What's your online reputation like?
The most recent piece to emerge is from ex-Financial Times journalist Tom Foremski, who postulates that 'Every Company is a Media Company' (EC=MC) in his new thesis which he writes about here. His position is clear; regardless of the business you are in, you're also in the business of media publishing. Content, communications through social media, advertising in the non-traditional sense, open customer services models letting the world see you deal with your customers in a transparent way, reacting and acting online to maintain positive feeling with your existing customers and utilizing fan pages to grow your potential customer base. All of these are employed with increasing energy as businesses transform into what they need to in order to survive in the competitive marketplace that has become global and virtual. And if you're not publishing, and controlling, what you want people to see, or engaging in the conversation, you're not long for this world in business terms.
From a completely different angle, taking the individual and non-technical perspective, Antony Mayfield, an ex-PR man and now VP of i-Crossing here in the UK, has come up with a constructive discussion of the importance of managing one's own 'web shadow' – the sum of the parts of the internet that you once played with and forgot, blended with the sum of the parts of the internet that other people played with tagging you in a photo of a drunken party, with a dash of some of the professional stuff you might have done or still do, all served up without empathy on Google's front page. Luckily for most, Antony also outlines what you can do about it even if you're not technical, in his excellent and thoughtful book Me and My Web Shadow.
Stuck in between the large organizations and the individuals, are 90% (if not more) of the rest of the business world. Small and medium-sized businesses at a loss to understand how to deal with all of this reputation and search stuff, knowing the importance of being found online but struggling with the time-poor aspects of developing and growing business from a day-to-day perspective. Luckily again, another book This is Social Media, written by business journalist Guy Clapperton, outlines in a very simple way, what can and can't be achieved with various social networks and technologies.
What it comes down to is this. No longer can you take the chance to ignore search results. There's little or no time to be able to retrospectively fix negative customer sentiment already on the web, but it's not too late to begin to engage. Skins need to be thickened. Sleeves need to be rolled up. Taking control is not out of the reach of the individual job-seekers concerned about employers finding negative impressions of them on social networks, nor is making sure that you can be found as high up the search results in order to be the authoritative source of information about you. Businesses can take control of all of the ways in which they can interact with different constituents and be more open on the internet whilst maximizing their investments in their social media channels.
The time is definitely right to look at a .tel name as a way to help with all of these issues, especially, but not exclusively, if you're not technically inclined. Online reputation matters – it's time to do something about it.