From this week’s radio appearance on Talk 1300 – Your Online Reputation

This week, we received what we believe to be some unfortunate and inaccurate publicity, and it got me thinking and working on reputation management, and online PR.

With a banner headline reading “Survival Mode: businesses pessimistic about ’09” the new edition of the Capital District Business Review article paints an incorrect and incomplete picture of where the Gile Companies are today.  It makes the Gile Companies, of which WSG is a part, appear to be the poster children for small business struggles.  Far from the truth.

But that’s not what was printed, on paper and online.  So what does it mean and what do you do?

In this case, there is a need to set the record straight. While concerned about the current economic climate, the Gile Companies, which includes Gile Office Solutions, web and IT firm WSG.net, GileToys.com and a number of other ventures, is well-positioned to weather the storm and even grow in a down economy.  When people think your business is in trouble, they can easily be less inclined to do business with you.

A news article painting that picture is a problem, as would be unflattering blog postings or comments, chatter in forums, or anything online, where the barrier of publishing is essentially non-existent.  The easier it is to publish content, the more you have to watch it.  This is a little thing called user generated content, or consumer generated media. Wikipedia has a pretty good page on this topic for those who want to drill down into more detail.

Anyone can write anything about anyone, and they don’t even have to put their name behind it.  You must pay attention.  Read Pete Blackshaw’s book
Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000 or Brian Solis’ PR 2.0.

1. Listen and look.  To keep this post to a readable length, look to Lifehacker or ReadWriteWeb for some posts on how to do this.  Google News Alerts, Technorati, Bloglines and may other services can help you do this.

2. React.  Remember that this is about the user’s experience, so try to avoid getting into a spitting contest.  This is customer service.  Hotels do a good job of finding complaint-related content, tracking down the root cause of a guest’s bad experience, and making it right.

3. Be proactive.  Reputation management is quite a broad discipline, and has traditionally been the job of PR firms and departments.  Start asking what your customers think about you, what your employees and investors think about you, and to what degree your company is socially responsible.  How do people view your products and services?