This week, a 53,558 word report was released showing seemingly limitless examples of why North Korea is leading the world in human rights. You heard me right, as absurd as the notion may be to you, according to this very document, North Korea is the best place to live. Now, you may ask, "what organization possibly came up with the results of that study?" Prepare yourself for the shock, but it was actually researched, written and published by North Korea itself. How absurd is it that the country known as one of the worst places to live in the world, with one of the most oppressive dictatorships, would proclaim itself a shining beacon of liberty and happiness? Well...
What if Your Company is North Korea?
Bear with me for a minute. I am not saying your organization starves its employees or ruthlessly murders anyone who opposes it. But this is actually a relevant learning experience that we can apply to our own businesses when it comes to managing our reputations. Is the leading driver of the conversation about your company you, or the rest of the world? Have you ever looked into how you are perceived, reviewed and otherwise talked about online? When was the last time you searched for your own company in Google?
If you've never searched for your own company online, please stop reading this post and do it now. I'll wait for you to return, and when you do, I'll offer you some tips on how to deal with the can of worms you may have just opened. No hurry, take your time.
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What Steps Should You Take to Manage Your Online Reputation?
The very first thing you should be looking at when you manage your reputation online is accuracy of information. One common mistake that companies make is not keeping their information up-to-date. The web is ever-expanding and always hungry for more information, so it's almost guaranteed that your listing information is somewhere out there. Make sure it's correct.
1) Your Location: If you've ever moved your office/store, did you take the time to update all of your online listings? Did you even know that you had online listings in the first place? Every business at some point has had location data associated with it online. From the Yellow Pages to Yelp, from Google Maps to Facebook - the odds are that you've got information out there directing customers to you via an address, web address or phone number. If the information is wrong, you're missing out on new customers who might think that either you're out of business or just not professional enough to keep your information correct. Each one of these websites has a way for you to claim your business listing for free, and edit the information, so it's an investment of only time (and not money) that will pay off immediately.
2) Your Web Address: I'm separating this from your location because this one has SEO relevancy. Every site that links to your website brings with it a weight - a kind of rank signal that tells Google and other search engines that your website is important in some way. If the web address listed on directories and other sites is wrong, you're losing out on all of that relevancy, which in turns means your actual website won't be showing up in the search results.
3) Your Competition: I don't necessarily mean your direct competitors. I'm referring to those who compete for your online identity. Is your company name similar to another? Are you being confused with someone else online? If so, it's time to put a little elbow-grease into cleaning that up - brand management is something that too many companies overlook. Fixing the first two items in this list, as well as some basic SEO items on your own site, can go a long way towards making sure you are the top result online when someone searches for your company name. This is especially important if your identity-competitor is making a bad name for themselves, and thus you indirectly.
4) The Narrative: This is where it gets dicey. You market yourself one way - the best sprocket company in the business with rave reviews and happy customers. But online, where people tend to talk the most "honestly" these days, you're seen as more of a Mr. Cogswell (here's the reference for those of you who weren't raised by early morning cartoons). You can completely control the message that gets put out by your company directly, but you can only influence the perception the public has of you. Take a look at your reviews, respond to the ones that require it, and take a look at the reasons the narrative about your company is the way it is. Heck, you might be pleasantly surprised and find new materials to pep up your team or market yourself! Of course, you may have some damage control to do as well. I wrote a post about minimizing Yelp's leverage over your business, but the principles apply for all online review sites.
Stay In Touch With the Narrative
If you stay on top of your information online, you'll have a much better sense of where things stand with your company. On top of that, you'll gain some insight into what you're doing well, and where you could improve. And to bring it back to our favorite Korea, if you're advertising a message that is completely contrary to the public opinion, you'll actually find yourself in a much worse place, because you'll end up looking out of touch and delusional. Maybe you actually did hit 11 hole-in-ones in one round like Our Dear Leader, but if you're completely out of touch, nobody will ever believe you.
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