by Stephanie Fierman

I’ve been a passionate advocate of online personal branding and reputation management since 2007.  That was the year, as some of you know, that I had a personal experience with the power of Google – a “digi-mugging,” if you will.  Or maybe a “Web-jacking.”  

Whatever we call it, it was the moment that I came to realize that the game had started without me.   I started a blog, wrote a 4-part series on the topic (Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4) and never looked back.  I’d discovered that I would need to manage my own brand online – not just as good offense but also good defense – and wanted to help other executives do the same.

How much time are you committing to managing your own personal brand today, and – if asked – what would you advise the majority of businesspeople who are only now getting hip to the digital world?

The ball’s already in play. It’s just a question of whether you’re on the field.

Everyone already has an online personal brand.  It’s just a question of who the brand manager is.  The Web isn’t waiting with a blank slate until you’re ready to pay attention to your online persona. Everyone’s already out there – because of a wedding announcement (from your current or former marriage), past interviews, industrial gossip or rumor, quotes, political contributions, publicly-available legal filings. These are all examples of content that is already living your public life online.  Is that acceptable to you?

Your resume is no longer your resume.  Google is your resume. Google is da bomb.  Around 75% of global Internet users, or 943.8 million people, used Google services in June 2010 – more than any other Web company in the world.  In the U.S., 66% of the core searches in July (or 10.3 billion of the 15.6 billion total) were conducted on Google.  Yahoo is a distance 2nd with 17%. There’s a lot of looking going on. 

In other words…

It’s not about what you do when you’re ready: it’s about what’s going on when you’re not paying attention.  45% of employers, for example, are using social networks to gather information on job candidates, and 35% say they’ve dismissed candidates based on information found there.  Usages is even higher in the recruiting community: 85% use search engines to research candidates, and  45% say they’ve eliminated candidates based on information found on the web.  

And I’m not only talking about proactive job search (i.e., offense).  Successful executives, I believe, are accustomed to thinking about what they want, what they can do next – Master of the Universe stuff.  If I decide to look for a new job, then I’ll start paying attention to this stuff.  What I try to get across to people is that everything we’re talking about – in this particular example, the employment category – is about defense as much as offense.  What about the company that’s looking to fill a job paying 30% more than you’re making now?  Its head of HR has heard your name and does a Google search on a Sunday afternoon.  What might he find about you? 

Let’s use Facebook as an example. 

In 2009, Facebook was the most popular online destination for snooping employers.  So what, you say, you haven’t done anything dumb.  You would never, for example, post some stupid photo to your profile (duh).  But are you tagged in photos posted by other people?  Has someone tagged you and two friends drinking at a party?  People drink at parties: you know you weren’t drunk and anyone judging one photo is an idiot.  Really?  Not to be paranoid, but… are you willing to gamble that a potential employer looking at the same snapshot would agree with you?  More than half of the employers who have knocked a candidate out of the running say that provocative photos are the #1 reason for doing so.

You’ve got to make sure that you have and keep a broad view of the field.

What about where you work right now?  What would your boss, your peers, your staffers or your HR department find out about you right now if they went to Google?  Ditto for clients, (current or potential) business partners, board search, trade associations and other entities you’re likely to care about.

If someone had been wandering my Twitter profile this past weekend, they would have found this attached to a tweet.  No context, just the photo.  Do I need this? What might it communicate to someone about this person’s judgment – or mine?

And P.S:  let’s remember that tweets are now searchable on Google.  I see some of the craziest… you get the point. 

How often do you check your Google results, anyway??  (Answer:  once a week, please.)

This is not to imply that everyone should have a presence everywhere.  Not all executives are good at stream-of-conscious thinking, or can shift from heavy issues to pecking out 140 characters on Twitter.  Additionally, many professionals will need to preliminarily determine what the online cross-over is, if any, between a “personal” voice and a professional one.  And lastly – cool factor aside – social media may not be the best way for a particular executive to attract desirable “followers” or “friends” at a particular moment in time.  I insist on good defense, but offense is in the eye of the beholder.

What play do you recommend, Coach?

