by: Blair Brown, COO, Marca Global
How important is your online reputation? Consider this. Google processes over 3.5 billion searches per day. One billion of those are individual names. We’re searching for all types of reasons, from finding out information about a potential job candidate or board member to researching our date for Friday night. Unfortunately, Google’s algorithms do not care about making you look good. They simply sort by relevance. Therefore, it’s not surprising that 75 percent of individuals that search their own names, don’t like what they find. Needless to say, it’s imperative to understand why your online presence matters.
While anyone can be harmed by a negative online presence, business leaders, public figures and high net worth individuals are especially at risk. In fact, one study found that nearly half of a company’s corporate reputation is tied to its CEO’s reputation.
Is your online reputation helping or hurting you and your company? Let’s examine why your personal online presence matters and how you can positively cultivate it.
Why Your Online Presence Matters
Benjamin Franklin is famously quoted as saying, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” While those words were spoken more than 250 years ago, they hold significant meaning in today’s digital world. One post, tweet, comment or picture can set public opinion so firmly, it’s almost impossible to change. Researchers tested this evolution. They specifically looked at Twitter’s effect on public opinion and noted that it “often evolves rapidly and levels off quickly into an ordered state in which one opinion remains dominant.” The study concluded, “Once public opinion stabilizes, it’s difficult to change.”
No doubt we can all think of an example of a celebrity or politician ruining their reputation through an inappropriate picture, racist comment or just an outburst of anger that happened to be caught on video. While celebrities and politicians have a full-time public relations manager to monitor their reputation and clean up any mishaps, entrepreneurs don’t have that advantage.
Your visibility as a leader influences the whole company
The online presence of a business owner or senior level executive is directly associated with the brand of his or her company. Your online presence will impact your product or service. Pew Research Center found that 91 percent of people trust what they read in search engine results, and the Edelman Trust Barometer found that 65 percent of users trust search engine results more than any other source. The bottom line is consumers are searching online for products and services and trusting what they see. A negative online presence by either the brand itself or the individuals representing the company will affect profits.
Your online profiles can win or lose new talent
Customers aren’t the only ones affected by your online presence. Seventy-seven percent of executives say that a positive CEO reputation attracts new employees and 70 percent say it retains employees. Job candidates research companies and their leaders. Attract top talent and keep it by creating an online presence that portrays a leader your employees are proud to work for.
And, it goes both ways. Companies are also researching their candidates online. In fact, Forbes said seven years ago that “your online presence will replace your resume in 10 years.”
Your offline connections can boost your online reputation
A negative online presence also affects professional development. Imagine this scenario. An executive is being considered for a board of directors position or to give a keynote address at an important community event. Before the executive is even contacted, the selection committee does a search of his or her digital brand presence:
- What endorsements are on the LinkedIn page?
- What kind of posts are on Facebook?
- And what messaging is the candidate broadcasting on Twitter?
If a negative individual reputation is perceived, the executive will likely get passed over without even knowing he or she was a candidate.
One survey summed up the effects of a CEO with a good reputation with these five key benefits:
- Attracts investors
- Generates positive media attention
- Afford crisis protection
- Attracts new employees
- Retains current employees
How to Build and Maintain an Online Presence
Just as you may have worked for years to build a good physical reputation, your online presence takes cultivation and maintenance. It’s not something that can be built or repaired in one day. There are over a billion users on Facebook alone, and it’s estimated that by next year there will be over 2.77 billion social media users around the globe. That leaves a lot of opportunity for a personal PR disaster.
You are simply not going to make every person happy 100 percent of the time. Is it a lost cause? No. You can take proactive steps to build a positive online presence.
How can you ensure your online presence is an asset and not a liability? Here are seven tips to get you started.
1. Don’t shy away
Staying away from social media or other online mediums out of fear of damaging your reputation is not an option. One survey found that 40 percent of global respondents said reading reviews, comments and feedback influences their shopping behavior. Consumers are shaping their view of your brand based on what they see online from you personally and from your company, as well as reviews from other customers. They are using social media platforms not to just interact with each other, but to get information and make decisions. If you bow out of the online game, your competitors will rise to the top. Your customers will get to know them as individuals and build trust in their brand. Be visible. Be sociable.
2. Proactively participate
This means more than just setting up a profile on popular social media sites or industry forums. Push out quality content that positions you as a thought leader in your online community. Taking this approach allows you to take control of what you are saying, how you’re saying it and who you’re saying it to. Get to know your audience. Who’s following you? What content do they “like?” Don’t think of your personal content strategy as a self-promotion campaign. Share content on a broad range of topics that will pique the interest of your audience.
