In the old days—like, six or seven years ago—if someone had a bad experience with a company, he or she generally vented about it to a few friends and that was the end of it. The emergence of social media changed all that of course, so now that person can vent online to, essentially, the entire world. And search engines love social media, which helps expose that rant to anyone searching for the company’s name.
Lee Odden recently framed this topic effectively in a post about digital reputation management, noting “There are plenty of CEOs, executives, brand and business managers that are facing the dilemma of what to do about their company and brand reputation online…Companies like Kryptonite Locks, Comcast, Dell, Walmart and Sony have all experienced what it’s like to ignore the influence of the social web and the subsequent effect on how their brands are reflected, both in the search results and within social media channels.”
This Time, It’s Personal
What these CEOs and other executives also need to appreciate is the importance of their personal brand. These individuals are often the “face” of their organizations; as they get quoted in press releases and news articles, pen bylined articles, speak at conferences, and talk to industry influencers and prospective customers, their names can become almost as well known as their brands. That makes it crucial for business leaders even at smaller companies who may not in the past have considered themselves “public figures” to manage not only their firms’ online reputations, but also their own.
A few examples. One executive I know, the president of a software company, shares the first page of Google with a biomedical researcher, a diplomat, a (not exactly best-selling) author, and the Facebook page of a college student from North Dakota. While that isn’t a terrible group to potentially be confused with, this executive has a sufficiently unique name that he should be able to own more of the real estate on this page, including the top spot (he’s currently #5), thereby making himself—and his company—easier to find.
Another executive acquaintance has things a bit worse. He shows up on the first page alright, but several of the links are to dot-com-meltdown era news articles about a company he worked with that had some of the typical problems of tech companies at the time (collapsing stock price, low on cash, disgruntled shareholders etc.). The full story is that he wasn’t the cause of these problems at all; he was hired to fix them, which he did, successfully taking the company prviate and turning it around. But a casual Googler wouldn’t get that story from the page one results without really digging.
On the other side of the ledger are individuals such as Jon Rognerud and Guy Kawasaki. Jon has a somewhat unusual name obviously (and the “Jon” spelling helps), but he isn’t the only person on the planet with that moniker. Yet he owns the first five pages of Google for his identity. Guy owns at least the first ten pages of Google (being a best-selling author helps) and none of the references are disparaging.
How To Be Seen
Granted, it may not be realistic for executives with more common surnames and less fame to achieve quite those levels, but most could nevertheless dramatically improve their personal online reputation management using the following techniques.
- Buy yourname.com if it is available. Use the domain to build a professional website (e.g., GuyKawasaki.com) or redirect it to a suitable page, such as the Management Team page on your corporate site.
- While you’re at it, spend the $95 to own your personal LookupPage.
- Make sure the Management Team page on your company website is optimized for your name.
- If you can make the time commitment, start your own blog. At the very least, look for opportunities to write guest-posts and/or get interviewed for blogs related to your industry.
- Write an article (or articles) for Google Knol on topics pertaining to your product or service. As an example, here’s one I wrote about records management. You can link to other blog posts, published articles, white papers or other informational content your company has produced about the topic.
- Record a short video introducing yourself and your company to potential customers and anyone else who may be interested. For examples, see the Pitches section on TechCrunch. Use your name in the title of the video (e.g. firstname-lastname-of-companyname.mp4). Upload the video to YouTube and Vimeo so it’s easy to share on blogs and other sites.
- Upload company-related photos—you, other executives on your team, your building, your products, screenshots (if there is any software component to your product), your logo, etc.—to photo-sharing sites like Flickr.
- Start Twittering. Use your real name in your profile.
- Create accounts on social bookmarking sites like Wikio, Mixx, Digg and/or StumbleUpon. Any time there is an online news story or blog post published about your company or product, submit it. Also submit other items that may be of interest to your customers and prospects.
- Hire a social media-savvy PR person to help you get interviewed by prominent bloggers and writers in your industry.
- Consider writing a Wikipedia page about yourself. Keep in mind, however, that you have to be considered a public figure (or at least be able to make the argument that you should be) or the Wikipedia cabal will reject the article and take it down. That means you’ll need to have links to third-party sources who have written about you, and the, er, idiosyncratic folks at Wikipedia will have to agree. For example, Tim Young the relief pitcher for the Expos and Red Sox has a Wikipedia page, but Tim Young, CEO of on-demand social networking platform Socialcast doesn’t.
- Create and maintain profile pages on social networking and directory sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Naymz, Jigsaw, Plaxo, ZoomInfo, CrunchBase (for technology executives), and VisualCV.
Professional corporate “evangelists” like Scott Monty and Christopher Barger, not surprisingly, tend to show up pretty well on search. But shouldn’t the CEO—particularly at smaller firms—be one of a company’s biggest evangelists? Stakeholders may very well think so. As a top executive, you are a public figure, and people will search for your name on the web. Online reputation management gives you at least some control over what they’ll find.
Note: this post was originally published on the WebMarketCentral blog in January 2009.