When advising a relative newbie, here are a few pre-game thoughts:

Take time to understand the legal and regulatory environment that surrounds you, your organization (if relevant) and the content you may be publishing. Assume that what you say is discoverable in a lawsuit and subject to SEC and other requirements (like Reg FD).  Assume that everything is “on the record” and “in print” (and act accordingly).

Remember that what you say will last forever on the Web. One of my favorite quotes in this regard is “Tweet with caution, Facebook with care, 10 years from now it will still be out there”

Listen to the conversation about you and/or your company first.  Make your own observations before jumping in.

Find a safe place to practice like a Yammer. If you want to check out Twitter, consider signing up with a pseudonym first and tweeting about gardening or fly fishing or some other like topic. You must have your own account to read or follow a tweet stream; you do not need to expose your executive self  before you’re ready.

Once you’ve decided to put your helmet on, here are a few guidelines:

Musts:
* LinkedIn – Create a profile. You need one to study the site, and it’s the place right now for executives to find others

* Facebook – Create a profile if only to lay claim to your own name

* Use a single identifier everywhere. Stick to Matt Jones or Matt P. Jones or Matthew Paul Jones



Up a Notch:
* Twitter – Wander about after opening an account under a pseudonym, and use the site’s search engine liberally to get a feel for the ebb and flow of real-time business conversations

* Start a blog

* Register on sites that let you establish a PURL.  Such sites include Digg, FriendFeed, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, OpenSalon and Squidoo. Use them every once in awhile, if you can.

* Study the search engines and try things out; focus on sites that tend to rank highest


* Share content on community sites like Flickr and Slideshare


Advanced Techniques:
* “Syndicate” your blog on sites that aggregate such posts (and have their own Google rankings)

* Work on securing offline speaking engagements, and get the events promoted on the Web

* Create your own “online” speaking engagements – your own YouTube channel, podcasts, etc.


Now before I get a bunch of comments and emails, a disclaimer: in no way is this intended to be comprehensive advice regarding what you should pack for the big game or how to behave once you get there.  It’s really just a quick slap on the back before the coin toss.  But I’m on my high horse about making sure that everyone at least knows how to protect themselves so – whether you’re warming up on the bench or helping someone who is – these are few ideas that will help avoid a penalty flag on the field.

This post was originally posted here on the Marketing Executive Network Group’s blog, MENG Blend.

I guess it had to happen sooner or later… but back to the point of our story in a moment.stephanie-fierman-identity-theft.gif

I’ve been sitting at my laptop at home in NYC most of the day, getting things done.  Then, about an hour ago, I get an email receipt for a $260 card scanner purchased at the Apple Store in Birmingham, Alabama.  I check Google. The store is real.  Hmm. The receipt has my email address on it, but a dot is missing.  I check Google’s Gmail rules and it says that, even with a dot missing, GMail will usually get your mail to you.  Great.  How many Stephanie Fiermans could there be??  If the receipt is real, the scanner was bought with an AmEx that doesn’t seem to match my number (insert glimmer of hope here), but maybe I’m reading the somewhat fuzzy numbers wrong.  

Even so, the next number hits me like a ton of bricks: a 6-digit number directly beneath the credit card info starts with the first 4 digits of the phrase I use for nearly all my online passwords.  Oh my G*d.  Someone has basically cracked the code for my entire online identity!  I feel my guts clench and – while I’m on hold waiting for the store manager – I get busy changing all my passwords, worried that a thief is working faster than I can call all my credit card companies and check all the other sites.  The store seems like a good place to start, but who knows what could be happening out there in the meantime?!

A very nice store manager named Brad confirms that the Apple transaction number is correct. S**.  My mind is reeling. Identity theft. A stalker. How many credit bureaus are there, again?? Anyway, Brad and I are talking, and sleuthing, and we’re stumped because he says the card was physically swiped at the store, and he’s looking for more info, and we’re talking some more, and I’m wondering if he’s single, and then it hits me: there is another Stephanie Fierman in the United States – and I seem to recall that she’s from the South.

stephanie-fierman-identical-twins.jpgAnd now back to our online personal branding show, already in progress.

