How to Repair Your Online Reputation After a Mistake

May 28th, 2014 Comments off

It happens to the best of us: we make mistakes.

Online, mistakes are amplified. A rouge tweet or blog post with a typo can travel faster than you can hit the delete button; not that it matters anyway, since the more popular your brand, the more people who will have screenshots of the incriminating incident.

The good news? In the blink of an eye, the Internet’s short attention span will move on to the next fiasco. All may not be forgiven, but it certainly will be forgotten, at least by the general public. There’s some bad news too, however: people make snap decisions, and one mistake can equate to a huge loss in revenue by angry customers before people forget. A big enough mistake means that they won’t be back, so you can kiss any kind of recurring revenue goodbye.

The following steps are my recommendations for handling online mistakes that could damage your reputation:

Step 0: Have a plan.

Yes, I have a step zero, because online reputation damage control should start now. You’re going to make mistakes online. When you do, have plans in place for how to handle these mistakes. This is especially important as your team grows, since you might not be reachable when a problem occurs. Make sure every employee knows how to handle tough situations.

Step 1: Identify the severity of the problem.

Some problems are funny or annoying, but won’t do much reputation damage. For example, if you make a typo in one of your tweets, it’s not the end of the world (unless you run an editing business maybe!), but if an angry employee posts a racist message on your Facebook page, this is a very big deal. The severity of the problem will help you determine how drastic your response should be.

Step 2: Fix the problem.

Nothing is ever truly deleted from the Internet, but that doesn’t mean you should let an offensive social update stay live, keep a factually incorrect post on your blog, or allow hackers to maintain control of whatever they’ve hacked. After identifying the problem, you next step has to be to stop the bleeding.

Step 3: Apologize, apologize, apologize (and explain).

The first thing you say after any kind of problem needs to be an apology. Our basic human instinct is to defend ourselves, but any kind of defense can be easily seen as an unwillingness to admit the mistake. You can explain what happened, but always apologize first. Make sure that you are sincere.

One of the best examples of a good apology was recently posted by actor George Takei on Facebook:

takei

This message has almost 50,000 likes because he apologized, explained what happened, and focused on an extremely important issue, rather than focusing on defending himself. But be careful – too much explanation can make it seem like you don’t care that others were offended by your mistake.

Step 4: Follow up with the negative “ring leaders.”

Who was most offended by your mistake? Who is spreading the word and rallying others against you? Who are your most valued upset customers? Reach out to those people privately and individually to apologize personally. In some cases, free products, discounts, or other perks might be appropriate.

Step 5: Move on.

Some people won’t accept your apology. Some people are just trying to evoke a response. Don’t feed the trolls. Debating will only continue to push the issue into the spotlight. Remember, most people will forget a mistake pretty quickly. If you stop engaging with people who are bringing it up, you can move forward.

Step 6: Examine your policies and make changes.

What caused this problem in the first place? What can you do differently so it doesn’t happen again? For example, was it an overly opinionated blog post that made people mad? Maybe your new policy is to have at least three people look at each post before it’s published to ensure that it enhances your brand messages. Was a employee tweeting from your brand account when they meant to be tweeting from their personal account because they signed into the wrong account on their phone? Maybe your new policy is to get everyone on the social team a phone specifically for social updates from brand accounts.

Do what you can to avoid repeat problems. People will forgive you once, but they may not be able to look the other way if mistakes happen again and again.

About the Author: Allison Boyer is a content marketer who blogs regularly about blogging, email, social media, and more at AllisonBoyer.com.

Brand Reputation: Why Your Personal Digital Brand is Not the Same as You

May 16th, 2014 Comments off

When asked what qualities are most important in relationships (business or otherwise), honesty tops the list for many people. Consumers want to connect with brands who are authentic and trustworthy. What does your audience thing about you? If they know, like, and, most importantly, trust you, they’ll be more likely to make a purchase and tell their friends about you.

If you have a personal brand, however, honesty online gets a little messy. Examples of people with very strong personal brands include Chris Brogan, Tim Ferriss, and Erika Napoletano. Representing yourself, not a separate business brand, has both risks and rewards, but if you go this route, one thing is certain: you have to draw the line between “me” and “my brand.”

