We live in a new and ever-more-transparent world. Nearly anyone can snap a photo or post a video and “tag” us or talk about us on their social networks whether we like it or not. Worse yet, anyone can post rumors and fake reviews online, anytime — including competitors. And the longer negative material is on the Internet, the more damage it does.
Now that anyone can be a critic or a fan online, advisors must take precautions to guard our business brands and personal reputations on the Internet. Search engines are constantly scanning the web, taking snapshots of every word, picture and video posted and saving them to produce relevant search results. This means that once a page or image has been scanned, it may be visible online forever. Even if the image or text is deleted from a site, due to “caching” protocols it may still be found in the future.
Benjamin Franklin’s admonishment, it takes many good deeds to build a good reputation and only one bad one to lose it, is just as important today as it was over 300 years ago. Here are some simple but important steps advisors should take (or revisit) now to protect their reputations online:
SET UP KEYWORD ALERTS
At a minimum, have Google Alerts set up for your name and your company’s name. This free service is a no-brainer. If you haven’t used it yet, it is easy to set up. Just type Google.com/alerts into your browser and set up the keyword terms and frequency of notifications you want. Google will email you as relevant keywords occur in real time or you can restrict the emailed notifications to a daily digest. If it has been awhile since you’ve checked your Google Alerts keywords, go in from time to time and check that you have everything set up the way you’d like.
You might also sign up for Social Mention, Sprout Social, Netvibes, Gorkana or Rankur. These services work like Google Alerts but are designed to crawl the social networking sites and notify you when the keywords you select are posted somewhere. Rankur, for instance, will monitor online reviews, blogs, news, forums and social networks. Their tool performs text analysis and extracts sentiment, as well as opinions. It measures the quantity and quality of the conversations, analyzes the demographic profile of the audience, gives you the possibility to manage your social profiles and perform your campaigns from within their engagement calendar. Results are displayed on a dashboard so you’ll want to go in daily to view the results. Another service that allows you to monitor your online presence from their dashboard is Reputation.com. You can take a free scan to see how you look online at http://www.reputation.com/for-business.
Not only is keyword monitoring a good best practice for watching out for signs of trouble with your own online presence, but this can also be a good way to track what competitors, clients and strategic partners are up to. You might learn that an important client’s son won the state soccer tournament (and thus would send a complimentary note via email) or that a key competitor is hosting a seminar on Social Security claiming strategies two nights before your event at the same restaurant (and thus make an adjustment to your marketing plan).
GOOGLE YOURSELF WEEKLY
Create a weekly habit of Googling around to see what comes up when you put in certain keywords. Many years ago I heard a speaker call this “ego surfing” and while you may indeed find things that make you feel good about yourself and your firm, you might also find a thing or two that’s not so good.
If you do learn of something you’d rather not have online, act quickly and ask the person who posted their opinion (or the site host) to remove the offending text or image; hopefully you can appeal to their sense of fair play before the search engine “spiders” take a snapshot of the page and catalog it by keywords.
A recent study showed that 75% of online users are more likely to click on a negative search result than on a positive one. Because of social media, it is now easy for everyone to spread negative content.
We can’t control everything online. There are “trolls” and others out there who hide behind fake names and confusing “handles.” If you do find a negative review or comment online and the site owners won’t take it down right away, check with your compliance officer and/or legal department to see if they are okay with your posting something simple such as, “I am the owner of the firm. Please call me to discuss your situation. I am very interested in helping you resolve your issue.”
When you Google yourself, be sure to look at the “images” section – hopefully nothing more unsavory than old photos of you with a prior hairstyle 10 years younger comes up.
FLOOD THE INTERNET WITH GOOD CONTENT
Work to build a strong online presence so that anyone Googling you will see a flood of good information about you and the firm. Even if there is a bad element that comes up in an online search, people will be less likely to see it – and may discount the singular or occasional negative post altogether – if there are numerous other positive items that come up.
So what makes a good online presence?
- The first page of Google results are all positive (no negative results on first few Google pages).
- The top Google results are from credible sources.
- There are no links for other people with same name.
Here are a few ways advisors can help create a positive online presence:
1. Crowd out negative information online by generating positive search results that will rank as highly as possible in a search. The goal is to push the unsavory items farther down in the list.
2. Start a blog, establish a Linked profile, a Facebook page, an About.Me page, a Twitter account, a Google Profile, etc. and work to cross link everything together.
3.Tag your photos and graphics so that when someone conducts a search, they find attractive images and positive and accurate information about you. LinkedIn typically ranks high in search results, as do blogs that are constantly being refreshed with new and relevant information.
4. Get quoted in reputable publications and work to cross link to the online articles. This can not only improve your positive search rankings, but it can create a favorable impression when current and prospective clients and business partners Google to check you out online.
5. Register your name as a domain name and sign up for every social network out there to ensure you have a presence and lock out others with similar names so you won’t be mistaken for someone else.
6. Do not post information or tweet when you are tired, emotional or in a rush; you don’t want to be on the receiving end of an upset phone call or email from someone who takes issue with something you’ve said, and you sure don’t want a bunch of people publicly criticizing you on a discussion board or social network.
It goes without saying that you want to provide the best services possible and to nip in the bud any negative perceptions about you and your firm. Monitoring and managing your online reputation is vital for your offline reputation.
Marie Swift and her team at Impact Communications have been working exclusively with independent financial advisors and allied institutions for twenty years. Follow her on Twitter @marieswift.