While I am certain, gentle reader, that you think there could be no other, there is another Stephanie Fierman in the United States.  I’ve “seen” her on the Web for years.  Since I’ve been blogging and tweeting and writing and guest speaking (and she, conversely, appears to be a normal person), I haven’t seen her pop up on the first several pages of Google for quite some time, but she’s out there. 

And yet we’ve never crossed paths – until today.  So while Brad is running through the possibilities, I type “Stephanie Fierman Alabama” into Google and – there she is.  My doppelganger lives in Alabama.  She LIVES in Birmingham, Alabama!  And the set of numbers that looked like the online password I use? It’s an AmEx authorization code – and pure coincidence. Case closed.

 I’m still a little nauseous, but I figure it’ll go away.

As for you… I decided to write this blog post because (a) the story is too crazy not to share, but also because (b) the part that made it appear as though someone had discovered my “universal” online password scared me straight.  I talk a lot about building your own personal brand (see my series, because you should anyway: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4), but the #1 most important thing about being on the Internet is staying safe – and using the same or close to the same password everywhere is just dumb. Yep – close to the same password on all my credit card sites: brilliant.

Do you do the same thing? Do you use the same phrase or – when you run into a site that needs a letter or a number – do you always add the same letter or number to your basic phrase?  Change them now.  Mix it up. Use truly different phrases.  Especially on all the websites related to YOUR MONEY.stephanie_fierman_dilbert_passwords1.jpg

I have no idea how I’ll remember the strange new brew of passwords I cooked up but – if I forget one – I can always go through the annoying process all the sites have of resetting it.

It’s a heck of a lot better than falling into an identity theft situation that could follow you around for years.

So change your passwords now, and regularly – and please make sure they are sufficiently different from one another.  And check Google to see if you have a doppelganger.  I was lucky, but if yours is an adult film star or, say, in prison, you may have a little online personal branding work to do.

Check out my second blog at www.stephaniefiermanmarketingdaily.com.

Mojo readers know that I’m hooked on a couple wonderful marketing/business cartoonists and like to share their work now and then.  On my second blog, Marketing Observations Grown Daily, it’s David Jones Adland.  Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp.  Enjoy!

stephanie-fierman-brand-camp-social-media.jpg

One of the major reasons I started this blog back in September 2007 was that, even then, you could see brands and individuals discovering the worlds of search and social media – and the result wasn’t pretty.

What happens when decisions are turned inside out, when employees blog and consumers/clients can say whatever they like to millions of people 24 hours a day?  How are you supposed to behave when a stranger says something personal and inaccurate about you, or buys the URL www.yourcompanyname goesheresucks.com?  Why are all these strangers talking about me and how can I make them stop??

Many a CEO, friend and neighbor had this reaction.  All of them had to find a way to deal.

As an private citizen and a business person, I found myself mucking around in this new environment with everyone else, and wrote a 4-part series on the topic in what now seems like eons ago (Internet Time).  Called “Promoting and Growstephanie-fierman-reputation-cookie.jpging Brands in the Digital Age,” the entries were featured on this blog from October 2007 to March 2008.

So since everyone knows to expect reruns over the summer… I thought I’d run the series again.  For most of  you, I suspect it’ll be the first time you’ve seen this.

Check it out; the advice about building your own personal brand online holds.

Part 1 – I introduce the idea that you are your own personal brand online.  How will you control it?  Can it be controlled? What should you do?

Part 2 – This entry is primarily focused on the announcement that I’d be partnering with DIGO Brands to provide “online brand self-defense” services to clients.

Part 3 – Ah, good one.  This entry focuses on the JuicyCampus debacle, where female Yale students were being harassed and endangered online.

Additionally, Part 3 includes my top ten tips for building your own personal brand online.

Part 4 – More can’t-say-I-didn’t-warn-you tips, plus the always-popular religious rumor(s) swirling around Obama’s candidacy.

Do not let this go.  Do no let anyone else create who you are or what you are online.  You have a lot of tools: use them smartly and persistently, please.