Authenticity is NOT about Oversharing

Authenticity online doesn’t mean that you share every piece of you. Giving away your entire life for the public to see can be stressful and uncomfortable. Not to mention, oversharing can actually turn customers off.

For example, let’s say that you go on a cruise with your family and get terribly seasick. You should not post pictures of yourself losing your lunch in the name of authenticity! That’s definitely “TMI” for your audience. Pick and choose what to share so that you’re still representing what happened, but you maintain a little dignity. This stands true in less “gross out” situations as well. For example, let’s say you just found out that you’re expecting. You don’t have to make the announcement for your fans on Facebook before you tell friends and family. You’re still an authentic person if you choose to keep some parts of your life private.

Defining Your Brand

Beyond privacy issues, you also need to consider the consistency of your messaging.

The best way to determine what to share and what to keep private is to define your brand. What three words describe how you want people to view your personal brand online? If the answer is “sassy, fun, and energetic,” what you share online should always promote these attributes. Does that mean that you are always sassy, fun, and energetic in real life? No way – no one is. But sharing a stressed-out rant online is probably not your best option, even if that’s how you really feel. It’s inconsistent with how you want people to see you. Every comment you make online should be professional and consistent with your personal brand.

Messaging consistency doesn’t mean that you should lie. Let’s say you’re really unhappy with a product you’ve purchased, but your personal brand is a happy, optimistic one. That doesn’t mean you should lie and talk about how great the product is, even though you really think it stinks. It’s all about how you say things.

And, when in doubt, remember – you don’t need to put everything online. Some stuff can remain private. Remember, your personal brand is not you. It is all the best, most marketable parts of you packaged for the masses.

When the Real Your Comes Out…

Ever meet a celebrity in person? You probably had one of two experiences: they were as sweet and nice as you expected or they were horrible and you’ll never think of them the same way again. If you had a bad experience, part of the reason it was so terrible was not only the other person’s actions, but the jarring effect of expecting something different.

Make sure that the you you’re presenting online doesn’t stay too far from the real you that actually lives your life. If you do, it’s only a matter of time before the truth comes out. If you like to drink and dance on bars every weekend, don’t present yourself as a mild-mannered, family-friendly personal brand. If you are a homebody, don’t present yourself as an adventure-seeker. If you’re an introvert, don’t present yourself as the life of the party.

When people feel like they’re being tricked, your reputation takes a huge nose-dive. They think, “If they were lying about their personality, what else could they be lying about?”

Remember, even if you aren’t building a business based on your personal brand, the way you act online affect how people think about your small business or your employer. Even if you have “views are my own” in your Twitter bio, you could lose customers or be fired if you aren’t presenting yourself well.

Don’t Feed the Trolls: 5 Types of Comments You Should Never Leave Online

May 8th, 2014 11 comments

How aggravating is it when someone on the Internet is wrong? It can be hard to walk away from your keyboard when you disagree with someone online, especially if your brand is under attack. But, sometimes, it’s not about right or wrong. Sometimes, it’s about not feeding the trolls.

Contrary to popular belief, a troll isn’t someone who has something negative to say. A troll is someone who is saying negative things just for the attention. Their goal is to tick you off, even if it means leaving comments that are untrue, contradictory, or against their personal feelings on the topic. Trolls don’t care about “winning” an argument. They win when they get a rise out of you.

So what’s a savvy online business person to do? Not answering comments can make it seem like you don’t care or are ignoring your customers, but answering a troll plays right into their hand.

Before I talk about what to do, here are five types of comments you should avoid leaving online:

  • Passionate, Emotional Responses

As noted in my blog post about responding to Yelp comments, you shouldn’t hit the “publish” button when you’re mad. It’s human nature to say things we regret when we’re angry, and once something is out there on the Internet, you can’t take it back.

  • Lies

It should go without saying that lying is bad, but when you’re dealing with a troll, it can be tempting to fib a little in order to “prove” them wrong. It’s not okay to lie in any way at any time, and this includes telling half-truths, making up stats, and bending the truth, even just a little.