For example, consider the owner of a small financial planning office. The owner establishes himself as a thought leader by pushing out opinion pieces about investment questions, his personal thoughts about a recent conference he attended, or what he thinks about a change in legislation that affects millennials.
- Engage your audience
- Build relationships
- Answer their questions
- Take feedback
As your presence on these platforms increases, so will your presence in online searches. Consider starting a blog. A blog is a great way to establish yourself as a thought leader. Get organized. Draft a content schedule. Promote your blog through your social media channels.
3. Get a little personal
Build your online presence by sharing some personal details, while being careful to not reveal so much that you risk your privacy. People love to see the human side of business leaders. Talk about your recent family vacation. However, do this after you’ve returned home so that you are not advertising that your home will be empty over the next week. For example, consider how sharing personal information might help attract top talent. Research shows that Millennials, who now make up the largest generation in the workforce, value things like work/life balance, family time and a volunteer spirit.
Through your personal social media account, you can post about family vacations, soccer games, a charity run you are participating in or a volunteer community board you are serving on. These posts shape a perception of you as a person that cares about family and the community. As job candidates research the companies that have made offers, they are impressed with your reputation and feel that they would fit into your company’s culture. The same posts also affect your customers. One survey found that 87 percent of Americans will purchase a product because a company advocates for an issue they cared about. As you build an online presence that promotes social responsibility, your customers will translate the same values to the company you represent.
Be careful about your associations
The saying “guilty by association” certainly applies in today’s digital world. Be careful about what accounts you follow and what posts you “like.” Your followers can see this and simply “liking” a controversial post can affect your reputation. One mindless click could damage your online presence. The same principle applies when posting a news story. Always fact-check the sources. Aligning yourself with a story that turns out to be false tarnishes your credibility. Conversely, associate with the super credible. Align yourself with industry bloggers, social media influencers or other thought leaders that will add to your credibility.
As an individual, you are constantly evolving. So your online presence should too. Old, outdated information will hurt your credibility. Regularly update your professional pages and profiles, including all social media sites, blogs, online boards and forums, and open source sites like Wikipedia. Be authentic. You are promoting yourself, but be careful to not embellish. One minor exaggeration turns into a full-blown lie, ruining your reputation.
View updating your digital presence as seriously as you would update your resume. If you wouldn’t include a photo with your resume, it’s probably not appropriate to be online either. Staying current also involves keeping up with how search engines operate and when they update their algorithms. For example, Facebook updated its search algorithm this past April to give priority to content viewed as “meaningful.” That means if you want your audience to see your feed, you need to produce quality content that they will “like,” share and comment on.
Combat negative reviews
Negative reviews do hurt. Ninety-two percent of consumers now read online reviews. Even though we usually apply negative reviews to company rating sites like Yelp, individuals can have their own scores. Individual leadership might receive negative criticism on job search sites. When you hand a potential client your business card, it’s likely they will search for reviews of your company and you. What will they find? It’s difficult to control what an ex-employee, business partner or disgruntled client may write.
However, you can combat the negativity by seeking out positive reviews from colleagues, clients and both current and former employees. Nurture these positive relationships by keeping in touch through professional social media sites like LinkedIn. Comment on their content. Endorse their skills. Keep the value chain going. They will return the favor. A bunch of good reviews can offset the handful of negative ones you might get.
The easiest way to monitor your online presence is to simply Google yourself. However, remember that Google does personalize search results based on the individual. So, to truly see what others see you need to sign out of your Google account or use an incognito window. This gives you neutral results, which is exactly what other searchers see. Are you happy with the top returns? Remember that over 50 percent of searchers will click on the first link. Is it actually you or someone else with your name? If it’s not you, work on your personal SEO.
One key way to do this is through your profiles on social network sites. Be sure your name is part of your handle and the profile URL. For example, on Twitter use a handle like “@myname.” On Facebook, you can claim your own personal URL with your name. It will look like www.facebook.com/yourname. Monitoring is easier than ever with tools like Rankur, Trackur, Social Mention and Google Alerts, which is free. These services will make you aware anytime your name or your company’s name appears on the Internet.
So, remember to view your online presence as a strategic asset. A positive reputation for both the company and the individuals that represent it is critical to success. Successfully building and maintaining a positive online presence requires strategy and the conscious investment of time and resources. The experts at Reputation Sciences™ understand why your online presence matters and are dedicated to helping you build a reputation that leads to personal and professional growth. Contact us to learn more about the resources available to you.