As we all gear up for a lack of holiday shopping, here’s the latest from Tom Fishburne’s ingenious Brand Camp series offering a not-often-heard POV…

tom_fishburne-shopping-carts-stephanie-fierman.jpg

Tom Fishburne  

So I was sitting in a meeting just a few days ago, and someone I like and respect said something about “the long tail.”  A couple people sort of nodded, and I thought, “Oh my, are people still talking about that?”

You see, I am and always have been… a long tail doubter.  It’s true.  I’ve never said it out loud because the book was so very popular and the concept was picked up everywhere and it spread like wildfire, so I just kept my doubts to myself.  For two years.  Until now.

But first, a bit of history to catch us up to the present day.

Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, made a huge splash with The Long Tail, which was first published by the magazine in 2004 and then as a book in 2006.  In a nutshell, the long tail theory says that the abundance and ease of choice on the Internet has shifted sales potential from a small number of mainstream “hits” (at the front of the demand curve) toward a near-endless number of lesser-known choices at the tail.  The term refers to the orange section of the demand curve shown here:

stephanie-fierman-long-tail-curve.jpg

Furthermore, because retail economics restrict stores to carrying only the best-selling products, items that have already been created and have either lost their mojo or were never popular in the mainstream in the first place are pushed out – along with their sunk costs.  But lo the Internet, with its infinite “shelf space” makes every product discoverable and ready to be purchased.  The book has become something of a holy document in the Internet community where companies (“from Amazon to iTunes,” says Anderson on his website) want to find a way to sell old songs, movies, videos, ringtones, on-demand books and television shows from their infinite Web warehouses.  Case studies flew up everywhere. 

Personally, I thought it was bunk.  Or rather, I thought the concept vastly overdramatized the effect of a small minority of “committed seekers” dedicated enough to something (comic books, that lost Marvin Gaye song, Civil War spoons…) to search for and purchase a category’s flotsam and jetsam.

When I looked around, in fact, it seemed that the rest of us were doing quite the opposite.  The New York Times’ Most Blogged, Most Emailed and Most Searched lists.  Top TV Shows, Top Music, Top Movies on iTunes.   Amazon.com’s influential Sales Rank, and its Bestsellers list (updated hourly).  The Netflix Top 10.  To me, the Internet appeared to be herding users more aggressively toward blockbusters, not away from them.

Like I said:  I kept this then un-hip and un-scientific opinion to myself.

Now there’s a professor at Harvard Business School who has researched the long tail. Based on sales data for online video rentals and songs, Professor Anita Elberse verifies my gut: not only do hits continue to be just as important online as they are online, but the Web is actually magnifying attention on the winners.

Elberse also discusses what she and others view as an incorrect subjective assumption that Anderson made when building the long tail, which is the idea that people want to go their own way.  They don’t want to listen/watch/read what everyone else does, and would rather wander down an untrodden hallway of the Web and find an otherwise discarded gem.  Who is he kidding?  Elberse cites additional research showing how intensely social people really are: how we like sharing experiences with others and that the mere fact that others like something makes us like it even more. 

And confirmation has come from another interesting source, as well.  Neil Howe, widely considered to be the expert on Millenials, draws a broad distinction between Gen X and this new influential group – the generation driving the most development and change on the Web. Among other things, while Boomers and Gen X “individuated,” born-in-the-80s Millenials gravitate toward the social:  chat rooms, instant messaging, Facebook.  They enjoy being with each other, forming friendships and shared preferences.  Rather than acting independently, Millenials who spend time customizing content on the Web do so for the purpose of sharing it with others (hello, YouTube). 

stephanie-fierman-millenials-wom.jpg
                                         (Click on the graphic for a larger view)

Howe says it is and will be “the most connected generation in world history,” and that their preferences will only solidify the popularity of mainstream, popular brands and products.
Finally, Elberse and The Wall Street Journal‘s Lee Gomes also believe that the Internet/tech community unconsciously may have wanted to back the theory because it flattered its citizenry.  Long tail strength would fortify the value of new digital assets created outside the walls of institutional, cultural power (let’s build a pet robot in my garage, shoot a video for YouTube and get rich!).  And bloggers drank the Kool-Aid, they say, because the long tail promises an audience for just about any goofy comment out there.  This is all probably true, but it’s a little sketchy so I’m not going to dwell here.

