Most entrepreneurs assume that a lack of an online reputation is a good thing. In reality, it’s negative, because people who can’t find you or any mention of your startup anywhere on the Internet assume you are not savvy or have something to hide. At the very least, with no positives for balance, it’s very risky, since the first negative mention of you or your company will kill your reputation.
The simple solution is for you to define your online identity early with positive content, starting with a business website with the right domain name, and an "about me" page with pictures that paint a positive image of your background, accomplishments and current mission. In addition, there are many other proactive ways to expand that positive presence, including the following:
Claim your identity on social media before someone else does. You may not think it’s important to have a Facebook or Twitter account, but once you and your business get some traction, others with less scruples will be quick to grab your name and use it against you. Identity theft can be as devastating to a business as it is to a person.
Actively contribute to common business and personal profile sites. Just the act of registering on these sites sets a positive reputation. Occasional engagement and visibility in forum discussions and industry activities establishes positive content to offset the random negative comment that every passionate entrepreneur is sure to generate.
Add new blog content to your site on a regular basis. Blogging is an ideal way to express your positive values, show your expertise and establish yourself as an influencer. If done well, this will get you a wealth of positive comments, as well as provide real “Google juice” to push negative content out of view on any search engine results.
Monitor the web for negative comments and address them directly. Any not-so-positive reviews or comments can be found with Google Alerts or a similar free tool, and should be answered quickly in a non-defensive manner, ideally pointing to other previous positive content. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring negative comments or reviews, hoping no one will notice.
Actively work to remove irrelevant and unwanted content. It is always worth contacting a site owner to remove unflattering content, but you may not have much leverage. You can delete comments on your own site, or articles you have contributed. Expert sites, such as BrandYourself, have proprietary techniques to help remove bad content.
Live the reputation you want to see online. These days, everything you do or say, even in a moment of weakness or in private, ends up online. It’s impossible to live one life and project another, so remember your current or future business before posting that provocative picture on Facebook. The Internet sees the good, the bad and the ugly.
If you have slipped a couple of times in the past, it can be helpful to reach out to friends and supporters to attest online to your newfound focus on the business. They can provide links to additional positive or neutral content, which will help to displace and minimize the offending content.
In case you are not yet convinced that these efforts are worthwhile, note that online reputation damage now heads the list of top 10 business risks in Aon's 2015 Global Risk Management Risk Ranking, from a survey of 1,400 risk-management professionals in 60 countries. They project an 80 percent chance that your company will lose value within five years due to this problem.
The good news is that a positive online reputation is the best lead-generation approach you don’t have to buy, if you are proactive and do it right. Don’t assume that it will happen by default. It pays to be street smart, stay out of the back alleys and be prepared for the road ahead. Your reputation follows you, and can be your salvation or the cause of your downfall.
*** First published on Entrepreneur.com on 8/7/2015 ***