Thursday, November 08, 2007

PROACTIVE Reputation Management—a New Insurance

There’s been a lot of talk lately about using search engine optimization techniques to repair reputations damaged by negative listings that appear in the search engines’ natural listings. If you’re not sure what I mean by a negative natural search listing, enter “Paypal” as a search term on Google and check out the listings for information that works against the brand. (Or see a screen capture from 10-23-07 at the end of this post.)

This technique, known as search engine reputation management (SERM) or search engine image protection (SEIP), has been around for several years but is being buzzed about more now due in large part due to the explosion of Web 2.0 applications.

In the past, disgruntled employees or dissatisfied customers had little recourse for airing their grievances outside of direct contact with the company with which they had differences. As Web 1.0 evolved, it provided more avenues for people to share their opinions about a product’s safety, poor service or a less than copasetic work environment, but even so, these complaints tended to have a limited audience—you had to be in the environment to which they were posted to find them: on a blog about consumer products, on a company’s customer discussion board, etc.

Now, with the emergence of the true interactivity and preponderance of user generated content that characterizes Web 2.0, people have many more avenues for voicing their opinions on the Web. From creating a blog specifically to air a complaint to commenting on others’ blogs to creating or adding to Wikipedia entries, to creating social media profiles (on Facebook and MySpace, for example), to creating podcasts and uploading videos—all of which, in turn, are linked to by others—people can quickly populate the Web with their tale of woe—and be guaranteed an audience.

In addition to having more places to post their opinions, Web 2.0 invites hyper-connectivity between all sorts of media, with social media like Digg and StumbleUpon enabling voting and bookmarking and other mechanisms that can propel a single post to superstardom.

And in their never-ending quest to provide the most relevant answers to search queries, search engines have been journeying deeper and deeper into the digital outposts of Web 2.0 media—and pulling into their rankings the information they find there. And, as noted, it’s not always the positive information that we used to see when the only information out there was the one-way marketing speak put out by companies, brands, and self-promoting individuals.

These recent news stories cover the topic of SERM: the Stephanie Fierman story; New York Times Archives Causing Google Nightmares, and in The Wall Street Journal Online, another story on fixing an image tarnished by search engine results.

Each talks about what a person or company did to repair the damage caused to their reputations when negative information on them found its way into search engine results, the natural listings (also called editorial listings) that the search engines populate with information they pull from a variety of sources on the Web.

While DBE has been providing these reputation repair services to select companies for the last four years, it’s always been a reaction to a discovery made by us or by the client about what was found in the search listings--after the damage has been done and a remedy was needed to present at least a fair and balanced view.

Now, however, we’re suggesting something new: proactive reputation protection, or, for you acronym lovers out there: PRP.

By leveraging the full arsenal of social media profiles, blogs, websites, and other online content sets that get picked up by the search engines (and other online media), we’re helping our clients develop online strategies that fortify their reputations and thought leadership so that if an unfortunate posting surfaces, it will be surrounded and pushed down in the search rankings by much more “evidence to the contrary” which has had a chance to be found and indexed by the search engines—lead time is frequently a good thing in the world of search.

Like other forms of insurance that you can’t be without, PRP helps you take a proactive stance in the hit and run world of Web 2.0.

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