July 21st, 2008 6 comments
When individuals and companies working as web designers, web programmers, in public relations and search optimisation experts all begin to start dropping the same buzzwords and approach into their promotional material, you know there's a bandwagon rolling... The latest big bandwagon is Online Reputation Management which now appears in the famous 'Web 2.0 Buzzword Bingo'. It's popping up in hundreds of blogs highlighting how 'if you Google Company X, the first page is full of people dumping on them' and invariably points to the author, or their associates as the expert who can fix the problem, and make this bad coverage disappear. A search in Google for the term 'online reputation management' finds over 4.6 million entries, and the sponsored ads are full of phrases like 'Remove Bad Information', 'Fight Negative Publicity' and 'Defend Your Reputation'. The organic listings within that search contain content from many seasoned Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) ad Search Engine Marketing (SEM) experts and there are a few respected and familiar names I recognise there like Lee Odden and Andy Beal, who has also written 'Radically Transparent'. However, there are also a lot of links to those who are clearly doing their best to game Google's search results, and offer to do the same for you, in a fairly cynical 'digital dirty laundry cleaner' approach. Now, that's a fair enough business model, and good luck to those seeking to take advantage of a new opportunity... I am all for people monitoring and being aware of what's being said about them, and joining in the conversation, but it worries me that many of the 'ORM Experts' focus only on burying bad news - not on honestly engaging customers, talking and listening, having conversations, being open and transparent about failures. It's still a 'let's whitewash it over' approach. When things are not going well, it's perhaps appealing to think that you can hire an expert to make the bad news magically go away, and leave only glowing, sunny reports about you online. But it's also a hopelessly outdated mode of thinking that assumes one can control the messages that one is pushing out to make sure the spin and the hype is just right for people to hear. It's also the equivalent of sweeping dust under the carpet. Nothing has gone away, it's just not visible. Stop! The genie is out of the bottle. The conversation is going to happen about you, your organisation, your services, your products, despite your efforts to control it, and the more you try to suppress honest opinion, the louder and more visible such opinion will become. If you're bad, people talk about it - so concentrate on being good and getting better, not on hiding your mistakes. You made them - move on. The message that supports the idea that you can influence and control how you appear online should not be about painting over the cracks or hiding things - it should be about listening to your customers, and talking with them openly and honestly, wherever they choose to have that conversation. When the phrase 'your reputation' is squeezed into the same sentence as 'social media' and 'marketing' - watch out. If you hear that, it's increasingly likely that the speaker or author has missed the central tenet of what Web 2.0 embodies - everybody is the media, and everybody is potentially just as influential as anyone else. So the next time you hear someone say they are an expert in Online Reputation Management, ask yourself why they are pitching themselves to companies who have something to hide, rather than focusing on those who have something to share. Nobody likes to see bad news, but the days have long gone when you could hide it away and hope people forget about it. Google does not forget. You can take a number of steps to help manage your online reputation, and if you can't do this yourself, by all means hire others help you. But be careful to choose someone who knows the difference between full transparency and partial disappearance.