I’m onboard a Delta flight winging my way home from New York City after attending the Tiburon CEO Summit. The service has been attentive and the cabin is clean. I am logged onto the GoGo wireless Internet system and have just enjoyed a purchased-snack and bottle of spring water. The flight left on time and the PA is not too loud. Thanks to their frequent flyer system, I’m enjoying a free upgrade. Delta gets “an A" in my estimation today.

The Hyatt on Chicago’s Miracle Mile, where I spent one night last weekend, does not, however, even get “a C.” When I arrived, tired and ready to check in, the young lady at the front desk gave me the run around because I did not have my confirmation handy and my husband, who was parking the car, had put the reservation in his name – thus I was not allowed to check in without him even though I showed my ID.

When I inadvertently pulled out my Hilton Rewards Card, she made a pointed remark saying, “Ma' am, this is not the Hilton – this is the Hyatt.” Right. You can be sure I’ll remember that the next time I’m choosing between the two brands as everything from the valet parking service being on the blitz to the lack of coffee condiments and towels for my party began to stack up and weigh on my mind, especially given the price we’d paid ($54 for valet parking, alone).

My mind raced back to the stellar visit I’d enjoyed at the Hilton Garden Inn (in Atlanta at the Perimeter Mall) a few weeks early where every single staff person and the facility itself exceeded my expectations. The amenities and service – including a surprise tray of sweet Southern specialties delivered to my room the first day of my stay –felt more like a four-star hotel. I checked my bill to make sure the $116 a night rate that NAPFA had arranged was indeed true (it was). Even the shuttle driver handed me his card and said, “Don’t forget to tweet about us – here’s my handle and the hashtag you’ll want to use.” They all made a point to mention their Facebook page and Yelp ratings (thumbs up from every single visitor).

I wonder if Delta or the Hilton Garden Inn will notice my comments and send me a thank you email or Tweeted reply for talking them up online? We’ll see if the Hyatt on Wacker Drive will notice my not-so-great comments in this article (and the ones I plan to post on Hotels.com, the service through which I booked the Hyatt) and get in touch to assure me this one stay was just a fluke.

THE NEW TRANSPARENT WORLD

As service providers, we must all be aware that we live in a new and ever-more-transparent world. It seems that everyone on this airplane has some sort of a smart phone or digital device capable of capturing photos or video.

At my son’s senior performance at Loyola University Chicago last week, nine out of 10 people in the audience pulled out their video cameras and smart phones to record his fifteen-song solo vocal show. When I asked Jonny over dinner that night how he felt about my posting a couple of the video clips on my Facebook page, he shrugged and said he’d decided some time ago that he’d better live his life as if anyone and everyone could see anything and everything he did at anytime. As a leader in his fraternity, he knew that “brothers” and other college friends could snap a photo or post a video and “tag” him or talk about him on their social networks whether he liked it or not. He said that most of the college students he knew had a new appreciation for good conduct and protecting their personal reputation online.

Another college senior told me over a fabulous celebration dinner at Chicago’s Grill on the Alley that Twitter had become his most relevant way of receiving information. By following certain news stations and other trusted sources, he has created his own personal news feed. “I learned that Steve Jobs died via Twitter,” he said. “I’m getting a sense of some of the employers I’m looking at joining by reading their Tweets.”

In a motherly moment, I reminded “the boys” what we parents have been saying all along, to watch their “P’s and Q’s”, to associate with people of character, and to assume that anything can be seen on Facebook even if they didn’t generate or approve the content. Yes, they were aware that employers are demanding login credentials for Facebook accounts before making a job offer and, if fact, they were well under way not only using Facebook as a way to promote their electronic rock duo Super Hairy, but they were connecting with established business people and networking on LinkedIn (the next day one of them asked me to LinkedIn and to endorse him). They told me that the university counseling team has conversations about social media use with each inbound freshman class and that the fraternity has rules about the use of mobile devices and online posting, especially as it relates to certain gatherings.

CONTAINING A WILDFIRE ONLINE

Now that anybody can be a critic or a fan online, we must all take precautions to guard our business brand and personal reputation on the Internet. According to a fun but informative video on CommonCraft.com, search engines are constantly scanning the web.  “Their goal is to take a snapshot of every word, picture and video on the web and save it for search results. This means that once a page has been scanned, it may be there forever.  Even if the image is deleted from a site, it may still be found in the future – which is when problems can occur."

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. Still, we can’t control everything online. 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; 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.

In the social media boot camps I lead for FPA and NAPFA, I continually remind people not to post information or tweet when they 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 – I know from first hand experience and it didn’t feel good. I’ll never make that same mistake again.

At a minimum, have Google Alerts set up for your name and your company’s name. You might also sign up for Social Mention, which works like Google Alerts and is free but is designed to troll the social networking sites and send you an email message when the keywords you select are posted somewhere.

Registering your name as a domain name, and signing up for every social network out there will ensure you have a presence and locks out others with similar names so you won’t be mistaken for someone else.

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. 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. Tag your photos and graphics so that when someone conducts a search, they find positive/accurate information and attractive images for you. LinkedIn typically ranks high in search results, as do blogs that are constantly being refreshed with new and relevant information. Google yourself once a week and see what comes up. 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.

One specialty service that I frequently recommend for financial advisors is Financial Advice Network. These super-charged profile pages rank high on keyword searches and serve as a rich supplement to your primary website.

“Anyone can post rumors and fake reviews online, any time — including competitors. And the longer negative material is on the Internet, the more damage it does,” say the people at Repuation.com, a service that allows you to monitor your online presence from their dashboard. You can take a free scan to see how you look online at http://www.reputation.com/for-business.

What makes a good online presence? According to Reputation.com:

-- The first page of Google results are all positive.

-- No negative results on first few Google pages.

-- Top Google results are from credible sources.

-- No links for other people with same name.

-- Being quoted in reputable publications and working to crosslink to the online articles can not only improve your positive search rankings but can also create a favorable impression when current and prospective clients and business partners Google to see what they can about you.

WHAT’S AHEAD?

-- Women Advisors Forum, New York City, April 26, 2012 (I will be speaking on social media)

-- Loring Ward’s annual advisors’ conference, Monterrey, California, June 6-7, 2012 (I will be speaking on Marketing That Works for Financial Advisors Today)

-- Securities America’s annual advisor’s conference, Denver, Colorado, June 9-12 (my team will be doing onsite media relations)

-- InvestaCorp’s annual advisors’ conference, Naples, Florida, July 9-11, 2012 (I will be speaking on Marketing That Works for Advisors Today).

-- Garrett Planning Network’s annual members-only retreat, Denver, Colorado, August 5-8, 2012 (I will be leading a two-hour Rapid Fire Marketing Ideas session)

-- Veres/T3’s Business and Wealth Management Forum, Denver, Colorado, September 13-14, 2012 (I will be doing onsite PR for the conference and serving as the team leader for the social media lab) – use SWIFTVIP to save $100 off your tuition

-- FPA’s national conference, San Antonio, Texas, September 29 – October 2, 2012 (my team and I will be providing PR support for institutional clients and advisory firms onsite)

I look forward to seeing you at one or more of the above events. If you have ideas for the Marketing Maven blog here on Financial-Planning.com, please post a comment below or visit my Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry blog to access additional information and post suggestions there.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go Google myself. It’s a Monday morning ritual.