But I am very, very happy that some respectable people with significant research refute the long tail theory.  Because – while I may not be a Millenial – I do like company.


If you enjoyed this post and wish there was so much more… Check out my daily blog at www.stephaniefiermanmarketingdaily.com. Thank you!


dov-charney-stephanie-fierman1.jpgI’ve written at least one post on corporate blogging before, but I gave them a little more thought this week.

This was because I ran a break-out group at this week’s CMO Club summit on PR 2.0, which I would loosely define as the new practices, policies and opportunities available to individuals and companies based on the digital innovations we all fondly call Web 2.0.

So I created a hand-out, which included such items such as how to track blogs, monitor Twitter tweets, figure out when to social(ly) network and so on.

One of the more active conversations focused on the topic of corporate blogs – notably, when should a company consider creating one? My top rules are that a corporation might consider a corporate blog when:

1. Two-way, honest conversations between senior management and both employees as well as consumers are already part of the company culture (think Sun and Stonyfield Farm)

2. Roles and responsibilities for the blog are clear and there is genuine commitment to (a) constant maintenance and (b) responding immediately (or at least promptly) to a problem

3. The company is prepared – both short-term and long-term – for what Kathy Sierra calls “the physics of passion.”


[NOTE: The famous corporate blogger Robert Scoble delivers the corporate blog manifesto here]


I guess I neglected what should be Rule #4: Your CEO isn’t a looney tune or, at minimum, far to colorful for public consumption.

Case in point: Dov Charney, Founder and CEO of American Apparel. Today’s WSJ includes an article on how American Apparel’s CFO has resigned after Charney called him “a complete loser” while sitting for a WSJ interview in March. Now that’s a bad performance appraisal!

In the past, Charney has gotten into hot water for engaging in completely inappropriate behavior during magazine interviews, having inappropriate (there’s that word again) encounters with company employee, hiring models from local strip bars, having scantily-clad employees serve him meals (at home), running around the office in his underwear and referring to women in ways that even he says he wouldn’t use with his mother.  His claim to fame (that, in my opinion, unfortunately outshines his philanthropy and US manufacturing-centric ethos) is that he’s been sued for sexual harassment more times than Joe Francis.

The photo is from an American Apparel “Apres Ski” advertisement. That’s Dov on the left.

It remains to be seen how he does once several quarters as a public company sinks in. In the meantime: no corporate blogs, please!

BlogHer and Compass Partners have just released what may be the first significant study of women and social media.  FYI, in case you are not aware, BlogHer is a network founded by three female bloggers in 2005. Today, it is backed by Venrock and boasts 1,500 contextual ad-targeted blogs created by women. Yours truly posts pieces from this blog as well as http://www.stephaniefiermanmarketingdaily.blogspot.com to BlogHer on an increasingly-regular basis.

So back to the study…


BlogHer/Compass Partners surveyed a nationally-representative sample of 1,250 female Internet users plus 5,000 visitors to BlogHer. What they found is notable in sheer numbers, passion and experience:


* 36.2 million women actively participate in the blogsophere every week. 15.1 million do so by publishing (and reading/commenting) and 21.1 million (just) read and comment on blogs.


* 44% of female blog publishers maintain one blog and the remaining 56% write two or more. 56% have been writing for 2 years or less – I was surprised that this number was so low.  27% have been writing at least one blog for more than 3 years. Was “blog” even in my daily vocabulary 3 years ago?


* Women are so passionate about blogging that many say they would give something up rather than surrender their blogs, with 50% saying they would sacrifice their PDAs and 43% willing to stop reading newspapers or magazines to maintain their bloggy existences. They’d have to give up something, for sure, because 55% of blog publishers write and 56% of readers do so on 2 or more days each week. It helped to discover that only 20% are willing to give up chocolate (so at least we’re not all crazy…).

