“Online reputation management.” Even if you’ve never heard this phrase before, you probably have a good sense of what it means. The first part (“online reputation”) is easier than ever for you or anyone else to find — just search for your camp’s name in Google.
Finding your online reputation is easy due to two main factors:
- Google is smarter than ever before. It features search results based on local factors, can autocomplete user’s searches while they type (called “Google Instant”), and tirelessly crawls the massive number of social networking sites now available.
- Local review pages and social networking sites have made it easier than ever for customers and staff (current or former) to rant or rave about your camp online.
The second part of that phrase (“management”) can seem overwhelming. “Management” poses a lot of questions: How can you manage what other people say about you online? Should you respond to negative comments you find? What do you do if these negative comments rank high in the search results for your camp’s name?
Let’s take a look at a few basic steps to get you started in managing your online reputation.
Rhea Drysdale, co-founder and CEO of Outspoken Media, says that the first step in managing your reputation is to be proactive and put your name out there first: “If you don’t have a Web presence, it’s much more likely that if someone posts something negative about their experience with your business, that review is actually going outrank you for your business name. And everybody loves to click on something that’s negative, so it’s much more likely that your customers will see that. Through repeat clicks and searches, it will actually cause that negative review to rank even higher.”
So what’s the first step in prevention? Claim your business on sites like Google Places. That way, your camp’s name appears in the results if someone searches for camps in your area. Check out www.GetListed.org , a free online tool that will determine whether or not your camp is listed on Google, Bing, and other major local search engines.
The next step is to register the domain name of your Web site. “Even if you don’t have a big site with a whole lot of moving parts and lots of pages or any other flashy features, as long as you have one page with accurate contact information, as well as accurate hours, and an accurate description of your [camp], that’s going to help,” says Drysdale.
Many camps today have taken these steps, and some have even claimed their usernames on popular social networking sites, which also helps in being proactive. Use www.KnowEm.com  to check over 500 social networking sites for whether or not your username is still available. But don’t worry — you don’t need to register a username on all 500. Drysdale recommends starting with the most important networks, wherever there is a strong presence — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, and so on.
After claiming your username, fill out your profile on each network. And just like your Web site, make sure you’ve included accurate contact information. “A lot of problems online are caused when someone doesn’t have the means to contact you — the phone number is out of date on your Web site, or the Web site is broken, or something else. And that’s when they turn to other sites to make a complaint, because they weren’t able to get ahold of you,” says Drysdale. So make sure people have all the information they need to reach you.
Consider linking your social network accounts to your Web site, and vice versa. This practice is called cross-linking. Linking to your Web site in your Twitter bio, for example, allows a follower to seamlessly find more in-depth information about you; and linking to your Twitter account from your Web site allows customers to easily find and follow your witty tweets.
Drysdale notes that “cross-linking is really important, because it’s kind of like building up a little web between all the different positive mentions that you’ve published online. And that’s going to help all of them rank stronger [in searches].” And the more positive, high-ranking search results for your camp, the better!
Another way to be proactive about your online reputation is to create positive content. For example, press releases are a great way to get your name out there. Just keep in mind that, lately, Google has been favoring fresh results. That means something that has a date attached to it — a press release or a news result —will typically show up in the search results when it is new. As the news dies down, however, it will actually fall out of the search results. So also try to create long-term, static content that does not have a date associated with it.
Beyond press releases, there are many other ways to create online content. “Use something like blogs or look for interview opportunities with your local press, throw events, or create contests. Really think of any kind of offline promotional activity as something that could be online as well — and that would help put positive mentions of your business online,” says Drysdale.
ACA Marketing Resources
Want ideas on how to create positive content for your camp? Find marketing articles, online courses, and helpful links in ACA’s Knowledge Center at www.ACAcamps.org/knowledge/marketing/mrktresource .
How Much Time Should This Take?
Now that you know what to do, you just need to find the time to do it! To avoid online overload, Drysdale suggests spreading out your work: “Maybe say that week one you’re going to claim your domain name and claim your local listings. Maybe week two you’re going to go through and claim Twitter and Facebook and fill out the profiles.”
If you want to post on your social media accounts, Drysdale recommends about fifteen to twenty minutes a day for Facebook and Twitter. But it’s not absolutely necessary, and not everyone does it. (If you do have time to post, remember this: It’s all about content for your readers! Don’t always be self-promotional with your accounts. Try to share things that your community would find interesting.) Blogs can also be a huge asset, but plan your time wisely. If you want to make your blog a priority, set up a content calendar and post consistently in order to build your following.
What Would You Do?
The following are a few hypothetical scenarios to help you in your online reputation management planning and response processes.
Google Returns High-Ranking Negative Search Results
If you’re starting to see negative search results, the first thing to do is make sure you’ve completed all of your proactive work (claiming your domain name, social media usernames, and so on). If you haven’t, start there, because that’s probably going to be enough to displace a lot of the negative in the results.
Next, regardless of whether or not you’ve displaced the negative results, look into them. Is it something you can respond to and try to correct? Determine if the complaint is legitimate and whether the person who posted it just needs someone to listen to him or her, help solve the problem, or apologize for the incident. Be very open, honest, and transparent —don’t be argumentative or defensive — and try to respond to the commenter.