  • Statements that aren’t Fact Checked

Trolls live to prove you wrong. If you’re going to respond, you absolutely need to make sure that what you’re saying is valid and up-to-date. Otherwise, anything further you say will be dismissed. Always fact check before publishing a comment.

  • Name-Calling or Insults

It can be really satisfying to call a troll what he/she is, but when you stoop to that level, you don’t do yourself any favors. Not everyone who reads the conversation will realize that the other person is just trolling you, and they might think that’s how you interact with all of your customers.

  • Lengthy “Prove You Wrong” Comments

Trolls love when you leave lengthy comments, because it gives them the attention they want. It also gives them more ammunition, since they can respond to your comment, poking holes in every point you made. You aren’t going to change a troll’s mind.

So what should you say to a troll? You have two good options:

  1. Say nothing and delete the comment
  2. Respond in a short, friendly manner

If the comment is on your site or Facebook page, you aren’t bound by some kind of law to allow others to see it. You can delete it. However, before you do, think long and hard about whether the comment is truly from a troll or if it is simply from someone who had a negative experience. Negative commenters (yes, even when they are rude) aren’t always trolls. Those are two different things.

If you decide to respond to the comment on your site or it is public somewhere else where you don’t have the ability to delete, the very best thing you can do is to leave a short, professional comment. Note that you respect their opinion, but you have other customers who disagree. Invite them to discuss the matter with a phone call (and follow up if they say yes to that – which is super rare for trolls, but might happen).

Always remember, the comments you leave in response to trolls are not for the troll. They’re for other customers who see the conversation. A thoughtful, friendly response to a mean-spirited troll can actually make you look good!

About the Author: Allison Boyer is a content marketer who blogs regularly about blogging, email, social media, and more at AllisonBoyer.com.

Categories: Online Reputation Tags: ,

The One Tool that Will Drastically Improve Your Online Reputation

April 24th, 2014 Comments off

“I feel like I already know you!”

When I worked in the conference world, one of the joys of my job was getting to see online friends meeting in person for the first time. It might seem weird to call someone a friend if you’ve never actually met them, but after reading one another’s blogs, exchanging tweets, and even having conversations on Skype, it’s easy for a friendship to build. You grow to know and like one another, and even to trust one another.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could build that same online friendship with every single one of your customers? After all, people are more likely to make a purchase when they know, like, and trust you, just as they do a friend.

Having a personable blog and sharing on social media are great strategies, but if you really want to solidify that relationship, consider one more tool: podcasting.

With a podcast, you’re making a more intimate connection with your audience because people actually hear your voice. You’re also telling people that you’re an authority on the subject, and you’re even reaching an entirely new audience, since some people don’t read blogs or use social media much – they just listen to podcasts.

Best of all, podcasting is not as hard as you think!

What You Need to Get Started

Technically, all you need to get started is a computer with a mic (or even a smartphone), some kind of program to record your voice (there are many free options available), and a little time to record. I was first part of a podcast back in 2008, and that’s pretty much all we had for our weekly video game show.

Now, I highly recommend spending a little money to purchase a nice mic rather than using the one built into your computer, as well as some sound editing software so you can edit out any awkward pauses or other parts you don’t want to be in the final product you upload for listeners. But you don’t need to splurge. If you’re just getting started, you can find all of the equipment you need for under $100. Once you’re ready to get more serious about podcasting, I highly recommend checking out the equipment advice from Podcast Answer Man (Cliff Ravenscraft), which you can check out here. Cliff also has an absolutely free Learn How to Podcast training course available here if you want some training before getting started. (I’m not an affiliate for any of Cliff’s products; I just think it’s top-notch!)

What to Podcast About

Resist the urge to start a podcast about your company. While you can (and should) mention company news on your podcast, people won’t tune in to hear what equates to a commercial for your brand. What you want is a podcast that will better your online reputation by making you an expert on your industry, or even a very specific part of your industry.