In the general Internet sample, 24% say they are watching less television, 25% are reading fewer magazines and 22% are reading fewer newspapers because they are so absorbed by the blog world. As would be expected, these numbers are higher for BlogHer members because they are significantly younger than those in the general sample (68% to 42% concentrated in the 25-41 age group, respectively). More than 50% consider blogs a reliable source of advice and information and claim that blogs influence their purchase decisions.


So what does it all mean?  Here are some conclusions and tips, plus what I see as a few gaps in the data:


* Me being me, I need to first point out the riskiness in considering blogs to be reliable sources of advice and information. Since I know that you’ve giving up everything else to read my blog… one need only point to my own experiences, the Obama-as-terrorist tale and the JuicyCampus disaster. What I would like to know: what percentage of readers seek to confirm a piece of information they’ve read on a blog from additional news sources (blogs and non-blogs)? How do you determine that a blog is trustworthy?


* This study would certainly imply that any party with a message to disseminate should consider blogging. What I would like to know: how closely do these opinions align to those of men? And does this trust extend only to blogs written by women “like me,” or does it extend to corporate/institutional blogs, as well?

* The time-shifting aspect of the study is fascinating and enough to get anyone’s attention. What I would like to know: what kinds of television programming, magazines and newspapers are women willing to swap out? Are they giving up hard news, or are blogs replacing pop culture information sources?


* 38% of blog publishers and 29% of blog readers say that blogs have influenced their decision to purchase goods or services. What I’d like to know: are there particular goods or services that appear to be discussed more/most on blogs? Are there any patterns we can discern as to the characteristics (e.g. complexity) of goods and services most discussed on blogs? If I’m the CMO of one of these widget companies, what is it about non-blog sources of information that I might be able to improve, and how can I build credibility in the blog universe?


* By design, the study specifically confirms that women trust blogs at a fairly high rate so, as a marketer, I’d think hard about how to leverage this phenomenon in other ways. For example, I’d consider companies that recruit female consumers to personally talk up products to other girls/women (such as Mr. Youth, Alloy and P&G’s Tremor).

And lastly, the #1 reason that female bloggers (65%) say they blog is for fun. 60% say they do so to express themselves and 40% to connect with “others like me.” In other words – even in this new and blogerrific world – it’s about them, not us. Marketers who make a connection that feels personal relevant for a female consumer are the ones that succeed. Those that don’t? We’ll be reading about them in the blogosphere…

If I’m just not writing enough to suit you, please check out my new *daily* blog at http://www.stephaniefiermanmarketingdaily.com.

An article posted today on CNN is horrifying – but not surprising, at least not to readers of this blog.

Juicycampus.com (which at the time of this writing is at the URL of the same name) is a well-trafficked online destination on the campuses of nearly 60 colleges in the US.  A little digging reveals that a number of posts have been viewed “hundreds and even thousands” of times.

Juicycampus.com is a site where anyone can say anything about anyone anonymously, and they do. Boy do they ever. Racism, sexism, religious discrimination and homophobia run rampant on the site, as do specific anonymous accusations targeting individual students regarding their behavior in and out of class, their sexual habits, etc. A Loyola student openly threatened to shoot up the campus, encouraged by the site’s free-for-all environment. The site has proven so “poisonous” there have been calls to have it taken down.

Others have tried to take legal action. Two Yale Law students are pursuing autoAdmit.com – an online discussion forum for those applying to law school – for what they say are libelous comments added to the site in 2006 and 2007.

Good luck. Under U.S. law, sites generally bear no responsibility for what users post, and content is protected as free speech. Juicycampus.com goes so far as to direct users to free online services that cloak IP addresses, so one’s comments can never be tracked back. Its privacy policy explains that the site logs users’ IP addresses but does not associate them with specific posts. This policy is out of the mainstream but perfectly permissable and legal.

In other words: if you write a letter or sue – and therefore are willing to draw even more attention to a problematic situation than the original content did – a Court may be literally unable to force a site to reveal the identity of a poster even if it wanted to do so.