Different sites will have different policies for how to respond. On Yelp, for example, if you have claimed your business location, you can either privately or publicly respond to someone who posts a comment about you. “I would suggest business owners try to privately take the conversation offline and say that you’re available to talk. Say something like, ‘Hey, let’s try to talk about this. Feel free to call me anytime.’ And make sure to list your contact information,” says Drysdale. That way, other people on the site know that you’re active, listening, and available if they need you — including those who find that negative mention of you in the future. And, says Drysdale, “posting your contact information along with that comment gives future searchers the opportunity to see your phone number one more time.”
If for some reason a particular network won’t let you respond, and you don’t think the negative mention is merited or legitimate, Drysdale recommends checking the policies of that specific site to see if there is any way to protest the negative mention and have it removed or contested. But, says Drysdale, “If it’s legitimate, leave it. It’s okay to have something negative about you online. It’s going to be impossible for most businesses to escape that.”
If you’re not able to get a negative mention removed, and you’re not able to solve the problem directly with the commenter, try to get more positive mentions for your camp by creating your own content (refer back to the “Creating Content” section of this article). Creating positive content for yourself can help “push down” negative mentions so that they don’t show up in the first one or two pages of your search results. Creating content and getting people searching for something positive about your camp will help push down negative Google Instant results as well.
Someone Posts a Complaint to Your Facebook Page or Blog
Much like responding to a complaint you found in search results, if you feel like the complaint on your Facebook or blog is merited, on topic, and respectful, you should respond — even if it might be tempting to just delete it! When you respond, try not to say your camp’s name over and over again, because all those mentions go to Google, and in turn, Google thinks that negative listing is even more important and relevant. Just introduce yourself and your role with your camp (“I’m Joe Schmoe, the director at Camp X”), and then use your personal name after that. Says Drysdale, “You’re probably not going to be able to make everyone happy, but if the rest of the community can see that you’re making a genuine effort, that’s going to go a long way.”
A negative Facebook post, blog comment, or tweet isn’t the end of the world — what really matters is what comes up in the search results for your name: “People are going to say things, just like they would in an off-hand conversation. But eventually those things get replaced by new status updates and new tweets. What’s more important is to make sure there’s nothing negative that’s ranking and sticking around on Google for your name, because that’s going to have a really long-term impact,” says Drysdale.
On a related note, if you’re going to let others post comments on your Facebook page or blog, it’s a good idea to state clearly defined guidelines upfront. That way, if someone posts something inappropriate on your Facebook or blog, or an unmerited complaint, you can refer them to the rules and remove their inappropriate comment. Post a note to your Facebook page with the rules for commenting; or if you’re blogging, link to your rules after each post.
What should your rules entail? They can be pretty simple: Don’t be racist, sexist, or violent. Stay on-topic. Don’t spam. You can even create a “Do’s” and “Don’ts” list. If you want to see what others use for commenting guidelines, simply search “rules for commenting” and you’ll find some good examples. Or, check out Outspoken Media’s commenting policy at http://outspokenmedia.com/comment-policy .
An Inappropriate Photo or Video Surfaces
If an inappropriate photo or video related to your camp surfaces, it can really draw a lot of attention. For example, remember the viral video of the FedEx employee throwing a computer monitor over a high fence? Since it was posted in December 2011, it has received over 8.5 million views and 25,000 comments.
First, you should know that a lot of networks have policies about content involving minors, so you might be able to work with parents to get the content removed from the network. (Check the specific network’s policies.)
Even if the situation does not involve a minor, you can try to appeal to have the photo or video removed from a specific network — Google won’t remove anything, but social networks might. Also on social networks, you can usually appeal to the person that posted it and ask him or her to remove it.
If you can’t get the content removed, try to replace the negative video or image with something positive — just like with Web search results. If it goes viral and starts to draw a lot of attention, think about ways you can be really proactive. Drysdale suggests creating a photo or video contest for your camp to try to push the negative content down further in search results. She adds, “Remember that Google has been favoring fresh results a lot more, so it is possible that a picture or video could light up in the search results short term, but won’t necessarily go viral — especially if you have new content to put up there in place of it.”
Getting Some Outside Help
If you’re looking for help in managing your online reputation, there’s plenty available. Free online resources (including Outspoken Media’s “Online Reputation Management Guide,” available at http://outspokenmedia.com/guides/orm-guide ) are just a Google search away. If you need more help, or simply don’t have the time to handle the responsibilities on your own, there are reputation management consultants available.
“Look for a credible person nearby that has the knowledge to update your accounts — but always really fall back on your camp and your policies. Sit down and brainstorm how you would respond in certain situations and create those policies. No one knows your business or your industry better than yourself,” says Drysdale. “And if anyone ever tells you that they can guarantee results, run far, far away in the opposite direction. There are no guarantees when you’re dependent on Google — an algorithm that constantly changes.”
Drysdale’s company, Outspoken Media, provides a range of services: from reputation management services and consulting to drafting strategy documents and staff training (see http://outspokenmedia.com/services/online-reputation-management/  for more information). In addition to reputation management consultants, there are a lot of PR professionals who have a long history in crisis management and are now starting to overlap with the online piece of crisis management as well. It might be worthwhile to look into those types of companies, too.
In the end, managing your online reputation is a lot like learning how to maneuver in a virtual office. Drysdale offers: “What would you do if that person was standing there in your facility with that complaint? Try to think through that process. I don’t think the internet is really that much different, other than making sure that you can get the content published.”
For more information on online reputation management, check out Outspoken Media’s free guide at http://outspokenmedia.com/guides/orm-guide . Special thanks to Rhea Drysdale for lending her expertise to this article.