Richard Ellison, CFA, CAIA

Richard Ellison, CFA, CAIA is a Consultant with WE Digital Strategy (SEZC). Based in Cayman Enterprise City, the Cayman Islands’ special economic zone, he helps companies maximize their digital presence. An active member and volunteer with CFA Institute, Richard is a trusted resource for how financial services and investment management clients build, monitor and protect their online reputation.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has required us to reinvent the way we do business and connect with each other. Some of the pivots we have had to perform in order to allow business to go on as “usual” were abrupt and jarring. But thankfully, the technology and platforms we needed to keep businesses afloat existed and on the whole, we embraced them. We have all had to go digital or go bust, and without tools like the internet, social media, and teleconferencing, our economy would undoubtedly have fared far worse. 

As vaccines begin to roll out across the globe, it is important that we begin preparing ourselves for the “new normal.” If we are honest with ourselves, it is far more likely that we are facing something more like a new reality. COVID forced the business sector to accelerate its digital transformation by many years, and it will never operate quite the same as it did before. We have taken a quantum leap and there is no going back.

More than ever, curating a strong online presence for yourself and your business is paramount. Networking and every other aspect of doing business were dramatically transformed in the past year so adopting a digital-first mindset when it comes to managing your reputation is key. Your digital first impressions will have a much greater weight in the years to come than the impressions you make at meetings or conferences. 

The best way to make sure that your digital presence is a positive one is to implement a well-thought-out online reputation management strategy. Not sure where to start? Here’s a four-pronged framework that we find to be effective.

Assess Your Digital Position

It can be surprising how many people don’t routinely perform a basic Google or Bing search on themselves just to see what they find. If you have not yet made this a regular habit, now is the time to start. Other people won’t hesitate to search for your name or your company’s name the moment they learn it. So brace yourself and jump in, notepad in hand. Start with a basic search with your name in quotation marks, for example, “John Smith.” If your name really is John Smith you will have a lot of SERPs (Search Engine Results Page), so you will need to add qualifiers, such as your company name or a middle name; for example, “John Smith” “Initech.” or “John Hieronymus Smith.”

Make a note of what you find. One of your results will likely be your LinkedIn profile (the importance of which is well established). If you are in the B2C industry, you might find reviews of your company or services. When you look at the first couple of pages of search results, what impression do you get? If what you find is good, fantastic. If it is bad or somewhere in between, there are ways to remedy it. And if your digital presence is nonexistent, you can seize this opportunity to create a presence that does you justice.

Make sure that you also perform searches on social networks other than LinkedIn, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You may get a crash course in just how easy it is for potential business partners to get a look into your social and family life and how that might change their view of you. It might make you more thoughtful about what you post or share in the future. 

If your present focus is on the digital presence of your company, you may quickly realize that news, posts, and content about individual team members can impact the whole company’s reputation, for better or worse. 

Build Exactly the Digital Reputation You Want

The most important factor to remember if you want to have a strong, positive digital presence is that curating your image should be done proactively, not reactively. Decide what you want to be known for and what your brand should be and create profiles and content that accurately reflect who you are. View the internet as a vehicle to differentiate yourself and communicate the values you hold dear. 

One of the best ways to shape your online image is to publish great digital content. Thought-leadership articles and carefully managed social media posts give you a low-cost way to position yourself as an expert in your field. High-performing companies find that well-managed content and social media interactions are good for sales and can even help them attract the best talent for their teams. 

Reputation management should be a companywide responsibility, but those companies who have a dedicated team member to post to social media, seek out recommendations, manage reviews, and respond to customer feedback have an advantage. Having a team member or outside consultant to help you create outstanding content that represents the company and the individuals within it can pay great dividends. Everyone who interacts online on your behalf or on behalf of your company must have an excellent sense of your brand voice and messaging strategy and should have the confidence and eloquence to maintain it flawlessly.

Monitor Your Digital Reputation Vigilantly

Once you have established the positive digital presence that you want, never let it go. Monitoring your online image is work that never ceases! By staying vigilant about what is being said online about you, you can prevent negative news, reviews, or comments from influencing the customers and business partners who matter to you.

Given the vastness of the internet and the speed with which content can go viral, the task of monitoring your reputation may seem daunting. Luckily, there are tools you can use to automate some of this process. At a minimum, you should be setting Google Alerts for your name or company so you can stay on top of new information as it is posted. 

You may also want to check out more sophisticated monitoring tools such as Brand 24, which can keep tabs on social media, news, blogs, videos, forums, podcasts, reviews, and more. It is equipped with sentiment analysis that can tip you off as to whether the information being posted is positive or negative. Another tool that helps automate reputation monitoring is Mention, which searches for mentions of your name or brand across news, review sites, forums, and blogs as well as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Repair Any Damage Promptly

If defamatory information does pop up on the internet about you or your company, be calm, but act quickly. Negative links or posts from a former employee, a dissatisfied customer, a disgruntled vendor, a complainant in a legal matter, or even just trolls with too much time on their hands can take you by surprise. But don’t worry; there are effective ways to address negative information to work toward a positive outcome, and if necessary, there are sometimes legal means you can use to have content removed. With the right education and approach, most situations can be brought under control. Once the negative information has been dealt with, it is important to get right back to the business of putting positive, reputation-boosting content back out into the digital world.

Don’t Hesitate to Enlist an Expert

It may be that you understand the value of having a strong digital presence, but you simply don’t have time to dedicate to it right now. That’s perfectly ok. There are qualified experts who can help you take stock of what your digital presence is today, help you refine your brand and messaging, curate your image with great content, and unburden you from the need to continually monitor your online reputation. (They can even get you out of a jam in a crisis.) 

If this sounds like you, don’t wait. Consider working with an expert so you can stay in the driver’s seat as you move toward your digital future.