10 Types of Content that Change How People Perceive You Online

April 14th, 2014 No comments

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 No comments

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 No comments

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.

Controlling Your Online Reputation with “The Grandma Test”

January 3rd, 2014 1 comment

A New York Times article addresses the challenges and difficulties of erasing and controlling your digital past. As the father of a pre-teen middle-schooler, it’s a subject that comes up more and more in our household.

One sentence stood as as a particularly good analogy to fixing online gaffes.

She compares the scar to her online reputation to a large tattoo: “Technically, it’s possible to remove it, but it’s painful and expensive. Plus, there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever remove it 100 percent.”

On almost a daily basis, our family talks about the dangers of taking or posting pictures online that may not be viewed as appropriate days, weeks and years later. I want to impress upon my daughter that the Internet has a photographic memory and a good baseline (for now anyway) seems to be asking, “Would you want grandma to see this picture or read that text?”

For now, “the grandma test” is something she understands and can relate to. In high school, that bar may be changed to “college admissions office” or “career recruitment office.”

“If I’m Good, My Online Reputation Doesn’t Matter”

December 23rd, 2013 2 comments

That’s the thought behind Darren Slatten’s post on an SEOMoz and it’s a valid point to consider.  If an individual is so good at what they do that they are constantly turning down new clients anyway, does it matter if the #2 result for your name says, Darren Slatten Sucks – Don’t Ever Hire Him?

Darren’s point is that as long as you come through for your clients, you will always be in demand and they will dismiss any negative information they find while searching for you.  In essence, Darren is saying that word of mouth and a referral from a trusted friend holds more weight than the Internet.   Assuming business is great and will stay that way, I’d say he’s right.

The trouble is, at some point, someday, business may not be as plentiful and easy to come by.  SEO is a huge topic and thousands of websites are clamoring for good people to help them rank higher in the search engines – and there aren’t enough people who can deliver real results to go around.  But at some point, either the need for SEO help will diminish or the number of good SEO experts will grow, making it more difficult to rely entirely on referrals to build a business.  That’s when your online reputation could start to hurt you rather than help.

You may not need Google now, but do you really want to risk the chance of losing business when you need it 5 or 10 years from now?  Seems like the quintessential “burning of bridges” to me.  Darren’s got cajones – I’ll give him that.

Tony Adam, in a rebuttal post, has some good points.

Online reputation also becomes an important consideration for family businesses.  Anyone who has plans of passing their company on to the next generation has an obligation to them as well to ensure they benefit from a solid reputation we have left behind for them online.  We die, but the bits and bytes we leave behind never do.

Update: Darren was right – his post is ranking at #2 on Google.  Yikes!

Darren Slatten

Darren Slatten

Online reputation management for professionals

November 28th, 2013 Comments off

Anthillz.com has just launched an online reputation site for professionals. Their taglines at the moment are “Share your reputation” and “Make a name for yourself”, and the site’s copy crrently lists the following reasons why a person would use the site to build their online reputation: “Share the good things people are saying about you”, “Strengthen your professional relationships”, and “Build a reputation that people know and trust”. It appears to be a bit like LinkedIn’s testimonial feature, but the entire site is focused on your professional reputation. It appears they’ve gotten around the tricky part of online reputation by only allowing trusted colleagues to leave a testimonial about you:

“The heart of your Anthillz profile is a series of testimonials and reviews written by colleagues you trust. Their words paint a rich picture of who you are and what it’s like to work with you.”

This begs the question ‘What about the people who have something bad to say about you?’ For outside researchers, this type of information can be more useful than just positive praise.

How Social Network Friends Can Affect Your Online Reputation

November 17th, 2013 Comments off

Do you accept “friend” requests from everyone who asks for it through your Facebook and LinkedIn account?  I do.  Even people I’ve met just once at a conference. But lately I’ve started to think it may not be a good idea.  Consider the case of Bernie Madoff, the $50 billion dollar ponzi scheme mastermind.  There were probably, dozens, if not hundreds of investment professionals that worked  in the industry who now have to work backward to separate themselves from Madoff’s firm.  They took photos with him at events and probably sent business his way on more than one occasion.  And all thought they knew him as a friend.  Certainly they thought they knew his reputation better than a person they met one time at a conference.

Some people may argue that they way they use social networks is to connect with people – regardless of how thin those connections may be.  But keep in mind that there is no degree of friend designation on sites like Facebook or LinkedIn.  That person I met once at a conference is the same type of “friend” as my college roommate whom I’ve known for 20 years on Facebook.  It would be interesting to be able to categorize people as “friends” or “acquaintances” for people we don’t know very well.

I consider “friends” to be people I would trust to babysit my daughter.  Yet I have over 600 “friends” on Facebook that I probably wouldn’t even recognize if they walked into my office at this very moment.  And yet I “friend” them without a second thought – connecting them, if in just a small way, to my own online reputation. Heaven forbid they should do something awful, I might have some explaining to do when asked why they are my friend on Facebook.

Offline, you can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.  Why should online be any different?