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How to Guard Your Online Reputation

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How to guard your online reputation
It’s common for people to turn to online search engines to verify information related to any business or individual. Consumers trust the information they find on search engines, whether or not that information is accurate. Having a good online reputation is crucial in earning consumer trust. 
 
Have you ever Googled your name? If you have negative search results associated with your business or your personal name, it’s time to implement a damage control plan. And if you don’t have negative search results, you should think about being proactive to protect your online reputation.
 
Even though reputation is an intangible, it is the most important asset a company possesses. The Economist Intelligence Unit has found that 75 percent of a company’s value is tied up in its reputation.
 
“There are two kinds of reputation insurance that matter,” said Michael Fertik of reputation.com. “The first is ‘informal insurance’ — building up online digital reputations before problems occur by making sure companies control the top 20 Google results for their names and own the Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook accounts for those names. Businesses manage their reputations proactively by making sure the Internet accurately reflects their offline successes. When such companies suffer Internet attacks, they already enjoy ‘prophylactic’ layers of technical protection.
 
“The second is ‘formal insurance.’ Over the past few years, a growing number of organizations have been demanding dedicated reputation insurance products in the same way they buy errors and omissions insurance, data breach insurance, and professional liability insurance. It’s a classic use of insurance, a classic hedge, and it makes perfect sense when 75 percent of a company’s value is tied up in its reputation.”
 
For the average business owner, however, reputation insurance is out of reach at the moment, and the cost for protecting themselves against a few bad Yelp reviews will far outweigh the benefits. This type of insurance was developed for the big kids on the playground, such as BP, which dealt with the Deepwater Horizon spill, and Accenture, which dropped Tiger Woods after the discovery of his extramarital activities.
 
Besides cost, another reason reputation insurance hasn’t attracted a following is that the capabilities, tools and resources companies need to “insure” their reputations are already available, on both strategic and tactical levels. On the strategic level, companies can use the experience and judgment of public relations and communications executives who have a seat “at the management table,” counseling CEOs. The tactical level includes things such as monitoring social media, publicity, crisis communications planning, media relations, public affairs, and other components of public relations or reputation management.
 
In today’s connected world, no smart company is going to wait until a threat emerges before addressing its reputation. Instead, it views reputation management as a function of company management itself, working to shape opinion of the company while continually preparing for any potential threats to its reputation.
 
For an individual, those basic principles also hold true. Be aware of the risk and be proactive in your protection.

Reputation Management: Why Is It So Important?

Reputation can change instantly these days. Decades ago, a company’s reputation was more or less the sum of what appeared in the mainstream media. That made reputation easier to control. Today, reputation is influenced by decentralized processes on the Internet: search engine results, online customer reviews, social media activity, Wikipedia pages and more.
 
Deloitte recently published its latest [email protected] report, a global survey of hundreds of top executives. The main takeaway from this report: The importance of reputation management keeps growing, with 87 percent of respondents rating the risk of a negative reputation event affecting their business higher than any other strategic risk they face.

Losing Your Good Reputation With the Click of a Button

Your reputation lives on the Internet, meaning it isn’t just about the word-of-mouth reputation you’ve achieved. If a disgruntled former client is slandering you and your business online, it doesn’t matter how strong a word-of-mouth referral you’ve been given. Potential clients probably won’t take the time to evaluate you and your company’s products further. They’ll do business with your competitor instead.
 
It’s no wonder that the majority of Deloitte respondents said they were making reputation risk a priority in the coming year. Of those surveyed, a full 57 percent planned to increase the resources spent on reputation management, by investing in people, data, technology, and the development of reputation risk and crisis management protocols. These kinds of preparations are crucial, because reputation threats often appear without warning. News stories and scandals go viral within hours via Facebook, Twitter, blog posts and other online outlets, so the most successful companies are the ones that are ready before a crisis strikes.

The Insurance Industry’s Reputation: An Uphill Struggle

On the list of most trusted professions, life insurance agents fall near the bottom, with the likes of door-to-door salespeople and politicians. Since 1977, no more than 15 percent of Gallup Poll respondents have said our industry’s ethical standards are high, while no fewer than 25 percent have ranked us below average. The ethical standards of accountants, bankers and lawyers are all rated higher.
 
