Editor’s note: In addition to our 2015: The Year of Customer Service series, we’re working on another featured series that tackles the basics of reputation management. In our Reputation Management 101 series, you’ll learn about basic (but important) concepts, tasks, and tips for reputation management. Each post will include actionable advice and realistic ideas that you can use — today — to improve your online reputation. Join us as we explore reputation management resources that everyone should know!
In online reputation management, it all boils down to what people can find out about your brand online. And while news stories, blog posts, and reviews can be written about your brand with or without your knowledge or consent, there’s a lot you can do online to influence the information that others find out about your brand.
By claiming and managing your brand online, you can establish your brand’s identity, influence brand conversations, and work to improve search engine results in your favor. And while online branding can be an exhaustive task, basic online brand management is really very simple: claim your brand online, and be sure to get there before someone else does (and then don’t let go). Here’s how you can get started in claiming and managing a business brand online.
Register Your Domain Name
If you haven’t already done it, the first step to claiming and managing your brand online is to get a domain name and build a website or blog on it. This will give you a hub for your online identity, and lend crediblity to your brand that social accounts and other resources just can’t give you. Follow these tips for domain name branding success:
- Pick a .com: Sure, .net, .info, .us and other domain name extensions may be available, but they don’t command as much authority as a .com does. And if the .com for your name is already taken and you choose the .net or similar instead, chances are you’ll have trouble with mistaken identity later: visitors might go to the .com anyway! And once you have the .com, consider buying up all of the other extensions and similar names as well so no one else (including competitors) can dilute your identity with them later.
- Choose a name that is memorable: While search engine optimization (SEO) should not be discounted, creating a name that is friendly and easy to remember is just as, if not more important. Your domain name is how people online (and off) will find, share, and remember your brand online. Make it memorable and interesting.
- Keep it short and easy to remember: Imagine telling someone your domain name over the phone. Is it long and drawn out? Will you have to spell it for them? Make your website easy to find and share by making it short and sweet.
Develop Your Website or Blog
Even with a good domain registered, you’re not quite done — not by a long shot. You’ll need to create a website or blog that faitfully reflects your brand and helps you establish a positive online reputation. Keep these tips in mind when you’re working on your online presence:
- Be informative: Your website or blog is often the first place people will go to online to see what you’re all about. Make sure they can find the information they are looking for. Create an About page that explains your business and the people behind it, share contact information, and consider creating a Frequently Asked Questions area.
- Develop authentic content: Writing a blog is a great way to get your brand out there and shared online. Consider what you and your brand know best and share your best advice, news, or reflections. It’s also a great idea to share useful information that only you would know.
- Link to the rest of your online identity: Your website or blog should be the hub or all of your brand’s online activity. Make it a central linking place where visitors can go to find out where else you are online.
Establish Your Social Media Identity
While a domain name is of course important to claiming your brand name online, it’s not enough anymore. Businesses are expected to have a brand presence on social media, and they’re expected to be active and engaging. Follow these tips to make sure your brand is alive and accounted for on social media:
- Register your brand before someone else does: Once social media profiles are claimed, it’s exceptionally difficult to gain control of them if you’re not the original user — even if the account uses your brand name! That’s why it’s so important to make sure you’re reserving your brand name on social media, even if you have no plans to use them (though you should). Use a service like KnowEm or Claim.io to secure your brand on hundreds of social networks and other services before anyone else has a chance to.
- Deal with taken accounts: If your brand name is already taken, don’t worry. You still have options. You can contact the person who owns the username and ask them to transfer it to you, especially if they haven’t been active. If the username violates your trademark, consider contacting the site as some will allow you to take over accounts for this reason. But keep in mind that you may not be able to take control of the account. If that’s the case, just use a slightly different name, or put the name Real or Official in front to make it clear you’re the legitimate account.
- Remember to claim a vanity URL: Once you’ve set up an account, make sure that you have a branded URL wherever available. For example, you’ll want to claim http://www.facebook.com/yourbrand as soon as you possibly can.
- Focus on high profile websites: Websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn are the leading social networks, and should not be neglected. Be sure that you have a strong presence on at least one of these websites where you can network, establish your identity, and lend credibility to your brand online.
- Keep your accounts active: While it’s not realistic to sign up for hundreds of brand name accounts and keep them all active, you should aim to post regularly on 1-2 social media accounts. This will help to give a voice to your brand and lend credibility not just to your accounts, but to your company identity.
- Respond to interactions: Don’t be a one sided conversationalist. On social media, you’ll need to be social! Respond to interactions with others and seek out conversations that you can be a part of.
- Listen to brand chatter: In addition to responding to interactions, you’ll need to keep an alert out for conversations about your brand. Set up searches and be sure to respond to and thank others for talking about your brand.
Don’t Neglect Reviews
In today’s marketplace, your online brand identity is often only as good as your reviews. This is particularly true for service based businesses such as restaurants and hotels. So while you may have a strong domain name and website and an active social media account, your online brand can be completely undone if your presence on review sites is terrible. Manage your reviews by following these tips:
- Sign up for major review websites: If you don’t have an account yet, get one. Check out major sites like Google Places, Yelp.com, Angie’s List, TripAdvisor, and even niche review sites like WeddingWire.com. It’s important that you claim and solicit reviews from the start rather than waiting for someone else to develop your review identity for you. Why? If you’ve been adding positive reviews for months, your business won’t be hurt by a bad review or two. But if an account is automatically generated by someone who wants to leave a bad review, that’s bad news: it will be the only thing out there, and it’s tough to get past.
- Ask for good reviews: You know when you’ve done a good job. Ask for a pat on the back from your clients or customers by requesting that they leave you a review. Share links to the websites where you’d most like to get their positive feedback, and be sure to thank them when they do.
- Respond to every review: Good or bad, all feedback is useful. And not only that, it’s important that you make it clear to anyone reading a review website that you’re listening and that you care. Whether you got a good or bad review, thank the user for their feedback and either accept the compliment or apologize and explain how you’ll do better. Be polite — even when you don’t want to be.
Branch Out Online
Your website, social media, even review sites are largely under your control. And by far, they’re the most important resources for building and maintaining your brand’s identity online. But that’s not all you want to find on Google for your name. Further establish your brand identity by reaching out and getting others to talk about and link to you.
- Join online groups: Network online and publicly interact with others online. Not only will you learn something and make new connections, you’ll also likely develop links and search engine results that reflect positively on your brand.
- Write for others: Whether you have an established blog or not, consider guest posting for others. It’s a good way to reach a new audience, expand your search engine results, and network with others online.
- Be newsworthy (and in the news): Encourage the press to write positively about your business by doing something interesting. Open a new location, give back to the community, appoint new leadership. And make sure someone knows about it!.
Though it’s a lot of work, it’s incredibly important to actively claim and maintain your brand name on the Internet. While there’s only so much you can do to control what others say about you online, you can do a lot to influence your online reputation simply by maintaining ownership of your brand. Take steps to claim your brand online — and protect your online reputation tomorrow.