Google Insurance: 8 Steps to Protect Your Reputation

It doesn’t take much to set off a tsunami of public relations headaches in the digital world.

As the last 12 months have shown us-what with BP’s environmental disaster and a variety of online scandals-the damage that a disgruntled client or audience can do can’t be measured in income alone but can easily swell to ridiculous proportions.

Don’t fret; there is action you can take. While BP’s strategy of bidding on its own name for online ads triggered a new wave of controversy, small online businesses can protect their names in hundreds of ways without fearing backlash.

The8 steps we’ll talk about here aren’t the only ways to protect your reputation online, but they can form a fantastic foundation for PR.


1. Own Your Name, and Register All Variations

Cyber-squatters spend their entire lives hoarding domain names that should belong to other people.

They dig through popular YouTube videos to find upcoming pop stars, sift through newspapers to capitalize on current events and buy up hundreds of domain names daily to cash in when a few of them generate demand.

Protect yourself from their greed by owning all major variations of your domain name, including the standard top-level domains (.com, .net and .org) and the exotic ones (like .me). Store a small single-page website on each domain to ensure that it’s indexed, spidered and highly ranked.


2. Control First-Page Results With 2.0 Websites and Social Networks

Never underestimate the damage that a Facebook, MySpace or Friendster page can do to your business.

From rejected job applications to endless personal grievances, there are thousands of very public cases in which a social media profile has caused grief for a company. Protect your social media pages from being highjacked.

Start by registering your name on popular services, even if you don’t plan to use them. That should be enough to put off most vultures and disgruntled ex-clients. Should a public dispute arise, having control over search results through your social media profiles will help you push unwanted attacks out of sight.


3. Prepare a Crisis Strategy in Case You Draw Controversy

Even the US Air Force has an official social media response protocol. Do you? The marketing value of social media is disputed-with good reason: social media blunders can destroy a business.

Few things can reign in a controversy online. You’ll have to decide whether to try to stop, ignore or manage the controversy in your attempt to bounce back.

With a crisis strategy prepared, you can take charge when things go wrong. Using traditional PR materials, prepare a strategy so that you are in a position to judge how to respond to social media criticism.


4. Decide What’s Important, and Reach Out to Influencers

Some complaints are inconsequential; they come from people with ample time, limited experience and a thirst for drama. It’s the reality of doing business online; some people out there will, for no reason, attempt to ruin your business over trivialities.

Learn when and how to respond to these boors. If the idea of responding to outright trollish criticism doesn’t appeal to you, then let it die naturally.

If things swell out of proportion, then reach out for help-preferably to someone who has a reasonable amount of influence online.


5. Let It Slide Sometimes

Everyone makes mistakes, especially in business. If you missed a deadline, messed up a project or severed ties with a client and are now dealing with the aftermath in public, try to look at the situation from a stranger’s perspective.

These things can seem more important than they are, especially when you think your reputation is at stake.

Take scale into account; your problems will very likely fade uneventfully. Forget your worries and reach out to anyone who has been affected. Offering to mend fences is often the best way to preempt further complaints.


6. Develop a Procedure for Dealing With Frustrating Clients and Problematic Projects

Business writer Tim Ferriss says that ignoring frustrating clients is better than altering your routine. Others recommend billing them at a higher rate to make up for the trouble they cause.

Every freelancer has had to deal with a client who didn’t mesh with their method or schedule. The experience is never nice.

Set up a fairly strict procedure for dealing with problematic clients, rather than letting them go or charging them more. Certain clients will never be happy with what you deliver, regardless of its merit. Limit their ability to impede your business by implementing a set strategy of your own devising.


7. Have an Outlet Ready

Some criticism is difficult or impossible to ignore. Don’t post a comment on their blog or reach out to them by email; rather, craft a reply on your turf, whether it’s your blog, YouTube channel or something else. The most common option is a blog post.

Here’s why using your own blog makes sense: when you respond on someone else’s website, they control how your message is viewed. They can hide it, edit it or parade it around the blogosphere to increase their visibility.

Store any content that you create to clear the air on your own website, both for security and PR reasons.


8. Exercise Caution

Responding to criticism isn’t easy. BP’s advertising blunder cost it the support of online communities. Tucker Max’s post-movie explanations cost him more fans than they saved.

With online coverage swinging so easily either way, making your response to criticism clear, simple and fact-based is important.

The goal isn’t to win over people who don’t like you-there will always be negative people online, and they’ll troll you for no apparent reason. The goal is to assure your target audience that things are okay. Look for signs of discontent, and deal with them clearly and directly.

Written exclusively for WDD by Mathew Carpenter. He is an 18-year-old business owner and entrepreneur from Sydney, Australia. Mathew is currently working on Sofa Moolah, a website that teaches you how to make money online. Follow Mathew on Twitter: @matcarpenter. Follow Sofa Moolah on Twitter: @sofamoolah.

How do you protect your reputation online? If you encountered these situations before, how did you handle them? Please let us know below…

  • Designers X

    Yeah agree. Good 8 points.

  • Renato Alves

    I’ll apply some of these advices in my project. Thanks for calling our attention for some important things.

  • RSD

    Some great points here, not sure about the opening line though:

    “It doesn’t take much to set off a tsunami of public relations headaches in the digital world.”

    Wasn’t the ‘BP environmental disaster’ one of the worst environmental disasters in history, think it might have justified the PR headaches they had online?

  • ben

    The two steps to protect your reputation is, keep a clean facebook profile, and two, don’t write nasty comments on the internet.

  • xcubelabs

    Agree with all what you say. Google is in fact a reputation management system. All what you is documented these days.

  • Buzz

    Some good advice here, thanks!

  • Jerry Yu

    I was absorbed by the photo in this article, what is the man doing? Having a class or a meeting, I guess it must be very interesting to listen to him because of the colorful board.

    • Angelee

      haha.. me too, I was thinking he sketched the muscular system on the middle part of the white wide board….

  • Angelee

    I’d love to quote a line in the 7th one “craft a reply on your turf”.. this would be better instead of punching back the criticism but you got to control your temper while drafting your blog…

  • Salman Aslam

    Very sensible points . Thanks

  • Fernando Veloso

    Solid advices in here. Hopefully 90% of us won’t need them. :)

  • Amanda Cooper

    This is a great piece on simple tactics that everyone can and should take to protect their online reputation. I’ve worked with a few clients who have had their brand hijacked by others looking to capitalize on their name and trying to remedy that situation is long, costly, and frustrating. Having worked with a few clients who have been slammed in forums and review sites, I might also add that everyone should sign up for Google Alerts for their company and personal names and monitor the results. If your name shows up often in forums, it’s a good idea to establish a presence there so that if/when a negative comment is posted, you are already part of the community and can respond from a position of strength. Thanks for the great post!

  • Heather

    I have to agree with rule number 5 – Let It Slide sometimes. Maybe I would change sometimes to “almost always” – it never does much good dwelling on trivialities and defending your weak points with ferocity rivaling those who aren’t right…