For example, let’s say you own a small brick-and-mortar business, like a BBQ restaurant. You could podcast about:

  • The restaurant industry
  • Food, in general
  • BBQ
  • Your local neighborhood

And while you certainly want to mention your restaurant, the entire podcast should not be about your business.

A great option is to have at least one co-host. You’ll notice that on radio shows, they typically have two or three people, sometimes with a fourth person who comes in for specific segments. It’s just easier to play off of one another than to talk to yourself.

You can also have weekly guests on your podcast. This is key for helping you promote, since guests tend to tell their audiences when they are on someone’s podcast. It’s also a great way to build relationships with key people in your industry: have them on your podcast.

The Dark Side of Podcasting

Podcast can also ruin your online reputation if you’re not careful. Here are a few things to avoid:

  • Rants and angry comments: It can feel SO good to slam someone who is acting like an idiot or saying things about your company that aren’t true, but resist the urge. Rants are one of the fastest ways to change what people think about you online, and not for the better.
  • Personal rambling: You do want to let people into your personal life a bit with your podcast, but too much gets boring to other people. Share the fact that your sister just had a baby and you’re a new aunt/uncle. Avoid the play-by-play retelling of the labor…unless, of course, you have a pregnancy podcast!
  • Off topic conversations: We all get off topic sometimes, and that’s okay. Just be aware that if you spend more time off topic than on topic, you’re probably going to lose some readers. People come to your podcast because they have a specific interest in the topic you’re covering, so make sure that most of the time, you’re talking about that topic.
  • Mistakes: If you want people to see you as an expert in your field, you need to give them correct information. If you’re not sure about a fact, say that and fact check it later for your show notes. Don’t BS your way through a conversation, because people will call you out on it.

Common sense, right? Right!

Podcasting can be a lot of fun on top of being a great way to improve what people think about you online. Look into starting one today – or at the very least, start listening to some of the podcasts in your industry and building relationships with the hosts so you can be a guest on their podcasts.

10 Types of Content that Change How People Perceive You Online

April 14th, 2014 Comments off

Everything you post online has a potential effect on your reputation. This include both public content (like blog post and social updates) and private content (like emails and DMs/PMs). It also includes what other people post about you online.

1. Rants You Write

It feels so good to let it all out sometimes, doesn’t it? The problem is, what feels good in the heat of the moment can cause you problems in the long run. Remember, any piece of content you produce could be the very first impression someone gets of you online. Resist the urge to voice your public opinion when you’re angry or upset, unless you’re absolutely fine with this piece of content representing your brand.

2. Rants Written about You

You can’t control what others say about you online, and unfortunately, a 2013 study shows that “79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.” (See the full report at Search Engine Land.) If someone writes an emotional rant about you on their own site or on a review site (like Yelp), it can have devastating effects on your reputation. You can’t control what others say to you, but you can leave a personal, professional response. The worst thing you can do is not say anything, because it looks like you’re ignoring the problem. Learn how to respond to negative reviews here.

3. Images

Images can be good or bad, depending on the specific images you post. Personal images help to humanize your brand. Think about: if someone mentions you on Twitter, are you more likely to respond if their avatar is a logo or a face? So, definitely post images on your website and social accounts.

But use caution. Even if you think you’re posting an image privately, it could easily be made public accidentally or by someone hoping to damage your reputation. Don’t post an image anywhere online unless you’re okay with that picture being posted on a huge billboard with your name, company, and email address. That image of you guzzling drinks at your friend’s wedding might be bad news if your own a family-friendly brand, but it might be perfectly fine if you own a bar.

4. Videos

If you think images humanize your brand, try video. Video content really helps your audience get a sense of who you are. It makes it much easier to trust you. If you aren’t engaging on camera, find someone in your company who can represent your brand in videos. This is by far the easiest way to make a personal connection with your audience online, and as an added benefit, there are still relatively few people doing video (and even fewer doing video well), which means you can stand out in your industry or niche.

5. Social Updates Sharing Links

The types of links you choose to share can have a huge effect on what people think about you. If you share amazing content – even content that wasn’t published on your own site – people will start to think of you as an expert in your field. In fact, sharing others’ content is actually preferable to only sharing your own content. If you’re constantly tweeting your own links, people will perceive you as selfish and narrow-minded. A true expert is on the forefront of news in his or her industry.

