Rep yourself before you wreck yourself
About six months ago, I wrote a piece for this magazine called "Raising the Bar." It was a quick look at some fundamentals for controlling your "name space" online. I talked about what has now become commonplace: creating Wordpress and Blogger pages, personalizing MySpace and Facebook accounts, whipping up Wikipedia profiles and the idea of publishing a press release about the fact you found a good parking spot near Starbucks one morning. Since I wrote that particular piece, the online reputation management sector has exploded, and it's worth revisiting the topic. Before we discuss ways to track your reputation, do you even know what to be tracking? A good start would be:
your company name
your company executives
your brands and products
anything else that might be newsworthy about you or your company.
That is where most people start and stop their tracking. It's not a bad list and will certainly gather up a lot of data for you to sift through, but I'd suggest taking your research one step further. From this list you generated, add the word "sucks," "boycott" or "I hate" to each item (or your own favorite phrase that expresses severe disdain). This list will give you a chance to find problems before they sneak up on you.
So now you have your list of keywords. What do you do with it? Where do you search?
From a purely do-it-yourself standpoint, it's easiest and cheapest to simply round up some RSS feeds and monitor those on a daily or weekly basis. This is really simple. First, choose your favorite RSS reader (I use Google Reader) and set up a few search result feeds to track the phrases you came up with earlier. There are several key places that will allow you to subscribe to search results as RSS:
Google/Yahoo/Live News search
By tracking these search results, you can get a handle on what may be coming at you in the future. Preemptively monitoring your reputation is great, but it's actually one step short of a full program.
The real key to managing your reputation as far the greater masses of people that use the Internet are concerned is very simple: tracking what the top 10 to 20 search results from Google, Yahoo and Live News say about you. All the great stuff about your company in blogs and Twitters and Facebook profiles means nothing if the third result on Google is a scathing review of your company or product. The general public does not go to all the places we discussed above. They go to Google, Yahoo or Live, and they type in your name, company name or product and hit the search button. Then they browse the first page of search results, and maybe the second.
Marketers spend a lot of time tracking blogs, news sources, tag aggregators and so forth, but more often than not I find clients overlook the most obvious measure of all. Do you really care about some random blogger you found from a deep dive on a Yahoo blog search? Maybe, but if that blog doesn't show up on a regular search, then you probably shouldn't. What you do care about - or should care about - are negative search results on the first page of a major search engine. It's that ugly listing that could cost you a job, a client, a sale or an election, and ultimately, your reputation.
Todd Friesen is vice president of search strategies at Visible Technologies. (firstname.lastname@example.org)