The article says that many schools consider the site to be “poisonous” and that students are worried about the effect the site might have on their job prospects. They should be. According to Execunet, 77% of recruiters use search engines to find out about job candidates, and 35% have eliminated a candidate based on information found on the web. And a useful working assumption is that – unless the content is removed from the site – it will be searchable (and findable) forever.

This topic gets Marketing Mojo worked up, as readers well know – particularly because there are things every person can do to proactively build his or her own “personal brand” reputation online. Doing so not only communicates your authentic story to the world, but – if negative content should appear – will act as a crucial counterpoint that, nurtured properly and over a long period of time, can and will prevail.

I was recently invited by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC.com) to write a piece on this topic. The article is available only to IABC members. Below is the article in its entirety, available outside the IABC only to Marketing Mojo readers.


BUILDING YOUR PERSONAL BRAND ONLINE
by Stephanie Fierman

Low Trust Sets The Stage
It would not surprise you to know that we are operating in a low-trust world, and that both companies and individual executives are vulnerable. In 2005, a worldwide Gallup poll found that 40% of people believe company leaders are “largely dishonest,” and a 2006 WatsonWyatt study says that only 56% of company employees believe their top management acts with honesty and integrity.

These are worrisome figures, given that senior executives worry a great deal about their companies’ reputations but may spend little time on their own. I, for one, am a highly-educated and successful Chief Marketing Officer, known for delivering stellar results for Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase, Time Warner and others. I figured my “rep” would take care of itself, and this non-strategy worked for nearly 20 years. Then an industry gossip blogger decided to make me his latest meal, and turned lies and innuendo into what became the top Google search results for my name. For months, I took what I thought was the high road and did nothing. Everyone who knew me said to ignore the Internet’s equivalent of “graffiti on a bathroom wall.” So I did. But when I began to get questions about this “graffiti,” I realized I was wrong.

The New High Road
The Internet has changed reputation management forever. Where information used to flow slowly and in one direction (that is, from “us” to “them”), we now live in an age where anyone with an Internet connection can post anything they like, and that information will be available on millions of screens in an instant. And not only can truth be a mere afterthought, but the Google algorithm actually rewards popularity – so the more sensational the information, the better.

Changed rules means a changed game. Anyone with an interested constituency – whether it be shareholders, employers, competitors, an exclusive pre-school you’re just dying to get your toddler into or a even potential date – must take control of his or her own reputation online. Because if you’re not offering up honest, straight-forward information about yourself, you not only do yourself a disservice but you’re also depriving these audiences of an authentic picture of who you are and what you stand for. Speaking out IS “the new high road.”

10 Tips for Building Your Reputation Online
Like any blood sport, building your online reputation is a combination of offense and defense. Offense is the best way to go: build up content about yourself before you are put in a position to have to respond to negative and/or untrue information. Here are some key steps you can take now:

1. Monitor your online reputation. Create alerts at Google and Yahoo so the search engines will send you an email whenever new content has appeared that includes your name. Additionally, use RSS to sign up for subscriptions to sites that are most likely to mention you.

2. Create a blog (or a frequently updated and optimized website). Post to the blog religiously: at least once a week.

3. Videos get high search engine rankings. If you speak at an event, or can make a presentation, have it filmed and posted on YouTube. Make sure your name is part of the video’s title.

4. Ask allies and partners to post content about you on their own websites, and consider becoming a regular contributor to someone else’s website (e.g. an industry news site). Your byline will be picked up by the search engines.

5. Consider creating multiple sites if you have enough information to divide into several topics.

6. Maintain a friendly and frequent presence on industry blogs and message boards: you most certainly have something to add that will enrich the conversation. Plus, you are more likely to be welcomed into such a forum if there comes a time when you do wish to respond to something that’s been posted about you.

If inaccurate or troublesome information is posted to the Web and you or your representatives are free to respond (e.g. you are not in an SEC quiet period or your counsel advises restraint), here’s how:

7. Analyze the content and its source. Make a determination as to whether you feel the need to respond immediately or prefer to monitor the situation.