Make sure you read and verify information in all links before you share. Auto-sharing links from other sources is a recipe for trouble. Headlines are often misleading, so you might be sharing something that doesn’t make sense for your audience, and if you share information that is wrong, you’ll be blamed as much as the person who published the incorrect information.

6. Conversations

How you interact with other people can have a huge impact on others’ perceptions of you. While it is tempting sometimes, I have a personal rule I try to stick to: don’t talk about politics or religion publicly online. These are the two topics people get most offended about. I also try to be an “observer” when controversial conversations are happening online, instead of jumping into the fray. Of course, it all depends on your personal brand. If you’re known for being opinionated, certain conversations that I stay away from might be okay for you. Just be aware that even though you’re having the conversation only with your circle of friends, everyone online can read it.

7. What You Say When  You Think No One Is Watching

If you’re typing words, assume that those words will be public. Even if they are in a private DM/PM. Even if they are in an email. You might think you can trust the other person, but that’s often not the case. Even if it is, if their accounts get hacked or they hit a wrong button, something that you thought was private could easily become public. My mama always said, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say nothin’ at all.” If you must discuss a sensitive situation, do it in person, not online.

8. Comments

Do you respond to comments on your blog? A lot of people don’t, and I’m of the opinion that not every comment demands a response, but if you leave questions unanswered and never interact with your readers, that can leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. I guess, this isn’t a type of content that changes how people perceive you online…it’s a lack of content!

9. List-Building Freebies

It seems like almost everyone has a free whitepaper or ebook that they’re giving away in exchange for your email address. While it’s tempting to just throw something together – after all, you’re giving it away for free – people will heavily judge you based on this free content. If it is useless information, filled with errors, laughably short, or missing certain information, that makes me think that they products I could potentially buy from you are low-quality as well. Put your best foot forward with any list-building freebies you offer. You want people to think, “Wow, if this is what I get for free, I can only imaging the quality I’ll get when I pay for something!”

10. Quotes

Lastly, make sure that when people are quoting you, it makes sense for your brand. Of course, if you say or write something, people can quote it and may not contact you first, but if you’re asked for a quote make sure that you know how the quote will be used. Things can be taken out of context really easily.

I recommend doing a personal audit of your content over of the last seven days – everything from tweets to blog posts to emails. Are you giving off the impression that most makes sense for your brand with everything you post online? If not, it’s time to make some changes!

About the Author: Allison Boyer is a content marketer who blogs regularly about blogging, email, social media, and more at AllisonBoyer.com.

5 Important Online Reputation Management Tips for Creating Content

April 6th, 2014 Comments off

If you’re a blogger or podcaster, you’ve already taken an important step forward; blogs and podcasts are two of the most useful tools for establishing your online reputation. However, what you say about yourself isn’t nearly as important as what other people say about you. Any amazing content you create can be quickly overshadowed by negative reviews on Yelp, less-than-complimentary blog posts, and social messages recommending your competitors over you.

What’s a blogger or podcaster to do? Here are my best tips to make sure your content shines online in a way that boosts your online reputation:

Tip #1: Always put out your absolute best work.

You’ve probably heard this piece of advice in the past: Content is king. It’s a universal truth in blogging and podcasting. What you put out there for consumption by your fans needs to be good or they won’t be back. If you want to be seen as an expert in your field, your content has to be expert-level.

Tip #2: Back up your opinions with experience.

To go along with the last point, make sure that whatever content you create is backed up with experience. A strong opinion is worth a lot more when you can tell people why this is your opinion. For example, on my food blog, we write posts about our personal experiences in the kitchen and we test out every recipe we share. We wouldn’t share a recipe we’ve never tried because if that recipes ends up being bad, our readers will stop trusting us.

Don’t have experience yourself? Find people who do and quote them or even invite them to write a guest post on your blog or be a guest on your podcast.

Tip #3: Define your persona.

