The art of reputation management

Over the past few years we’ve seen a lot of solid reputations go down the tubes in the space of time it takes a message to leave a phone. Of course, certain congressmen with itchy twitter fingers are the most obvious cases, with careers that took years of meticulous work to build leveled in mere moments due to a seemingly minor indiscretion. However, It’s not just politicians who have to worry about their reputations these days, and it doesn’t take a scandal to do heavy damage. Every professional with a public face needs to manage his or her reputation. Online reputation has become what your credit rating was twenty years ago; if you’re not paying attention to yours, you might soon see the doors of opportunity closing on you.

According to PriceWaterHouseCoopers, 63% of corporate CEOs believe that reputation is essential to success in our new interconnected world. The more successful you become, the more important managing your reputation is. Keep in mind that anyone with an interest in working with you will Google you. What they find will directly inform their decision.

You may be a perfect angel of an executive, with a sterling résumé and stellar reputation amongst your peers. However, you can’t assume that your online presence is going to reflect that. This will come into play when there is a public relations problem or other difficult situation. If you’ve managed your reputation well, your track record will help vindicate you with investors, consumers and possibly regulators. If not, you may find multiple Pandora’s boxes opening as your every searchable attribute is thrust into the limelight.

This is especially important to keep in mind in light of today’s shifting economy and increasingly competitive job market. More executives are finding that they can’t count on their current job being there for the long term. Be it from an unexpected merger or a leadership shakeup, executives are more often finding themselves in search of employment. One needs only look at the rapid succession of Mark Hurd, Leo Apotheker, and now Meg Whitman at HP to see what I’m talking about. You can rest assured that this problem is not an isolated one, and that uncertainty of employment is a real problem business professionals will continue to face as corporations struggle to contend with a changing landscape.

The key is preparing in advance for this kind of rupture. Whether you run a multi-million dollar enterprise or manage a small business, there are a number of simple steps that are absolutely essential in managing your reputation.

As a first step, it is important to define and establish your personal brand. By personal brand, I largely mean what keywords are associated with your online presence in a Google+ or LinkedIn search. Since this is how potential employers will likely find you, you want your brand to match their search terms. It behooves you to think hard about how you want to define yourself, your leadership style and your skillset, and make sure you include the corresponding keywords in the right places in your profile. Again, you should not wait until you’re out of work or in a precarious situation to do this. Start today.

However, simply establishing keywords is not enough. To create a viable and authentic web presence, it is essential that you create diverse content across multiple platforms. This does not mean copying and pasting your résumé and qualifications all over the web. You need to be proactive, and get involved in social media. Comment on blogs, post reviews on Amazon, and assert your thoughts and opinions on a wide variety of topics in your own personal blogs. This creates a multidimensional portrait of you as a person and a professional and is fast becoming the standard.

Employers are increasingly holding out for the best of the best, and an impressive online presence is an easy way to give yourself a leg up over the competition. The length of the interview process for corporate jobs has expanded recently as employers evaluate the finer grains of potential applicants’ qualifications. Data from Glassdoor.com indicates that the average length of the interview process at companies like General Mills, Starbucks, and Southwest Airlines has almost doubled since 2010. Make sure that you give your potential employers ample material to chew on between those seventh and eighth interviews!

Finally, there are situations where all the preparation in the world can’t protect you. Malevolent bloggers, dissatisfied consumers and really anyone with a chip on his or her shoulder can mar your reputation and searchable content with a few keystrokes. In some cases it may be enough to simply ask the person or provider to remove this content, but it isn’t always an option. Reputation management companies like reputation.com and Metal Rabbit Media have grown immensely in the past several years and are really a bellwether of a near future in which everyone will have to manage their reputation online lest they fall victim to slander. It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s the reality we face and a side effect of the benefits of new media.

To this end, availing yourself of these services may not be a bad insurance policy. Additionally, they can serve as an outsourced method of building your reputation. If you find yourself flabbergasted by the preponderance of social media sites you need to monitor and keep updated all while carrying out your executive responsibilities, then buying into one of these products is absolutely requisite.

In the long run, however, you need to get used to the fact that social media savvy has become just as important as your MBA, and that companies are looking for people who understand this fact and can navigate the social media landscape with ease. Remember that your reputation is intricately tied up with the reputation of your company, and a blunder or oversight on your part can turn into a liability for the organization at large.

Reputation management can be intimidating, but at heart it’s exactly what it sounds like: management. If you do the research and apply your management skills to your reputation, you’re bound to succeed.

Can Akdeniz

Can Akdeniz is the author of seven books and founder of Business Hacker, a popular business blog. His books such as Go Nuts, Cool Boss, Happy Company and MBA 2.0 have changed how people think about business, productivity and work.