Online Reputation: the key rules to effectively manage it

published on 25 May, 2022 by

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There’s no escaping it: our work, leisure and communications are becoming digital. As we move into the digital world, we are building a “digital image” that can sometimes slip out of our control. This has concrete consequences on online reputation, or “e-reputation”, especially for companies, brands, institutions and public figures who have an interest in controlling their image on the Web.

As Warren Buffet once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it” – truer words were never spoken than in the Web age, where the power to harm can be significant. Controlling one’s online reputation has therefore become a major stake for companies and public figures. So, how to control it? How to ensure that your digital image is not distorted?

What is an online reputation?

We can define online reputation as the image that an entity (individual, company, brand, association, institution…) or a product/service reflects on the Internet. Made up of all the information that can be found on the Web, it is forged from two fundamental materials:

  • The digital footprint, i.e. the accumulated tracks that each person leaves on the Internet (by publishing content, sending an email, or simply connecting to a network from any device to carry out a search or visit a page). Bearing in mind that any content posted online will most likely never really disappear.
  • Content published by third parties, i.e. by all people who are not directly linked to the entity concerned (general public, prospects and customers, partners, competitors…).

An entity can – to some extent – control its digital footprint and limit its online impact, for example by maintaining full control over the information posted on its website or social channels. However, the overwhelming majority of content found on the Web is posted by third parties on media that are beyond our control. And this is where the problem of online reputation management arises: how to keep control of one’s digital image if it is constructed in large part by others?

Imagine this: a major brand in the food industry is faced with a controversy regarding one of its products. Although it has full control over its own media communication (group website, blog, social media profiles), it is quickly overwhelmed by the large volume of negative content published by newspapers on their websites, by individuals on social networks, forums and collaborative platforms, but also by potential competitors who are trying to take advantage of the situation to reinforce the negative impact of the situation on the brand’s online reputation.

Third-party content can negatively impact the image of the person or company concerned. Indeed, anyone can be affected by an online “reputation crisis”, whether it’s a large company or a small business, an institution or a public figure, a professional or an individual. An unfortunate tweet or an ambiguous video can contribute to destroying an individual’s reputation.

What are the stakes of online reputation?

The importance of online reputation can be explained with one simple fact: users research information mainly via the Web. A 2022 Statista survey showed that 98% of Internet users browse the Web to find information. Another interesting finding of this survey reveals that when users express themselves on social networks about a company, a brand, a product or a service, they do so primarily to express their dissatisfaction (86%) rather than to say good things about it. In short, consumers are more likely to express their displeasure!

This is a major challenge for companies and brands. While a positive online reputation is good for business, bad buzz, on the other hand, can have immediate repercussions on the business. According to an Ifop survey, 47% of French consumers have already given up buying a product or service after the company’s reputation has been tarnished (including 25% who have done so several times). “Crises” such as those experienced by Volkswagen (tampered engines to circumvent regulations on pollutant gas emissions), Facebook (the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the personal data leak of 50 million users) or Samsung (the Galaxy Note 7 exploding battery issue) have sometimes had long-lasting consequences on these brands.

The problem is made even more complex by the fact that online reputation vectors are multiplying and becoming increasingly important. What are these vectors and how do they influence an entity’s online reputation?

  • Search engines: Google, Bing, Yahoo!, Baidu… Top ranking results, generating the most clicks, are most likely to influence the opinions of Internet users. Since it is very difficult to control what happens on third party sites, it is necessary to set up a series of very specific firewalls (which we will see below) to prevent fake news from overflowing in the first results of the SERP.
  • Social networks: informal exchange media, difficult to control and which require setting up a very tight moderation system. It is not uncommon for an e-reputation to be made or unmade on these media, where problematic content (even if it is quickly deleted) tends to resurface. Politicians are well aware of this, as they are regularly reminded of comments made years ago… which are in total contradiction with what they now say on the news!
  • Blogs and forums: spaces where Internet users are free to express themselves, with direct consequences on your online reputation when the number of negative comments becomes too great.
  • Review sites: Google, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Trustpilot… These tools are very popular with Internet users, as 93% of consumers say that online reviews influenced their purchase decision. Unfortunately, they are also hotbeds of false information: paid positive reviews, malicious comments, insults…

What levers should you activate to manage your online reputation?

Managing your online reputation means controlling a large number of information channels. To do so, you need to set up an adapted strategy to make sure that the “desired image” is in line with the “perceived image” by the public. This requires the activation of multiple levers related to online reputation. What are they and how can you protect your e-reputation?

Set up an advanced online reputation monitoring system

The first thing to do when developing an online reputation management strategy is to answer the question: how are people talking about you on the Internet?

