The internet offers almost unlimited freedom of expression, but this same freedom can lead to reputational damage. Threats to reputation may be external, but they can also be self-generated. Either way, both individuals and brands can then find themselves in need of online reputation management.
“You don’t have to look too hard to find examples of people in the public eye suddenly finding themselves at the mercy of an online feeding frenzy, due to something they have posted online,” explains Jonathan Guy of Aqueous Digital.
The Full Impact of the Crowd
What might start out as a minor remark on Twitter can have long-reaching consequences.
“The recent issue with Danny Baker tweeting about the new royal baby, which culminated in his sacking from the BBC, is a perfect example of how you can quickly lose control of a situation.”
This illustrates two major aspects of online reputation management:
- If you put something out online without considering the various ways it might be interpreted, you could run into problems
- Even if you then publicly apologise for what you have said, it may be too late, because it will have taken on a life of its own.
“Controversy spreads like wildfire, and you can quickly feel the full impact of the crowd weighing in against you. It’s a kind of angry mob mentality, expressed online.”
This can extend to other people who might make remark on the original comment and then find that they too are sucked into the maelstrom of online opinion.
“It may also spill over onto mainstream media channels, causing further reputational damage.”
Strategies for Reputation Management
The issue for anyone who has something negative associated with them, or their business or brand, online, is how to either remove it or distance themselves from it.
“Unfortunately, just as Google can be highly effective in helping people find your business online, so it works negatively too, where you can find that damaging material comes up prominently in searches associated with your name”
This can be the result of malicious or even criminal activity, but it could also be the result of your own careless tweet or post.
“Like any business-critical issue, online reputation management requires an effective strategy.”
A key issue is the amount of outdated or inaccurate information that can linger for a long time online.
“Even if this isn’t actively harmful, it can contain enough inaccuracies to be damaging, if, say, you’re pitching for new business and someone looks you up via a Google search.”
Removing information online can be difficult.
“One strategic approach to remove inaccurate or damaging listings is to counter the old, inaccurate or harmful information by posting updated information, in a concerted effort, underpinned by a sound technical understanding of how search engines will find you”
This is more than an extended public relations exercise. It is designed to bolster and reshape your online reputation through careful use of content, shared through a variety of channels.
Another key aspect of online reputation management is preventative.
“It can be too easy to fire off a post or tweet in the heat of the moment. Businesses need to be clear about the potential consequences, even where it is a person’s private viewpoint being expressed.”
“Ideally, the best strategy is not to post anything potentially damaging at all,” Jonathan concludes. “Realistically, if this is going to happen on occasion, then understanding the swiftest, most effective means of retracting or moderating online statements is essential.
For an accompanying read, please visit What is the Key to Preventing Reputational Damage?