An Introduction to Reputation Management (by guest blogger Tim Nash)
This is a post by a guest blogger.
Tim Nash is a reputation management consultant, co-founder and primary consultant for Venture Skills a “New media” IT company which specialises in search engine optimisation, reputation management, and technical side of online marketing. When not working at Venture Skills, posting site reviews on forums he can be found teaching at a local university where he lecturers in Search Engine Optimisation and Information Retrieval.
But what is reputation management?
Let us start with a formal quote:
Reputation management is the process of tracking an entity’s actions and other entities’ opinions about those actions; reporting on those actions and opinions; and reacting to that report creating a feedback loop. All entities involved are generally people, but that need not always be the case. Other examples of entities include animals, businesses, or even locations or materials. The tracking and reporting may range from word-of-mouth to statistical analysis of thousands data points. — Source: Wikipedia
This is a very dusty but surprisingly accurate description of reputation management, be it in commercial business analysis or on a personal level. There a three basic areas to reputation management:
- Finding out what people are saying about you
- Creating a persona or brand image
- If needed defending this image
But why is this important to us?
The world is not the same ten years ago. The internet means we can access millions of web pages on almost every subject. The rise of social networks means our brand or persona is all around us for anyone to see: your boss, your potential future boss and in many people’s worse nightmares your in-laws!
What you say online can be traced. In the USA their have been several high profile cases of dismissal for inappropriate conduct all because of what was said on sites like MySpace or Facebook. Many prospective employers Google search candidates before interviews, indeed in recent interviews for positions where I have been the employer I have gone one step further asking candidates for any forum or social media names they may use. Now we are the extreme — a techie company who was looking for some one familiar with the web who was a team player and could participate — but what if you were forced to hand over your forum handles?
Many of us participate in forums, blogs, Myspace, LinkedIn using various names and handles. The vast majority of online users do not use their real names. Why?
Up until a year or so ago I never used my name on forums, I was always uberwonky1 or something equally meaningless. Until I was asked by a prospective client who wanted me to do some SEO (search engine optimisation) work why I was not on the front page when he Googled my name? At the time I thought nothing of it. I did change my forum handle to tnash because of what my wife said which was simply would you trust uberwonky1 with your business?
I launched my personal site back in August with the intention of promoting my name as a brand and these are my lessons learned. The odd thing is that promoting a person is no different than promoting a business just on a smaller scale and I had been doing that for years.
Finding out what people say about you
This step is a simple one, go to your preferred search engine, type your name and hit enter. Most people do not look beyond the first 5 pages. Are you mentioned?
Repeat this on a couple of other engines, and make sure you include the big 3 Yahoo, Live and Google . If you’re serious about monitoring your identity check out Google Alerts — it sends you information on new content appearing in the index, news and blog search for given keyword. In this case, your name.
The next step is to visit your social media pages, LinkedIn, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, MyBlogLog etc and see what has been said both by you and by commenters. For now just note comments that may be inappropriate and also note your usernames (though you should know these).
Once we have this basic data you probably fall into one of three categories:
- Nothing in the first 5 SERP (search engine ranking pages) for your real name and single pseudonym username for social networks.
- Work or professional mention in the first 5 SERPS for your real name and several pseudonym username for social networks.
- Mixed mentions in the first 5 SERPS and multiple usernames including real name for social networks.
Of course you may find that you do not fit in these 3 categories, but my advice will still apply.
Creating a persona or Brand
My name is my brand. I’m Tim Nash the IT consultant. I’m known on forums as tnash where I am normally found doing somewhat critical site reviews for people. I write in British English and I have a sarcastic sense of humour.
This is my brand — it is who I am and people who know me will know it’s a pretty truthful brand. When I write a comment I try to provide both advice but also to convey that I’m open to questions. I want potential employers to know they can trust me and my advice.
I get about
- 10% of my work and my company work through various forums,
- a further 10-15% through the Venture Skills blog,
- another 5% coming from various social networks.
When 30% of your work is directly from your brand you need to maintain it. However. I have two brands to maintain ‘Tim Nash the IT consultant‘ and tnash the forum moderator. I have to link the brands.
