Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Can “You” Damage Your Company’s Reputation?

Can “You” Damage Your Company’s Reputation?
By Steve Plunkett

While it’s true that a large portion of the population still gets the bulk of its news from traditional media outlets like the television news and newspapers, there are other members of the population that have expanded the scope of where they get their news. They were the “You” of TIME Magazine’s famed “Person of the Year” for 2006. By choosing “You,” the magazine was talking about people that ingest, filter and re-supply hundreds, if not thousands, of bits of information via a variety of news sources in a sort of new electronic version of word of mouth. The term du jour is “citizen journalist,” and it’s important to know what makes these influencers tick – because, while they sometimes say good things about your company, there’s an awful lot of negative information being posted on the Web by these people. Your company needs to be aware of what’s going on so you can protect yourself from “You.”
To demonstrate the power of citizen journalism and its influence, consider the following example: Last year, I was unhappy about my treatment at a particular auto dealership so I blogged about it. To this day, if you put the name of the automobile dealership into a search engine, one of the first results that comes up is my blog entry, which recounts my experience from a factual perspective. While I won’t go into great detail here, let’s just say that all of the potential customers that click on my blog before clicking the auto dealer’s website link may think twice before heading over to that dealership.
It’s important to remember that “You” can work fast to report on a product or service. How fast? Well, all it takes for “You” to be an instant media outlet is Internet access and a camera phone, which are both plentiful these days. If your company releases a product, “You” can be the first to purchase it then publish a video and review of it on a blog and/or YouTube within minutes. If the original blog has a downstream blog feed enabled, that blog post shows up on someone else’s blog (or several blogs). By sending out a MySpace bulletin or posting a comment with a link, “You” can touch even more people. “You” may then stop over at CNet and drop some comments about the original blog entry. Reuters and the Washington Post have blogs that allow users to leave comments, too. Oops, I almost forgot to mention that hundreds of TV stations, radio stations, newspapers and magazines have blogs that will allow users to post comments.
Within minutes, that original review of your company’s product will be linked to on websites and posted in the comments sections of blogs all over the Web. Before long, it will begin creeping its way toward the top of the search engine results. That means that when someone types in the name of your product in a search engine, that original blog post may come up as one of the top results. You may be thinking, “Wow! That’s great free publicity!” But what if the original blog post is a slam of your new product, or what if that customer bought a defective unit or is using your product ineffectively or improperly and, for millions of people, the first impression of your product is a negative one?
How can your company avoid this? Work with a knowledgeable Search Engine Optimization (SEO) provider. It’s a simple solution that can help to make sure your company website comes up first – ahead of “non-official” websites – in the search engine results for searches on your company’s name and product. That way, people get your official company information instead of what “You” had to say.

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