You'd be surprised what kind of things appear in Google's top 10 results for Internet Retailer 500 companies. Not to add to any e-tailers' reputation management issues, but here's an example. There's an online petition out there to boycott a toy retailer for carrying a George W. Bush action figure.
Love Bush or not-love him (non partisan Canadian, here) words like "petition" and "boycott" in search listing title tags are never something you want to see, and something you'd like to push down in results if possible.
What would you do if the public revolted against a product you carry, and singled you out in an online petition? Or a YouTube video? Blog post? Facebook Group?
A dedicated online reputation manager's job is to monitor the web for new occurrences of your brand name in real-time, and ideally come up with a "damage control" plan. In this case, because there may be as many Bush supporters as passionate opponents (and judging by over 100 5-star reviews on the sold-out item it's likely), the retailer didn't pull the product (perhaps the retailer is even unaware of the petition). But in your case, a quick response and pulling of a product that customers react to may be a good move - or a public statement regarding the matter on your blog - or a clarification of misinformation...
Of course, this is only one example of a reputation management issue.
Depending on the size of your business and consumer propensity to search for your name, you may require a PR/social media marketing firm or in-house professional to handle your reputation management needs, serving as a community evangelist and corporate spokesperson full-time. Many companies have this and a search on any job board for "Public Relations Manager" or "Community Manager" may include reputation management in the list of responsibilities.
But it may be sufficient for you to hire someone to own your reputation management department on a part-time, contract basis. Like a good web analyst, if you hire the right person, that person can learn the tools and processes quickly and apply creativity, finesse and personality to the job.
I just finished reading Andy Beal's Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online. For about $20, this book would be the perfect training manual for your reputation manager - it does a fantastic job of framing the "rules of engagment" (with your audience, that is) - explaining how to write for the web, the importance of SEO, common social sites and a range of reputation monitoring tools (among other things).
So whether you hire a savvy or a newbie, the book will guide you step by step to create:
- An online pressroom
- Conduct effective (non-spammy) blogger outreach
- Leverage multimedia content
- Choose the style of corporate blog that's right for you and establish wise policies
- Measure your blog's success
- Repair your online reputation
- Measure your reputation management program effectiveness
Alright, maybe you don't want a complete newbie -- here are some basic skills / traits a person should possess to tackle this role:
- An understanding of the social web, including blogs, forums, social networks, microblogs, photo/video sharing, ratings and reviews, RSS etc.
- An ability to manage several social media profiles (an organized person!)
- Exceptional communication skills, fluent in English with proper grammar and spelling
- Someone who comes across as pleasant, positive and polite in online communications
- Attention to detail - not someone who might send a sloppy email reply to all or cut-and-paste without triple checking the recipient email and name
- A ninja at using search engines for research (an understanding of SEO a plus!)
- Experience with web analytics is nice, but someone who can learn new software quickly is essential
- An insanely curious person who keeps up with all the Internet marketing and social media blogs on a weekly basis, and always thinks outside the box
Now, if you're not sure how many hours your reputation management project will take, you may consider hiring a virtual assistant or Internet savvy work-at-home-mom. Many work at home moms are avid networkers and bloggers and you can find them on WAHM (Work At Home Mom) forums like WAHM.com. You can read their archived posts and their blogs linked in signatures to get a feel for their tone, positivity, manners and English skills also. You can find virtual assistants in the VA Networking Forum.
Another idea is to post a listing on the SEOmoz Job Board and post under the Public Relations / Reputation Management category. SEOmoz readers are typically up-to-speed with Internet marketing and reputation management already, so you can just get them to apply the do-it-yourself steps in Radically Transparent.
I also want to extend the invitation to any Get Elastic readers who provide these services to leave a comment with a link to your site so those looking for online reputation consultants can check you out.
Don't forget to read Radically Transparent yourself so you know what your business should be doing so you can gage the effectiveness of your Reputation Manager.
Not only that, but this book should be read by everybody, as it goes into depth about your personal reputation, and how you can manage that. All will find Radically Transparent a helpful guide to creating and maintaining a positive and authentic personal brand presence online.