How do you want people to know you? Online, we all have personas. It’s not about putting on a fake face for your readers or listeners; it’s about sharing a certain aspect of yourself. For example, Chris Brogan is the nice, friendly, mentor-type online; if he wrote a snarky, mean-spirited post it wouldn’t fit in at all with his persona, even though I’m sure those thoughts run through his head sometimes. (Hey, we’re all human!) Blog posts and podcast episodes should all support the persona you’ve created.

Make sure that what people are saying about you fits well with the persona you’ve developed. Online reputation isn’t just about managing negative comments; it’s also about making sure that the comments fit what you’re trying to portray.

Tip #4: Make your mantra: “Create and wait.”

We all get heated about issues sometimes. When you find yourself creating emotional content (for example, you’re writing an angry rant about a product you’ve used and hated), use the “create and wait” technique. Create the content, but instead of posting, wait 24+ hours before hitting that publish button. Often, our emotions dissipate over time, and you might regret something you wrote or said in the heat of the moment. Give yourself time to calm down before deciding if you really want to post something.

Tip #5: Give some thought to SEO.

Many bloggers and podcasters don’t give any attention to SEO, because they believe it’s more important to write for people rather than writing for search engines. But guess who uses search engines? That’s right: people! Don’t stuff your articles with keywords or otherwise sacrifice on the quality to appease search engines, but learn basic keyword research techniques and how to optimize your content so search engines users can find you. Remember, the top results are the ones given the most clout by your audience. So, if the first result when someone searchers your name is a negative review, you should use basic SEO techniques to take over that top spot. You can’t get rid of a negative review, but you can push the result down on the page so it isn’t so prevalent.

Rand Fishkin is my favorite SEO expert (no affiliation – I just really love Moz!). Search Engine Land is another great SEO resource if you want to learn more.

Bonus Tip: Respond to comments where they happen.

If someone writes something negative about you in a blog post, your gut reaction might be to respond with a blog post of your own. While you can do this, make sure you also respond to any negativity where it is happening.  People who see the negativity may never make it to your site to see your response, so leave a professional, polite, comment wherever you are mentioned. (Remember – use the “create and wait” rule if you are emotional!)

How To Manage Your Reputation on Yelp

March 25th, 2014 Comments off

Does it really matter what people say about you on Yelp? Of course, but there are things you can do to help influence your online reviews.

Most B2C businesses have to deal with online reviews, like those found on Yelp, at some point or another. Unfortunately, as one of my friends so eloquently put it, “Yelp is where tact and honesty go to die on the Internet.”

It can sure seem that way. Yelp was recently in the news due to a judge’s controversial decision that users had to give up their anonymity due to claims from the business owner that they were never actually customers. While some see this as a win for entrepreneurs who have been plagued by unfounded bad reviews, most small business owners will agree: it seems crazy to go through the time and money to sue someone for a bad review on Yelp or any other review site.

That said, these reviews can be extremely damaging to your own reputation, so you have to do something. If the first thing that pops up when you name is searched on Google is a page full of negative reviews, will the user on the other end really stop to think critically about whether or not these reviews are true? Probably not. They’ll simply move on to a related local business with better reviews.

So what can you do?

Believe it or not, managing your reputation is less what people say about and more about how you respond. Here are the three steps I always give to clients when they ask my advice about dealing with negative Yelp reviews:

Step One: Nip actual problems in the bud.

Most people who post honest negative reviews online didn’t just have a bad experience with your business; they had a frustrating experience. You can’t please everyone, but when problems do occur, think about how you can make the customer’s experience better. It might be as simple as providing some freebies (even if you think you’re in right), personally apologizing for an inconvenience (even if you think you’re in the right), or giving a discount on the bill (yes, you guessed it…even if you think you’re in the right!). Try to go above and beyond what the person is expecting to rectify the situation. For example, if you mail out a vase and it shows up broken, don’t just replace the vase. Throw in a free candle for their troubles and a personal note letting the person know how valued they are as a customer.

Step Two: Respond to every review – and don’t get defensive.

