Reputation management is essential for everyone, but CEOs and other C-level executives in particular should be concerned with developing a positive online reputation. It’s nearly impossible to keep a low profile, and CEOs are scrutinized online all the time, making it difficult to control the conversation about yourself. Today, individuals like CEOs who live largely in the public eye can expect to live a high profile life, meaning it’s essential to proactively manage and protect your image online.

Your Reputation as a CEO Matters More Than You Think

In the past, CEOs have been pretty laid back about their online reputation. In fact, we discovered that often, CEOs neglect to engage in social media and many do not have much of a curated online presence at all. Only 50% of CEOs have a personal biography on their website, and only 1 in 5 CEOs have a social media account.

This is a major, potentially harmful oversight. A secure CEO reputation is essential not just to the individual, but the company as well. Case in point: media about a company’s CEO tends to set the tone for company publicity. That means if a company’s CEO typically receives bad press, the company will usually garner more negative news about the organization as a whole. According to one study, almost 50% of a company’s reputation is attributed to a CEO’s reputation.

The study also indicates that a CEO’s reputation is essential to attracting and retaining customers, employees, and investors.

Many CEOs are realizing, however, just how valuable a strong, fallible reputation is. 50% of executives expect CEO reputation to matter more to their company’s reputation in the next few years, and executives attribute 45% of their company’s reputation to the CEO’s reputation. Those are high stakes to place on a single individual’s shoulders.

The Risk of a Blank Slate

CEOs who neglect to manage their reputation long-term are essentially allowing the press and other individual publishers to dictate the discussion about them online, and effectively becoming the authors of a story that isn’t theirs to write. Anyone with a social media account or website can say anything they’d like about you and it can be taken as fact, regardless of how true it really is.

Instead of allowing others to control your reputation, you can work on building a comprehensive online presence that acts as reputation insurance. With an established, consistently managed and strong reputation, you’ll be in a better position to defend against false or negative information that may appear at any time.

But building a strong reputation isn’t just about protecting yourself and your company from what might happen in the future. It can also protect you from the misgivings of your past.

Take Evan Spiegel, the Snapchat CEO who landed in hot water for emails from his college days. His reputation was severely damaged in an instant as highly detailed (and often, offensive) emails from his fraternity days suddenly surfaced, as things often do in today’s digital age. As a young CEO, Spiegel worked hard to project an image of maturity, and those emails swiftly washed that image down the Internet drain.

Risks to a CEO’s reputation include:

  • Negative reviews, fake or real
  • News media coverage
  • Backlash websites or blog posts
  • Negative comments on social media and blogs
  • Posting of personal information such as an address, phone number, or family details

How a Good Reputation Helps Even When Things Go Wrong

Ultimately, proactively managing your online reputation ensures that you’ll have a more accurate online persona. If you’re in charge of and keeping a pulse on what’s being said about you online, you can ensure that the content is not just positive, but factual. Bottom line: building a good reputation is preventive medicine.

When faced with negative news stories and other damaging search results, it’s not always easy to remove the offending links. Typically, they’ll continue to exist online, but by developing more positive search results, it is possible to push the negative content down far enough in search results to where readers won’t quickly or easily see them.

Unfortunately, many individuals and even high profile CEOs often wait until they’re faced with a problem to work on managing positive search results. Instead, it’s crucial to work diligently to develop positive content: a blog, active social media involvement, personal profiles, and more are all ways to begin taking an active role in your online reputation.

A positive online reputation builds credibility, goodwill, trust, and most of all, strong content that can stand up against (and potentially push down) any negative review or news article that may pop up. Crises do happen, and when they do, you’ll be able to more easily defend your reputation and call on a strong online network if you’re actively engaged online. Your established channels will immediately go to work to disseminate factual information.

Building a Strong CEO Reputation

What does it take to lay a strong reputation foundation as a CEO? Historical research along with a number of scholarly studies indicates these are the most important factors to building a CEO’s reputation:

  • Clear company vision
  • Inspirational and motivational
  • Honesty and ethics
  • Good internal communications
  • Cares about well-being of employees and company culture
  • Global business outlook
  • Good external communications and public relations
  • Decisiveness
  • Customer focus

Essential Reputation Management Tips for CEOs

If you’ve neglected your online reputation or have been trying to improve your search landscape with little success, there are steps you can take that will have a big impact.

Be Visible and Active

Consumers, investors, and the general public are no longer satisfied with executives who manage their companies with a great deal of privacy. Instead, they want transparency. They want to see active engagement with the press, employees, and the public. Research indicates that 81% of global executives agree that it’s important for CEOs to have a visible public profile.

Practice effective communication skills and become comfortable talking with the news media. Your external visibility should include public speaking, activity in the local community, visibility in company online channels, accessibility in the news media, sharing insights with the public, and holding leadership positions beyond the company.

Own Your Domain

Make sure you own the .com for your name, along with the .org, .net, .info, and every related domain you can think of. This will ensure that only you have the power to publish content on sites with your name on them.

Own Your Name

Don’t stop with your domain name when you’re registering online. Just like domains, social media and other brand outlets are essential to claim as soon as you possibly can. Even if you have no plans to use Reddit, it’s still smart to reserve your name there. If you don’t, someone else can. And while you can release statements or work with the website to claim your official account, it’s simply much easier to just claim a placeholder now, even if you never intend to use it. Consider using a service like KnowEm to identify opportunities for claiming your personal brand name online.

Do Good

As CEO, doing charitable or award-worthy work doesn’t only benefit your reputation, but your company’s as well. 34% of global executives indicated that it’s essential for CEOs to win awards for their company or themselves.

Monitor Your Results

Set up a Google Alert for your name and your company. You may not like everything you see, but it’s better to learn about bad news early and face it head on rather than letting things spin out of control. This is only one of many ways to monitor your results online.

Mitigate Negative Press

It’s often easier said than done, but don’t discount the value of simply staying out of trouble. Today, it’s easier than ever for negative press to overtake your search results. Arrests or other regrettable actions can be quickly picked up by the media and could potentially remain online for years after the event has passed.

Tweet Responsibly

What you say online can and will be repeated, screenshotted, and shared online with or without your consent. Don’t put your trust in privacy walls, either, as it’s all too easy for leaks to make their way out. Think carefully about how your words or photos may be perceived and interpreted before you post.

Publish Positive Content

If you do nothing else, do this. You should constantly put out positive information about yourself as well as the business. Consider contributing to the company blog, and ensure that you’re named in any relevant press releases put out by the company. Establish an identity online with a biography on the company website as well as active, engaging profiles on social media. Another great way to earn positive content is to lend your expertise as a thought leader or industry expert. Speak with the press, get quoted on blogs, and put your expert status to good use to get your name shared online.

Engage With Employees

A CEO’s reputation starts with what employees think of you, and in fact, employees can become the biggest cheerleaders not just for your brand, but for you as an individual. Avoid being inaccessible. Spend time connecting with employees and reach out personally to as many as you can. Communicate with your company and ensure that you’re building goodwill among the people who power the organization.

Keep it Legitimate and Professional

Your reputation as a CEO is a high stakes game, but you must resist any temptation to stack the deck by pulling any unlawful, rule-bending moves. Fake reviews, black hat SEO, and other questionable reputation management tactics are to be avoided. They’re not only wrong, but they can come back to harm you. If you hire a team, ensure they’re experienced and have a history of success.

Photo of Brianna MacBlane
About the Author

After earning her Master’s in New Media Management from Syracuse University, Brianna now serves as Reputation Strategy Advisor and oversees strategy development on multiple reputation management projects.

More