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Gone are the days when just word of mouth and print media coverage were the custodians of reputation management. Rewind back to 60 or 70 odd years and try to picture the challenges that one would have had to build a credible reputation. Let’s look at the Independence struggle in India and how our freedom fighters would have had to cascade messages throughout a divided nation in an effort to unite them all under a cause. Mahatma Gandhi had to painstakingly attend and address rallies spanning the length and breadth of the country to relate to his audience. With limited options for mass broadcast of news, barring print newspapers and radio in those days, one can only imagine how Mr Gandhi would have worked painstakingly to build a credible reputation that was secular and be seen as a panacea for the country’s colonial occupation.

Reputation Management is the art of fashioning the reputation of an entity be it an individual or a company in the eyes of external audiences. Brands and companies need it more than ever today in an increasingly competitive landscape. In fact like brand building and brand communications, a brands reputation management has become an essential process for companies.

It is no secret that the world we live in is a dynamic ecosystem, one that is never stagnant and constantly witnessing change. We are all aware of how humankind has developed over the centuries in communication, from discovering languages, to developing scripts to what we have today in a technology powered economy. Today the world has shrunk beyond recognition and everything is here and now. One can communicate in a choice of methods spanning voice, video or text, with anyone in any part of the world in real time. Internet is probably the largest driving factor for communication and media today. The rise of the internet has also propagated a variety of online media platforms and assets in the online space.

What online media assets mean is that the information recorded here can be floating in this virtual landscape for forever. Imagine the impact of such historic data over time and its impact on reputations. This has in turn resulted in the creation of ‘Online Reputation Management’ as a phenomena.

What are the factors that can impact ones reputation in the public?

Actions speak louder than words!

Typically any activities that one undertakes engaging external audiences has a direct bearing on reputation. Normally brands undertake product launches and promotional events while individuals undertake speaker opportunities and other public engagements to build visibility.

Crisis Situations

It is said that a crisis is the ultimate test for any public figure or entity. Managing a crisis situation effectively can make or ruin one’s images. While there are several examples of how some situations have sunk large organization’s there are also examples of how some have weathered the storm to gain from the situation and in turn earn positive equity.

Social Activities

Engaging with the society is another important leg of reputation management. While for a company it could mean CSR activities, for an individual it could be about being seen with various causes that impact the larger society. A society is an inextricable part of your ecosystem and engaging with it in meaningful ways can really contribute to brand reputation.

Thought leadership

Reputation can also be built by association with industry events and happenings. Having a point of view towards the improvement of your industry sector can contribute to Thought Leadership. Being seen in industry forums and related discussions is an ideal way to build traction.

This brings us to the Elephant in the room. What can one do to sustain or build ORM?

  • Monitor and have a plan

Remember information on the internet is permanent and cannot be wished away. Hence make it a practice to atleast have Google alerts to monitor traction for your key words. Even simply doing a google search regularly can help you understand how your virtual reputation or image is progressing.

Always have a plan even if it is of low intensity to help you build an online image. Remember the old saying which is very relevant here – ‘Out of sight is out of mind’.

  • Media relations for credibility

Engage in PR to help build credible visibility for you in the online space. Imagine your name or brand getting quoted in the right kind of stories and how it can impact your online reputation. Media relations is not rocket science like some feel, and some careful planning supported by meaningful insights can deliver the goods. In fact any mention of your name in media stories will propel your salience multifold as opposed to mention in paid for or owned platforms.

The goodwill and buy-in of journalists in the long run will really help build credible reputation in the long run,since journalists are considered the most influential opinion leaders who can help build salience. I am reminded of a property developer who had approached me a few years ago stating that his online reputation is in doldrums and he was looking for a way to stem the rot. His one line brief was – How do we stop such negative messages being visible on the internet? The answer is simple, one cannot stop the messages as it is a public crowd sourced and transparent medium. My advice to him was that in this day and age of online reputation management, the only way to contain it is to drown the negativity with sufficient positive messaging. This means that the company has to work that much harder to regain and build credibility, deploying a variety of online tools like those discussed here.

  • Be active on credible social media platforms

Social media is another important avenue for communication in the online space. Developing social media properties on Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram with consistent messaging can also contribute to ones online traction. These days most brands have a social media strategy in place to monitor conversations on line, record their sentiment and accordingly roll out communication. Social media is also a powerful forum to run engagement programmes with ones stakeholders be it investors, employees or customers. This can be done through a variety of ways including contests, polls and other cause related marketing efforts that can eventually lend credence to the brand.

  • Content and Thought leadership

Developing signature content with a distinctive point of view on trending topics is another precious way to position yourself. This can also help contribute to thought leadership over time. In my own personal experience of blogging and writing articles I have found that my own point of view which is the sum total of my knowledge, experience and the influencing ecosystem around you changes over time. This by itself is another important reason for one to constantly write or capture your views,lest you lose it in the transitioning winds of time.Therefore content is another important arm of ORM.

In summary Online Reputation Management or ORM is an important tool in today’s dynamic market place. With all kinds of information be it news, or company data and transactions going online, it becomes imperative for brands to adopt ORM. These days buying choices among retail customers are made as a result of ORM. Individual are recruited by companies based on their online reputation. Political parties win or lose elections basis their online reputation. And the list goes on. This goes to clearly prove the increasing importance of ORM as a platform and its role in the coming years for anyone who is active in the public sphere.