Managing your personal online reputation

We recently recommended to a client that they set up a page on their website promoting themselves (and optimised for their name) so that people searching for them in Google would get this page as (hopefully) the first result and help them manage their reputation.

The client expressed some concerns about putting themselves out on the web as a personal brand, and we thought some of the issues that were brought up were worth a mention here.

This was the clients response to our suggestion:

Can people blog derogatory things about me if I take that step and market myself or are they risking a law suit for defamation? How is it that famous people can have pages on themselves and you never see a bad word written about them? How do they block negative media and gossip? The reason I ask is that there are people out there who will do and say what they can to make others look bad.

Our Response.

This was our response to our client, and I think it nicely sums up the pros and cons of marketing oneself as an online brand:

Dear Client (obviously I put their name and not “client”),

To answer your questions:

Yes, people will be able to blog derogatory things about you if you decide to market yourself. You shouldn’t see this as a threat to your business – you should see this as an opportunity to demonstrate the quality of your service and product. How companies respond to customer complaints, negative comments and criticisms is a true test of their attitude towards customer service.

If someone says something bad about your product on a blog, they are just expressing an opinion and people who read the blog will understand that; and not necessarily form a judgment of you or the product based on a single opinion.

You could take the opportunity to respond in the blog comments (politely), asking if they have actually used the product.

If they haven’t, you could point out in the blog comments (again politely), that perhaps they should give it a try before forming an opinion and offer them (and their readers) a discount to try out the product.

If they have used the product and they write something bad about it, it is a chance to get some direct honest feedback about your product/services which may help you refine it moving forward. Either way, if you have a polite and honest dialogue with the blogger who has made claims about your products, it will demonstrate to the visitors reading the blog that you value feedback and deal with any problems or criticisms in an open and honest manner. This will improve the perception of your brand, even if the initial catalyst was a negative blog post.

There will always be nay-sayers and people with negative attitudes and opinions. People who use the internet to research purchasing decisions will generally not take a bad review from a single source as the basis for a final purchase decision.

Of course there is always the issue of personal attacks where someone online is making personalĀ  claims aboutĀ  you. If these claims are libelous or defamatory, then the normal avenues of legal recourse are available to you (if the poster can be identified). In most cases however these kind of attacks are best ignored. Not many people give any credence to anonymous online personal attacks.

There are plenty of sites which have nasty things to say about celebrities (try Googling for “britney spears sucks”), however the authoritative sources tend to rise to the top in Google. In the Britney Spears example, when you search for “britney spears”, the first two results are her official site and her Wikipedia entry. The sources of quality information are what tend to show up first and the “Britney Spears Sucks” pages are hidden deep in the results. So it is not a case of celebrities blocking negative media and comments (in fact this is not possible), it’s just that the quality information ends up being linked more often and thus rises to the top of the results.

If you create a profile of yourself on your own site, this will naturally become the authoritative source for information on you and should rise to the top of the search results for a search on your name. This gives you the chance to decide the narrative that will be presented.

Managing your image online is all about understanding that you cannot control what other people say about you or your products, but the way you react is what defines your company.