The Ugly Truth About Online Reputation Management: A Successful Strategy Requires Crossing a Few Ts

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In the Web 2.0 world, managing your personal or corporate reputation is paramount.  Search engine marketing (SEM) is an increasingly powerful tool for online reputation management (ORM). Unfortunately, even a deep understanding of ORM strategies doesn’t assure a successful outcome in the client/vendor relationship. Over the years, I’ve learned that a client’s success correlates more to executive management’s support of the program than the marketing team’s understanding of ORM strategies and tactics.

A major challenge I’ve experienced with ORM clients is that CEOs may know they need the help and hire experts, but they end up being reluctant to implement their recommendations, thus limiting success. The most common barriers to achieving desired ORM goals include timelines, transparency, and trust.

Timelines

Companies and executives in need of ORM typically start looking for help late in the game. The longer they  delay, the more difficult it is to mitigate negative search results. To compound the problem, executives can have large egos and little understanding of the time and resources required to manage an effective ORM campaign.

Transparency

Assuming the client is on board with a realistic timeline and budget, the next hurdle is their ability to be transparent and honest in communications with stakeholders.  Many clients would love to buy their way out of a situation and “make it go away,” rather than address the issue directly. Unfortunately, with the web today, this is not a viable option.

Trust

The next bottleneck is gaining sufficient trust to implement against the plan. Just because the client initially agrees to a scope of work and writes a check, it doesn’t mean they will actually implement recommendations.  There’s a general skepticism of ORM by executives, whether due to the specific stressful situation or their inherent personality.  Either way, the client needs to trust the ORM vendor’s recommendations or re-evaluate the program’s viability.

Success

With so many obstacles in the path of a successful ORM program, why even bother trying? The answer is because the stakes are far too high. Search Google for Starbucks or Wal-Mart and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Search results can make or break a customer, if not a brand. With a commitment of time, resources, and budget, any company can mitigate online reputation issues.

Based on my experiences, a “best practices” process for maximizing the potential of a client’s ORM campaign includes the fundamental elements of integrity, education, and flexibility.

Integrity

A successful ORM campaign starts and ends with the client. Do they have a level of integrity that ensures honesty and transparency in communications with vendors and stakeholders? Here’s a hint: if the company or individual has exhibited bad judgment in the past, it’s likely a personality trait that will repeat, endangering the client’s (and vendor’s) reputation in the process.

Education

Each of the three T’s mentioned above must be discussed thoroughly up front to minimize backlash, delays, or frustration down the road.  Setting clear expectations on timelines, levels of transparency, and trust required by both parties in the initial agreement phase is critical.

Flexibility

Last but not least, the client and vendor both need to be flexible in communications and implementation of strategies, tactics, and timelines.  In the dynamic world of reputation management, things can get out of control or change on a dime, so crisis planning and proactive communications are essential.

In the end, the success of an ORM campaign has as much to do with the people involved as it does with solid strategies and tactics. Ensure the key players are all on the same page from the beginning, and then move on with the battle plan.

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