You know how you always hear that things you put up online stay online forever? Well, according to one reputation management consultant who’s written a book on the subject, that’s not necessarily true.
That consultant is John P. David, president of David PR Group, a Miami-based PR firm that specializes in online reputation management, and author of the book, “How to Protect (or Destroy) Your Reputation Online: The Essential Guide to Avoid Digital Damage, Lock Down Your Brand, and Defend Your Business.” In an interview earlier this week, David spoke about the online reputation issues that companies confront all the time. I opened the conversation by asking him what would be the top two or three things the IT department should do to proactively safeguard the brand and reputation of their companies. He said the first thing is that there needs to be some monitoring in place:
I’m talking about monitoring social media mentions, Google mentions, mentions on online review sites. That’s where IT and the company’s reputation start to come together. The other side for IT is that IT and PR and communications need to interact more, when it comes to online reputation issues. With regard to online reviews, and the potential damage they can do, for example, who’s in charge of countering that?
The last part, which has a lot to do with IT, is that online reputation and cybersecurity are very closely connected. Any company that touches private data should have serious concerns about cybersecurity — if there’s a data breach, you’ve got a huge reputational problem. So IT departments need to be prepared to interact with the communications department, because that’s an area of huge concern for many businesses. It can be a killer for a company — it can destroy your reputation.
As for what a company can do if it’s getting hammered on online review sites, David said it’s all about engagement:
You shouldn’t let any of these online wounds fester. The very first step is to claim your listing — I see major employers that have unclaimed listings on sites like Glassdoor and Yelp. What that does is it enables you to monitor and respond, and then you have to engage. Studies have shown that companies that engage do much better on these review sites. Sometimes stuff happens, and you get a negative review. If there’s a response back that says you’re sorry it happened, and you explain what happened that caused the problem, that negative review looks a lot better than it did when it was just sitting there with someone blasting away.
And then there’s what David refers to as the “covert ops of reputation management” — making things that are online go away. David said his company has some “specialized consultants” — former search engine and cybersecurity experts—“who have figured out how to address some specific online issues”:
Every piece of content that goes online has to go through what I would call “conduits” — all the different providers [and online entities], whether it’s AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, GoDaddy, Network Solutions, all of the search engines, have terms and conditions that every piece of content has to abide by.
But the reality is, if they screened every piece of content for every term and condition, nothing would end up online — there would be a massive bottleneck of data. So our guys have researched all the terms and conditions, and analyzed content for violations of these terms and conditions, and what they’ve figured out is that if they see reasons why a piece of content shouldn’t be online, they go directly to the different service providers and make requests to get things taken down. You can get content delisted from Google search; sometimes you can get it taken down at the hosting level.
It really is like the covert ops of online reputation management, because it’s a result that nobody else sees. Most online reputation management companies are suppression companies — their goal is to try to flood the Internet with positive or benign content to push the negative stuff down. But we have some experts who actually get things removed or delisted from search results.
With respect to enabling people to sanitize their online presence by removing negative content, I asked David what his response would be to employers who say he’s making it more difficult for them to properly vet prospective employees. He acknowledged they could have an argument, but he didn’t seem to buy it:
I guess that’s partially true. But we don’t deal with criminal activity, or anything like that. If some guy is a pedophile, we’re not going to represent him. The majority of the cases we’ve dealt with are things like hate blogs and old court cases. Perhaps somebody had a really short stint at an employer, and they don’t want that to be easily found. Or maybe they had something that happened to them a few years back that’s now starting to haunt them. If a guy got arrested 20 years ago for smoking a joint with his buddies, yeah, I guess the employer who’s hiring him should know about that. But should that preclude the guy from getting a job? I don’t think so.
I wrapped up the conversation by asking David what the one thing is that he most wants people to take away from reading his book. His response:
That we’re all vulnerable, and that we have to be extra vigilant about how we comport ourselves today. Because there are more ways that the things you do can be documented — innocent mistakes, things you do on purpose — there are just so many ways that you can be digitally documented that we have a much higher level of vulnerability than we had in the past.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.