When someone posts a review, whether it is positive or negative and whether it is true or not, show you’re listening by responding. Say thank you or apologize and make your contact information clear so the reviewer can discuss the issue with you offline. Even if you think a review is phony or unjustified, avoid getting defensive. Doing that will only open you up to ridicule and make you look bad. If you do believe a review to be fake, report it to Yelp privately, but make sure your public response is professional and apologetic. If you hire a virtual assistant to help with this task, make sure they are properly trained to respond professionally.

Step Three: Follow up, and ask your reviewers to follow up too.

The last step is the most important one. If someone leaves a negative Yelp review and you ask them to contact you to discuss the issue, answer the darn email. Don’t pretend you’re listening to put on a good public face but ignore problems when the customer reaches out privately. Work through the issue, making the customer happy if possible. Once you’ve solved the problem, ask them to follow up as well by making an update to the review about their experiences working through the issue with you.

As mentioned, some people will never be happy. In fact, some people go into a situation looking for a reason to complain. It’s nearly impossible to have a thriving business and no bad Yelp reviews, whether they are from actual unhappy customers, or people with other agendas like competitors who want you to look bad. The best you can is respond to legitimate problems as quickly as possible, and remember: if you provide great customer service, the good reviews online should outweigh the bad.

About the Author: Allison Boyer is a content marketer who blogs regularly about blogging, email, social media, and more at AllisonBoyer.com.

The Reputation Risks of Hiring a Virtual Assistant
(And Why You Should Anyway)

March 21st, 2014 1 comment

As your business grows, it’s time to think about hiring a team, and inarguably one of the best options for entrepreneurs is to get a virtual assistant. They can do tasks like replying to customer service emails, editing blog posts, managing your database, writing copy, and more. Sounds perfect, right?

But there’s a risk to hiring a virtual assistant, a dark side if you will. One bad virtual assistant can completely ruin your online reputation, in irreparable ways in some cases.

So, with that in mind…allow me to make an argument for hiring a virtual assistant anyway! With a little thoughtfulness, you can manage the risk and even improve your reputation online.

Reputation Risk #1: Your virtual assistant acts unprofessionally.

The biggest worry most people have about hiring a virtual assistant is that they’ll do something unprofessional and it will reflect poorly on the entire company. While this is a very real possibility if you hire the wrong person, this is actually a risk when you hire any employee, virtual or not. The reason why most people are more worried about it with a virtual assistant is because it can be difficult to hire someone who you never meet in person.

When you hire an employee, they are representing your company. Someone who has a bad interaction with an employee doesn’t care if the person wasn’t following the company policy. They care that they had a bad interaction. This is especially a problem for your reputation on social media sites, where unprofessional comments can go viral in a millisecond.

  • How to overcome the problem:

Easy: don’t hire someone who might act unprofessionally! While this sounds hard, it’s really not. Think about it this way: if you wouldn’t be comfortable letting a potential employee send out messages on Twitter or Facebook, you shouldn’t have that person working for your company at all. Today, everyone on your team is a social and customer service representative, not just the people you hire for those tasks.

In the case of a virtual assistant, work with a firm that cares about finding you the perfect fit, not a firm that sends you someone based on who they have available. If you’re hiring someone full time, you should be able to interview candidates via Skype to get a feel for whether or not they’ll be a good fit for your company. Remember, just because someone can do certain tasks doesn’t mean they are right for your company.

  • If it happens anyway:

Sometimes, there is no warning that a virtual assistant is going to do something crazy. Have a plan in place for dealing with these instances. Respond to complaints as quickly as possible. Provide other employees with pre-written scripts so they can respond quickly to show that the company is listening until you’re available for an actual response. Do not make excuses, and make sure to take action so the rogue employee can’t continue to damage your reputation.

Reputation Risk #2: Your virtual assistant provides low quality work.

Virtual assistants have this bad reputation of turning in low-quality work. This isn’t always the case; in fact, it’s usually not the case. However, the common thinking for many entrepreneurs is that it is better to work with someone in-person to keep a closer eye on his or her work.

At some point, you just have to let things out of your control. Part of being a good boss is knowing how to trust your employees instead of micromanaging.