A thorough monitoring of the Web is essential. This means controlling what is said about you (or your company, your brand, your products or services…) on the different channels, which are all vectors of digital reputation. To do so, there are several methods at your disposal:

  • Do a Google search for your company/brand name or product/service and check out the different results to see where you stand.
  • Set up an alert on the terms you are interested in on Google Alerts or Talkwalker, so you can be informed when they appear on the Web.
  • Use Web monitoring tools: Netvibes or Feedly for global monitoring, Meltwater or Hootsuite for social networks, etc.

Take back control of your digital footprint

Everything you post on the Internet, but also everything your employees post, adds to your “digital footprint”, which in turn can influence your online reputation. It is therefore essential to control all aspects of it, starting by separating activities and giving clear instructions to employees.

  • On the one hand, the segmentation of your business activities will help you to better control your different media. For example, if you have several points of sale, it can be interesting to dedicate a dedicated Facebook page to each of them: this is an effective way to control the communication around each store. The same applies if you work on several markets or if you have several brands.
  • On the other hand, raising employee awareness on the question of online reputation is a crucial step. They must understand that a company or a brand is always linked to individuals, whose behavior can work against the entity. For example, the CFO of a company who publishes controversial posts on LinkedIn risks damaging his own company’s reputation.

Finally, remember to protect your digital data to avoid leaks, theft and fraudulent use of your information. There’ s no way a hacker can take control of your Twitter account to post insulting tweets! Strengthen your security levers, impose complex passwords and the use of a VPN to your employees, set up strong authentication processes, etc.

Control the comments and reviews that concern you

Negative reviews and comments have a direct impact on your online reputation: do not let them build up while looking the other way. Here are a few leads to explore.

  • The “free” reviews are the most difficult to moderate, as it is almost impossible to have them removed. A bad review on Trustpilot, for example, can do a lot of damage. The best thing to do is to respond to them – even to those that seem fraudulent. This demonstrates your responsiveness and concern for the issues raised by customers. Another possibility: rebalance the forces at play by asking your satisfied customers to post positive reviews, so as to “drown out” negative comments and increase the overall rating.
  • The comments posted on your blog or on your social networks are easier to control, but beware: you could be quickly overwhelmed by their volume. If you have a lot of activity on social networks, you should think about hiring a community manager: someone who will take care of moderating Internet users’ posts on these platforms, but also of improving your social presence (which will be good for your brand image, and for your online reputation).

Request the removal of problematic content

Have you noticed the presence of illegitimate content that could affect your e-reputation? Rest assured: the law is on your side. It gives everyone, whether a natural or legal person, the right to request the deletion of content deemed to be detrimental to their privacy or reputation. This is the famous “right to be forgotten”. In Web lingo, this procedure is sometimes called “curing”. There are several levels of intervention:

  • Reporting problematic content. Most social networks offer to “report” a post that you feel goes against the editorial rules of the platform or against propriety. However, this approach is not very effective since the complaint algorithm generally takes into account the accumulation of reports before passing the torch to the moderator.
  • Direct request to webmasters. You can contact the manager of the concerned website to ask for the removal of a specific content.
  • Request for dereferencing. You can contact Google, Bing, Yahoo! and others to request the removal of a content from search results (but not from the Web: it will remain accessible on the website that published it), if it includes the name of the person or the brand. Google provides a dedicated form online. However, it is to be noted that few procedures are successful!

Create content to drown out negative results

Flooding is without a doubt the most effective way to manage your online reputation. It consists in drowning out negative results with a flood of content that shows the person, the company or the brand in a better light.

The principle behind this method is simple: since a majority of Internet users find information via search engine results, it is necessary to make sure that the results displayed are in favor of the entity. This means producing content – blog articles, white papers, infographics, videos, etc. – that gives a positive image, and making sure that the results are positive. – This technique will not remove content from the search results, but it will help to improve the quality of the search results. This technique will not remove problematic content, but will drive it deep down in the results, where users don’t go.

Note that this content must meet certain requirements. It must bring added value, be informative rather than promotional, and be optimized for natural referencing. We also talk about “SERP sculpting” to define this work of producing qualitative and long-lasting contents, using relevant keywords for the company or the brand.

However, this lever cannot work alone. It must be used in addition to other methods: highlighting positive reviews, developing your presence on social networks, increasing the number of media you control to improve your visibility, etc.

Managing your e-reputation is therefore a lengthy and extensive process! But considering the stakes of online reputation, the results are worth the effort.

Specializing in this field since 2010, please do not hesitate to contact our e-reputation agency.

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