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How to Manage (and Repair) Your Business' Online Reputation These tips and best practices will help you take back control -- and maintain it.

By Brook Zimmatore

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Online reputation management (ORM) is, at its core, a reflection of a company's ethical standards. A company with strong ethics and that does business in an honorable and above-board way will find it has a much easier time managing its reputation online, while a company that covers up mistakes, lies, or posts fake reviews will eventually find the opposite. In today's hyper-connected world, it's only a matter of time before an old misdeed is dug up and exposed.

Being ethical and learning from the mistakes of others can give a company a massive head start in defending its online reputation. However, there are still times when reputation management requires more than just providing good customer service and admitting to mistakes when they happen. The Internet is a breeding ground for false information, libel and defamation, and the cost of a bad reputation should never be underestimated. Any organization needs to make sure it's monitoring for such online misconduct, whether that's done in house or through a professional firm. Here are some tips and best practices to help you take control of your online reputation.

Reputation management strategies

Although ethics plays a large part, it is not the whole picture. There are many reputation management case studies that involve proactive action, which comes down to good communication. On the internet there is a mantra we can put in as general law:

If you don't communicate, you don't exist.

Forward-thinking executives implement reputation strategies that address all consumer touchpoints. If their consumer goes there, then the brand has a presence. I have seen a little, unknown forum grow and fester into a full-blown brand crisis before anyone had even heard of it.

Monitor all communication channels. Control them. Respond, engage, resolve, support.

Related: 4 Common Assumptions About Online Reputation Management That Are Totally Wrong

How to remove a web page

Every so often, a company might find that it needs to get a web page taken off the Internet. This could be for any number of reasons, but some of the most common include:

  • Defamation

  • Fake news

  • Brand abuse

  • Executive targeting by competitors

  • Counterfeit products

  • Abuse of trademarks or copyrights

Getting a web page removed isn't necessarily a simple or straightforward process; unless it's easy to show that a web page is obviously false or defamatory, the content creators can often cite free speech laws or similar protections to keep it up. However, there are a number of avenues available to businesses and brands that find themselves under attack.

Basically, determining whether a site can be removed involves examining a host of different factors to see if there were any violations. These factors can include:

  • Laws of the land

  • ISP terms of use

  • Search engine terms of use or quality guidelines

  • Hosting site terms of use

There's also precedent to look at the content author's motivations, intent and background to see if they have any personal grievances against the brand that might encourage them to fabricate negative content. If it's determined that there have been violations or that the content is libelous or defamatory, companies have legal options to compel the other party to remove the site.

How to file a DMCA

In cases where a company determines that content posted on the Internet violates a copyright, it can file to get that content removed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This is called a DMCA takedown, and it involves sending a notice to a service provider (which could be a web host, a search engine or an internet service provider). There are several legal considerations that need to be met before most service providers will comply, but if the DMCA takedown doesn't work, the company has other legal recourses it can consider.

It's important to build and carefully cultivate a good online reputation. At times, this can require legal action in conjunction with search engines and other service providers, but there is no substitute for monitoring and maintaining an active, positive presence online.

How to monitor your online reputation

Monitoring an online reputation isn't just doing a quick Google search every once in awhile to see what pops up. There are a number of excellent tools available that can analyze vast amounts of data to monitor mentions, customer perception and negative complaints and information. Subscribing to one, or several, of these tools can help give an organization a regular report on areas of concern with its online reputation.

Although there are plenty of such tools available, and many of them perform similar functions, these are the features that any reputable brand monitoring software you use should have:

  • Sentiment analysis: uses AI to analyze customer perception and whether sentiment is trending positive or negative

  • Social media monitoring: monitors social media platforms for brand mentions

  • Google monitoring: monitors Google search results

  • Filtering: multiple options to sort and filter out data

  • Blacklist and whitelist sites: check to see if a site is blacklisted due to spam

  • Monitor individuals: monitor mentions of single entities

A quick Google search can show dozens of such tools, but here's a good list to start with. Narrowing down the desired features and having a good idea of your reason for subscribing to an online reputation management monitoring tool is key to picking the best one for your needs.

Related: How to Build Your Online Reputation

How to manage your reputation on social media

A subset of online monitoring is social media monitoring; it's especially important that a company has a social media strategy and manages its various profiles closely. Social media has the potential to build a good reputation, but it can also rapidly deteriorate into a PR nightmare.

There are several tools available for companies that want to outsource or automate their social media monitoring. Some of these include:

  • Radian6

  • Brandwatch

  • Meltwater Buzz

  • SM2

  • Sysomos Heartbeat

  • Precise MP+ Social

Each of these tools varies in its pricing and what exactly it offers, but most offer some sort of keyword "listening" capabilities across several social media platforms that can help a brand get a feel for how it's being discussed. Because there are literally billions of tweets and posts flying across the internet during any given day, it's valuable to have a dedicated third-party service out there doing the heavy lifting.

Many large organizations have dedicated social media teams that handle all engagement. These teams find it valuable to have a workflow management plan in place. A variety of team members, from the people actually engaging in conversations to the managers who oversee strategy, contribute to overall success. It's critical to get a feel for how the target audience discusses the brand, tailor the approach accordingly and maintain a communication style that's consistent with the brand's overall image. Conversations should be recorded both for continuity as well as insights and reports generated and shared across the company on a regular basis to help inform executive strategy.

Dealing with online haters and trolls

Any company who has kept an eye on social media and the news over the past decade has seen firsthand the havoc that an Internet mob can wreak on a business. A single troll can make a defamatory post, then it starts trending on Twitter, and before the PR team can react, there's a mob calling for boycotts and backlash.

If a brand finds itself at the mercy of the mob, the first thing it should do is hire a professional to manage the response. In the absence of a cohesive crisis plan, any sort of response is apt to make things worse, not better. Ideally, the company already has a professional reputation management firm on retainer and a solid plan for dealing with an Internet mob.

If there's a legitimate complaint or issue that underlies the backlash, it's important the company addresses that issue in its response. Legitimate complainers will often be appeased by an appropriate response, but trolls or haters are generally just looking to make trouble and won't be pleased with any response. It's important to filter out these legitimate complaints in any response. Of course, if there's libel or defamation involved, the reputation management firm should move quickly to get the content removed or initiate legal action.

Can I sue for defamation or slander?

Suing for damages as a result of defamation or slander on the Internet can be tricky, but there is precedence for it. When filing a lawsuit, it helps to document a clear loss of revenue that closely correlates with the timeframe the defamation occurred, and being able to show an intent to damage or defame is also important. If a company can show clear proof of both of these factors, suing for damages is much more feasible.

When determining how much in damages to seek, it's crucial to be able to show how much value each customer brings to the table. Knowing this helps determine how much potential revenue is lost as a result of online defamation as well as how much actual revenue is lost if customers stop doing business as a result of the defamatory content. Although legal consequences for harmful online conduct are still in their infancy stages, judges and lawyers are taking defamation claims more seriously.

It's your reputation

Monitoring your online reputation doesn't have to be a chore, but it should be high on the list of brand management priorities. Your brand is one of your primary money-making assets that needs to be defended in the Internet jungle. Having a clear strategy to manage and repair it is critical to your success. At the end of the day, it's your reputation, and following these tips will help put you back in control of how it's perceived online.

Brook Zimmatore

CEO of Massive Alliance

Brook Zimmatore is a media and publishing technologist, entrepreneur and author. He specializes in building technology for people and publishers that improves the information provided in the media.

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