If you get only one takeaway from all of this information, it should be that your own reputation should not be just a footnote in your personal business plan. You should have a chapter dedicated to it!

Four Strategies to Enhance Your Own Online Reputation

Achieving a fair and accurate online representation of you and your agency is accomplished through your online brand, voice and website in addition to what your customers are saying. The better your online reputation, the more likely potential clients are to engage with you and ultimately become part of your customer base.
 
Your first step in managing your reputation is to be fully aware of the consequences of not doing your job to the best of your ability when your client calls you with a claim. An agent’s reputation is frequently verified or destroyed in a crisis, such as how you and your company handle a death claim.
 
By being aware of how your client interactions can have a direct positive or negative impact on your reputation, you can focus on performing successful crisis management activities, which include:
  • Demonstrating decisive remedial action.
  • Having access to the right information.
  • Communicating rapidly.
  • Having a consistent corporate message.
  • Demonstrating a full appreciation of the needs of all stakeholders.
  • Being able to admit to a mistake.
  • Outlining a clear recovery strategy.
Ask for a testimonial when your clients are most satisfied. Written testimonials and online reviews are important for building a good reputation. Ask your clients to write testimonials for your website, LinkedIn profile and marketing material. Perhaps it’s easier for them to give you a verbal testimonial. If so, write it down and repeat it back to them. Ask them if you have their permission to use this online, and then start posting it in customer review websites as well as in website pages you control.
 
“Plant your flag” firmly in prominent Internet properties. You’ll want to “own” your name (and your agency’s name) in Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Yelp and the Better Business Bureau are other key websites you should get listed online with. However, if you do little else, be sure to create a named page within Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
 
Businesses manage their reputations proactively by making sure the Internet accurately reflects their offline successes by posting information to sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. When such companies suffer Internet attacks, they already enjoy a layer of protection because these three sites usually show up within the first page of any name search if those sites have been claimed.
 
Leave no room for confusion. If you have a common name, you risk being mistaken for someone else online. Rather than taking the blame for others’ mistakes, look for ways to differentiate yourself.
 
For example, someone with the name “Tony Semadeni” who is a chief problem solver could use “Tony Semadeni, CPS” in online profiles or consider including a middle name or initial or full legal name like “Anthony L. Semadeni.” Register a unique URL with your name — such as www.tonysemadeni.com  or www.facebook.com/tony.semadeni — for your social media accounts. This improves the chances that your own profile pages, instead of those belonging to someone else with the same name, will turn up when someone does a name search on you.

When a Good Reputation Goes Bad

“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” is true only if it didn’t get posted online. Perhaps something unflattering to you is out there or you’re being mistaken for an ex-con. Unfortunately, you can’t simply remove a result from search engines; it doesn’t work that way.
 
So whether you’ve had a career blip, a personal misstep or are being stalked online by a vindictive ex-lover, you must be aware of the potential negative consequences those online search results could create when a prospect is doing their due diligence on you. 
 
The only way to get rid of a negative result is to bury that result with positive information.
 
Site owners aren’t required to remove false or negative information. And even if they remove it, it’s still archived by Google and many other online repositories, so it may continue to show up. 
 
“The best place to hide a dead body is Page 2 of Google search results!” This saying shows to what extent negative results on the first page of Google pose a risk, because Internet users usually stop scrolling at the end of the that first page.
 
So, content that enables negative links to be hidden on the second page of results is a good strategy for managing an online reputation.
 
Analytics show that when users search for information on Google, only 6 percent advance to the second page. This means that 94 percent of users are satisfied with receiving only 10 results, or else they restructure their search query looking for more relevant results. The key to this strategy is to create enough strong new pages to bump any negative pages off the first page of a name search.
 
Besides doing your own proactive online management, there are companies that can build you a positive online reputation shield as well as provide crisis management service when you need to fight off negative online results. Don’t let a few unfair reviews ruin your and your agency’s reputation. 

Anthony L. Semadeni and Steve Leedom are licensed insurance agents as well as consultants working with business owners. Their company, Business Checkup, they helps protect owner and business brand reputations. They may be contacted at [email protected] or [email protected] .

Anthony L. Semadeni and Steve Leedom are licensed insurance agents as well as consultants working with business owners. Their company, Business Checkup, they helps protect owner and business brand reputations. They may be contacted at [email protected] or [email protected] .


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