At this stage its worth deciding if you already have a brand, or if it is time to create one. The advantage of creating a new brand is a fresh canvas but it lacks history. While an old brand may have skeletons in the closet. I guess its how many skeletons are in your closet that dictates this. If in doubt start with your name and add your usernames at a later point.
“A domain name is worth a 1000 keywords”, its not quite true but having a domain name and website is a great start to defining who you and your brand is. When purchasing a domain for creating a brand try to focus on your name and use the correct TLD (top level domain) so timnash.me.uk or timnash.name rather then the more generic names. But what do you put on the site?
- A blog! — not a bad idea but only if you have something to say
- An About Me page or CV — This is probably the best idea
- Links to your various profiles and social media sites — Helps to unite brands
I have gone with all 3: I have a blog which gets updated infrequently but tends to have pretty good content, an about me page and links to various sites which I participate in. The goal of the site is to be the hub of your on-line world, with each of your profiles linking back to the site.
Recommended Social Networks
A LinkedIn account. Linked in is a social media site designed for professionals it offers a way of sharing people you trust and recommend and a place to put up a mini CV. It also always ranks well on SERPs at least for Google meaning it’s a great way to get your brand up and running in little or no time.
A Del.icio.us account, I always recommend keeping two book marking accounts one professional and one personal. Your professional account represents well your professional interests. I once came across a CEO of a company, a well respected academic and his del.icio.us links included a couple of porn sites and a site on how to grow weed! I love looking at people’s del.icio.us accounts to find out their interests and it can be a great reputation management tool as many people will see your bookmarks as your professional interests.
Edit by engtech: I recommend creating professional (real name) and personal (first name, last initial) profiles on Facebook as well. Professional networking is in the early stages on Facebook, but it is already killing the online dating sites. I see it wiping out LinkedIn in the next 1-3 years.
Separating yourself into 3 identities online is always a good way of thinking, your real name, professional username (associated with real name) and personal username. So Tim Nash the IT consultant and tnash are easily associated but uberwonk1 is a different person.
Defending the image
If you build up an image and some soul writes about your drunken behaviour or a comment on Digg turns nasty how do you protect your reputation? What if some one starts using tnash to write slanderous posts?
The first is harder to deal with and requires a modicum of common sense. Is the comment true? Is it slanderous? Can you live with it? If it’s a true comment and you were seen with your pants around your ankles on top of your car that its best to ride out the storm, however if the comment is slanderous you can always approach the site owners and ask for it to be removed (normally the threat of lawsuits work) but do this at your own risk. However the easiest way to avoid any long term damage to these style comments is to create a strong brand and of course to control the SERPs (search engine result page — make sure you control what people find when they search for you). While aimed at companies Greywolf (a well known SEO Blogger) wrote a good list of sites that can be used to help with controling SERPs.
The second problem of a copycat or identity thief is easier to cope with but requires some forward planning in managing your identity.
ClaimID is a simple site which at first glance looks like many other social bookmarking sites but is designed to help you protect your digital identity. It offers several services including acting as an OpenID server, listing your sites and providing you with a microformat hcard.
Each of these is useful. I use OpenID whenever possible to login into site and always use my account from ClaimID. This has two advantages: I only need to remember one password/username combination and my comments can be checked for authenticity, as I have verified my claimID against my domain. ClaimID also allows me to list my forum profiles so people can see which forums I am registered at and using which username. Finally, it lists posts such as this guest blog which I may have done. This is only the tip of the iceberg with ClaimID, but even these simple steps allow people to check that it was me who posted that comment about their mother!
There are many other techniques and methods to help create and maintain a brand on the web and this was meant to be a short introduction to some of the techniques. I hope the post has inspired you all to go out and create a lasting brand. Since I adopted these steps I have seen sales increase by nearly 30% and have been asked to write papers and give talks. Building a brand around your name is worth doing. Isn’t it about time uberwonky1 was left in peace?
Tim Nash is a reputation management consultant, co-founder and primary consultant for Venture Skill. You can find Tim at