why you shouldn't fear social media (photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/9417211@N06/) why you shouldn’t fear social media (photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/)

Editor’s note: This article is part of a 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!

Social media is understandably intimidating from a reputation standpoint. For businesses and individuals alike, there’s always the possibility of an angry mob, or making bonehead mistakes like posting a drunk frat photo, sharing an offensive tweet, or even simply oversharing.

But even though social media opens up a new way to embarrass yourself and wreck your online reputation, it’s still a valuable tool for your brand, whether personal or business. And if you ignore social media, completely opting out, you could be doing more harm than good. Rather, social media is essential for building your online reputation and promoting goodwill for your band. And because it’s so useful and important, you shouldn’t shy away from it out of fear.

The Reputation Risks of Social Media

A fear of social media is not unfounded, particularly when it comes to online reputation management. If not handled properly, there is always the chance that social media can hurt your reputation more than it will help it. Just ask Amy’s Baking Company what they think of Facebook or Reddit.

A number of negative scenarios could, and have, happened on social media. Business owners lose their cool and attack customers, social media gives critics a forum to spew negative comments, individuals share embarrassing photos or hateful speech. But even with its risks, the benefits of social media can’t be ignored.

And at the same time it’s important to note that many of the risks of social media exist even if you choose not to create social profiles. Customers and other individuals can still talk about you or your brand on social media even if you’re not part of the conversation. So it’s a smart move to join in and control your own voice.

Online Reputation Management Benefits of Social Media

Social media offers one of the best ways to develop a positive online reputation. You can develop your social media presence, build an online tribe, connect with supporters, and share your own official updates in real time. These are just a few of the ways social media offers excellent reputation benefits:

  • Search engine presence: Social media websites tend to rank very well on search engines, so simply by creating a few social media profiles, you’ll be able to capture some of the top search engine results for your name or company. Sharing updates and links on social media is also a great way to help Google find your content faster.
  • Job search confidence: With rock solid social media profiles, employers see that you’re well connected, engaged, and interested in your community. They can learn more positive information about you and see into your experience in a way that no resume can show them. Social media helps them to understand if you’re a good fit for the company, and lets them see that you’re knowledgeable and excited about your industry.
  • Having your own say: In much of online reputation management, you’re at the mercy of what others say about you, from court records to online articles. But on your own social media pages, you can say what you want and dish out straight talk about yourself. This gives you the power to tell your own story instead of letting others build your brand’s online reputation.
  • Fast community responses: Social media allows you to connect with both fans and critics, and it’s a great way to quickly build community. This is particularly helpful in a crisis. You can respond to critics quickly, share useful information, and personally connect with others in a way that’s positive for your reputation.
  • Control of your social presence: Social media squatters exist, and they make it a habit to snap up social profiles before geniuine owners step in to register them. They create fake accounts and can send out content that looks like it’s from you, but you have no say about. If you own your social media accounts, you’ll have control over what’s broadcast from your brand, and avoid becoming vulnerable to angry individuals who might otherwise take over your online voice.
  • Customer friendly service: Often, today’s customers aren’t interested in calling a 1-800 number for service. Rather, they increasingly want to connect on social media. Giving them this outlet means they’ll come to you for help first, rather than complaining elsewhere online. This can help you to better satisfy your customers and avoid negative online reviews that can be so damaging to your reputation.
  • Two way street for communication: Often, corporate communication such as press releases are one sided, but social media gives customers a chance to connect positively with your brand. You can interact and build better brand loyalty by using social media.
  • Expert presence and credibility: Social media gives everyone a voice, and you can use that to your advantage as you show off your expertise. Use social media to demonstrate your status as a thought leader, sharing useful articles, reflections, and updates that are relevant to your industry. You’ll build credibility, and can connect with others who are interested in similar professional topics.
  • Online brand research: Using social media, you can find out what’s being said about you. You can search for your company name and learn about the online discussion, even joining in where appropriate.
  • Social proof: An active social community offers proof that you are trusted and have a great recommendation among your followers. A Facebook page with plenty of reviews and active comments tells visitors that they’re dealing with a well established brand and builds excellent trust, supporting a positive online reputation.
  • Crisis protection: By building a positive online presence through social media before you have a problem, you’ll have a crisis management cushion against future situations. Current followers will be more likely to side with you than if you’ve never interacted before, and you’ll have a positive platform established where you can share your side of the story. And with an established social media presence, you’ll also have a bit of protection in the search engines should any negative articles come out.

Managing Social Media Reputation Risks

Even with its risks, social media is more than worth it for its potential to build a positive reputation online. The key to not fearing social media for your online reputation is to manage risks with smart social media usage. Follow these tips to stay protected and build your great reputation on social media:

  • Be smart about what you say: Many of the issues we see on social media are due to a simple foot in the mouth. Avoid sharing offensive photos or statements by filtering your posts. Give it the grandma test: if you wouldn’t say it to her face, keep it to yourself.
  • Set up monitoring tools: Know about problems before they grow larger by using social media monitoring. With these tools, you can get alerts for negative mentions of your brand, find out if there’s an unusual amount of responses, and take care of a situation quickly before it runs out of hand.
  • Keep a positive tone: It’s a good idea to avoid complaining or sharing any negative information on social media. Make your social media communications positive, and they’ll support your positive reputation.
  • Stay active: It’s not enough to simply set up a profile and leave it there. That’s a good way to leave mentions open to any complaints you might get. Rather, populate your social media profiles with plenty of updates from you as well as a healthy amount of interaction with your followers.
  • Place a professional in charge: Tempting as it may be to hand off social media duties to an unpaid intern, they may not actually be the best person for the job. If you want to use social media responsibly (and you should), hire a professional who understands the best way to represent your brand positively on social media.
  • Use brand dedicated devices: Some social media mistakes happen when an employee thought they were logged in to their personal account, but instead posted on behalf of a brand. You can use dedicated devices that are exclusively for the use of the brand to minimize this risk.
  • Remember that everything you share is a reflection on your reputation: Don’t lose your cool and get into a fight on social media, or spew hate speech or offensive comments in the middle of a heated news story. Remember that anything you share on social media can and will be there practically forever. Coming to your senses and deleting it may be too late, as others can screen shot and share your posts instantly.
  • Handle negative feedback immediately: It rarely feels good to address negative comments, but it’s important that you don’t let them sit and fester on social media. Quickly respond and handle any negative comments you receive on social media to show followers that you care about what they have to say and that you’re capable of staying on top of problems. This is also a great way to correct any misinformation.
  • Be careful about who you connect with: Fans on a Facebook page can’t really be controlled, but who you connect with as a friend or follower on Facebook, Twitter, and other networks can tell a story about you. Be aware of how your connections may reflect on your online reputation, and consider whether they can be trusted to see and share your private posts.
  • Minimize social media apps: You can lower your risk of mistaken posts by avoiding leaving lots of social network authorizations open. Make sure that the apps you’ve authorized for your social profiles are ones you use actively and trust.
  • Develop a social media policy: For brands, there’s simply no excuse for not having a social media policy. Your employees are on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media accounts, whether they’re using them in an official capacity or not. And they can share company information whether you tell them that’s OK or not. If you don’t have one yet, outline a simple, yet detailed, social media policy that lets employees know what is and isn’t appropriate on social media for your company, then back it up with training for developing good social media practices.