  • How to overcome the problem:

You shouldn’t micromanage, but you should put your virtual assistant through a trial period where you are closely checking their work before it goes live. Every job has a learning curve, but if someone’s not getting it after a short trial period, move on to someone else. It’s not personal; it’s business.

  • If it happens anyway:

People have bad days. If a virtual assistant turns in low-quality work, have a meeting via Skype to talk about the problem. Always talk it out rather than sending an email, since tone can be unclear. Have a plan in place to correct mistakes as quickly as possible and apologize to customers if they are affected by mistakes.

Reputation Risk #3: Your virtual assistant disappears.

Lastly, because you’re communicating with virtual assistants online, it is fairly easy for them to simply disappear on you. “Houdini assistants,” as I like to call them, commit to doing a certain amount of work, but end up never meeting deadlines.

If you pre-paid for the work, you’ll lose money if someone simply disappears. However, even if you didn’t pay yet, this could be a problem. Sometimes, you simply won’t have the time to redo the work or others are waiting for the virtual assistant’s tasks to be completed before they can start their leg of the project. It might also mean that customers’ questions and complaints go unanswered.

  • How to overcome the problem:

Set communication expectations in place and have regular check-ins. For example, you might ask your virtual assistant to respond to your emails with 3 hours during business hours and attend a weekly planning meeting every Monday. Also make sure to define the hours your virtual assistant will be working, since they might be in different time zones, and have a system for your virtual assistant to alert you of any upcoming vacation time. With larger projects, make sure to set milestones so you aren’t blind-sided with a huge amount of work that hasn’t been done.

  • If it happens anyway:

Have clear consequences for virtual assistants who miss deadlines simply because they aren’t doing the work and who don’t communicate with you when there is a problem. You don’t have to continue working with a virtual assistant who is unreliable.

My Conclusion: Hire Today!

I’m a strong advocate for hiring virtual assistants. In my experiences, they aren’t any more or less problematic than employees who work in your office, but the advantage is that you have a pool of potential employees from around the world, rather than being limited to the people who live in your neighborhood. Deciding not to hire a virtual assistant is not the best option for protecting your online reputation; you simply need to know what you’re getting into and prepare for potential problems.

Do you have virtual assistant success stories or horror stories? Leave a comment below!

About the Author: Allison Boyer is a content marketer who blogs regularly about blogging, email, social media, and more at AllisonBoyer.com.

The End of the Anonymous Internet is Near

February 1st, 2014 2 comments

The launch of Google+ has caused an old issue to boil to the surface: should you be required to use your real name when signing up for Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking services? The Big 3 think so and whether you agree or not, you’re witnessing the beginning of the end of the anonymous internet.

We’ve all seen how presumably normal people, combined with an anonymous profile, can become “comment trolls” of the worst type. Discussions over heated topics quickly spiral into name-calling and curse-word-filled rants against the other side, resulting in the equivalent of an online riot where nothing gets accomplished.

It’s amazing how real names attached to real profiles make the discussion civil and polite. When we turned our comments over to Facebook on several sites about a year ago, the quality of debate and discussion improved immensely.

Everyone understands that when your online reputation is at stake, the cursing, screaming and personal attacks drop significantly.

Some will argue that it is in the best interest of the social networks to to have real profiles associated with real people. That’s true, but I think we all get a better online experience when people think twice about what they say online.

Their online reputation depends on it – as it should.

Google Offers Easy Online Reputation Monitoring

February 1st, 2014 Comments off

The ability to monitor how your name is used online has been around for some time. By creating an RSS feed with your name as the keyword, you could then be alerted in your feed reader anytime your name (or company name or website) was posted online. The process to set up the feed, while easy for power Internet users, wasn’t “non-techie” ready – until now.

If you have a Gmail account, you can now simply login to your Google Dashboard and set up alerts for your name or email address. Anytime your name or email is posted online, you’ll be notified automatically.

Now that getting notified is easy, the hard part is still managing your reputation online. I recommend everyone monitor their own name as well as the names of their children. As my daughter begins 8th grade, it will be important for me as a father to know when her name is being used on any social networking service or blog.

Google’s new “Me on the Web” service makes it easy.