights to any photos taken of him and prevented his image from being published anywhere. He was rarely seen in public and used private garages whenever he traveled in his chauffeured car. The only film that the news show could find was grainy security-camera footage of him exiting a hotel through a back entrance. Talk about managing one's image.
Sadly, the other 99.99% of us don't have the financial wherewithal to prevent unwanted images from being published online. We have to use other means to safeguard our online reputation. The first and best defense is to, simply, have a good reputation. We can prevent a lot of problems by following the many golden rules we learned from our parents:
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
- Neither a borrower nor a lender be.
- Don't drink and drive/text.
- Don't tug on Superman's cape.
- Nothing good happens in a strip club after 2 a.m. on a weekday.
For businesses and individuals that might be prone to online criticism, there are other rules to live by.
Stake your claim to your name. This is really basic stuff but it merits repeating. In a crisis, it is important for your customers and the public to be able to hear your news directly (or as directly as possible) from the source. Your company should have a Twitter account, a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page if for no other reason than it verifies your company's identity and authenticates your news.
Build your online firewall. If your business could be hijacked by negative reviews and online attacks, then you need to ensure that you regularly publish your positive news and build a legacy of positive Internet results. It's tougher for negative information to take center stage in the future if there's already a lot of positive information anchoring top search results.
Manage online reviews. I have seen studies that suggest about 80 percent of online buying decisions are impacted by reviews. Another study stated that restaurants can charge 10-15 percent more when they add a star to their rating. Online reviews are not going away, and I mean that in both the literal and figurative senses. It is difficult to get negative reviews removed, especially from large review sites; and some websites have made a business of posting negative information about companies and individuals. Negative reviews have to be countered because they won't "just go away." Further, time has shown that consumers like to look at reviews and read feedback on businesses which they may patronize. While some businesses (retail, restaurants, hotels) feel the most impact from reviews, Google offers the ability to review any business which has a Google Places listing. Doctors, hospitals and healthcare providers have been feeling the impact lately, too. Note that the fewer reviews a business has, the more vulnerable it is to having a negative review torpedo its overall ranking. Tools exist to make gaining positive reviews more systematic, so it pays to investigate them.
What all of these strategies have in common is that they are active approaches to online reputation management - while 90 percent of the online reputation management industry offers reactive tactics. Whether you are a hedge fund billionaire who can afford to control his image with financial muscle or a small business owner who asks his clients for positive reviews on Yelp, you can build your own reputational firewall. Do this, while also following your parents' advice, and you will never need a reputation management consultant.