8. Build up content. Proactively create or add content to your own website and make sure it is search-engine-friendly: consumers are more likely to use search engines first in a crisis, before they go to your website for “your” side of the story.

9. Assuming you’ve maintained a positive presence on key blogs and message boards, these communities are likely to be open to listening to you. Post information there. Let others be your ambassadors.

10. Where possible and appropriate, post a notice that you are more than willing to attempt to resolve the crisis personally and without delay. Then try to take the first phase of the conversations offline.

Life (On The Internet) Is Unfair. Get Over It.
If any part of your brain is thinking (a) this won’t happen to me, and/or (b) it’s ludicrous to respond to malicious or false information I empathize, but can offer only my own experience – and those of the executives and companies I now advise on the art and science of Online Reputation Management.

It does happen, and your life will be infinitely more comfortable if you have already taken the simple steps toward creating your own authentic presence online. In a world where you are whatever comes up on the first page of Google, you’ve got to take charge – don’t leave the telling of your own story to any blogger, writer or media outlet having a slow news day.

NB: As of June 2009, Juicycampus is out of business.  Unfortunately, its URL boasts a farewell message that redirects to yet another site that supports anonymous college posting. 


Or perhaps we could call this post, “Stephanie Fierman Meets The Future” or “It’s Hard To Keep Up When You’re Over 40.”  Whatever. 

The upshot, I suspect, is to introduce my audience to Tara Hunt, otherwise known as Miss Rogue. Tara is pretty famous in the increasingly important Web 2.0 – I’d say even Web 3.0 – environment of building authentic customer relationships. Tara’s blog made her Canadian phone ring one day, which got her a job in San Francisco, which led her and her partner Chris Messina to start a company, Citizen Agency, which is now turning down clients.  Big clients.  Big Fortune 50 clients. 

Maybe they won’t turn down business forever, but Citizen Agency is currently focusing on smaller technology companies where Chris and Tara think they have the best chance of actually helping the client execute customer-centric strategies around product research, design, development and marketing.  If that’s not clear, Citizen Agency’s blog post of October 2 is from Chris, humorously relaying the explanation of Citizen Agency’s reason for being during a hot stone massage.   

Another post describes it thusly (see picture and text below.  For you marketers out there, I dare you to say that you haven’t been in the room when one of these conversations has taken place… See if you can guess which comment is the client’s and which might come from the agency):

                               stephanie-fierman-citizen-agnecy-circles.jpg 

“Your slow performance is the number one reason your customers are leaving.”
“But we can’t afford to buy new servers.”
“Your slow performance is the number one reason your customers are leaving.”

“The reason your developer network is dead is because you put too many limitations on your API usage.”
“But our investors want us to keep it secure and tight track of who is using it.”
“The reason your developer network is dead is because you put too many limitations on your API usage.”

“Your user experience is horrendous. Bloggers all over the web are talking about it.”
“Well, that is just not priority right now. We have to get the next release of features out.”
“Your user experience is horrendous. Bloggers all over the web are talking about it.”

Their point is, of course, that losing customers makes these other concerns superfluous.  But why don’t we listen? And if that’s too much homework for today, let’s just try to figure out how we can use social media and community to help.  I think part of the struggle is that a lot of folks are trying to understand social media and its impact on brands and marketers as a trend, or the new “thing.”  Like… I don’t know, say, six sigma:  for most of us, if we kept our mouths shut and waited it out, six sigma went the way of the time and motion study.   

But social media is not going the way of the slide rule, because it’s not a trend but really the creation of an entirely new communication stream between customers and companies.   Sure, Bebo, Facebook and the like will be old news some day, but companies having to adapt to a constant 24/7 two-way conversation with their customers – where those customer comments may be on display for all the world to see – is here to stay. 

As marketers, it’s our responsibility to make this a good thing for our brands, no matter how foreign it may be.  It’s our job to help our CEOs understand that loosening the reins is, well, mandatory.  It’s our job to define what the new party phrase “the consumer is in control” actually means in our own spheres of influence.  After meeting Tara Hunt today, I was not only tremendously impressed but also very relieved to know that there’s such great help out there.