Like their private industry counterparts, local Government professional executive managers have obvious public profiles that often leave them open to criticism and attacks from many avenues, including disgruntled employees and dissatisfied unions. However, unlike a private enterprise manager, the very nature of local government management with its regulatory function and its public persona opens the local government professional up to other forms of criticism and attack, which can stem from the political nature of policy formulation, conflicting opinions, and associated emotional reactions. As in private industry, these attacks can lead to newspaper articles with quotes and statements that negatively reflect the manager’s professional reputation.
Were it just the local hometown-printed newspaper that used to be consigned to the basement archives; you might be able to survive the attacks after the issue dies down. However, digital journalism may remain visible on the web forever and is difficult to remove, even legally. Negative search results may be permanent, but the negatives may multiply over time due to the way certain software works.
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The popular concept “to Google someone” makes digital information readily available to anyone with access to a computer and the will to search. To compound this problem, people often tend to believe search results reflect the truth. The permanency of digital journalism and its ability to impact your reputation negatively is exacerbated by several factors.
Newspapers report facts as documented by statements or quotes from people. These statements do not connote truth but, simply put, are the opinions of an individual from their own perspective with their own agendas. As William Faulkner so infamously stated, Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other. For example, you are a manager in a community with seriously declining revenues that has provided prosperous employee benefits over the years. You recommend reducing employees’ benefits, outsourcing certain services, and reducing the number of employees to maximize the use of revenues. Employees and unions, wishing to maintain the status quo, actively and successfully campaign to elect a new governing majority composed primarily of former employees, some who were terminated for cause by the City! How do you think the quotes-statements of fact’ from these newly elected officials might be driven by their own political agenda more than conveying reality?
The mass marketing technique used by newspapers of “bad news sells” often results in highly defamatory, negative headlines. How many times have you seen a headline that purports certain facts, only to read the article and find a different set of facts? The problem is the headline becomes the catchphrase for the ‘permanent digital document! Headlines drove by ‘statements of fact’ or even name-calling in public meetings that have nothing to do with you as a professional become the headline and become associated with you as a professional.
Newspapers with blogging sites and local community blogging sites have further corrupted the reporting of facts by allowing comments online that are best defined as internet slander-basically untruths, incorrect, and misleading negative comments detract from the totality of what might otherwise have been reasonably factual reporting. As a result, a person’s online reputation can become unfairly tarnished.
As managers, we have to make hard and unpopular decisions. Comments from those impacted by these decisions can be acrimonious and vengeful. Whether it is terminated employees, regulated businesses, or ‘over-taxed citizens expressing their angst or venting their anger online anonymously, this often results in permanent slanderous ‘blog’ comments negatively affecting the manager’s reputation.
Since 2009, Google and other search engines have concentrated on ensuring that the latest information, ‘fresh content,’ shows up on the first page of search engines. Therefore, who you truly are as a professional, years of successful accomplishments can be destroyed overnight by current or ‘fresh’ negative internet slander or articles.
The solution to these issues is a proactive, positive approach to Internet Reputation Management. As local government professionals operating in this new age of instant information and permanent visibility, we have a responsibility to understand the web’s power and maximize its usage to promote a positive self-image. Still, we are also constrained by our position’s very public nature, which leaves us open to unfair attacks and criticism. As a result, we must stay alert to our web image, monitor even during good times, and ensure that we immediately and consistently address the negatives.
The most important thing to remember is To THINK POSITIVELY AND ACT POSITIVELY. DO NOT confront blogs and other sites by responding and engaging in repartee! In other words, do not distinguish an insult from an intelligent response. Repartee generates fresh content, which will keep the negative data current and fresh for the web search engines.
In the day of the printed press, Mark Twain’s proverb said it all “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel” In the digital age, it is better said, “Never pick a fight with a blogger, his ink is free”… and it may stain you forever! So, what can you do if you cannot attack it and it is almost impossible to remove it?
A growing number of Online Reputation Management (ORM) firms provide services primarily focused on monitoring a person’s online image and using many of the accepted techniques for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to enhance the person’s online image. Tracking efforts are instituted to learn what is said about the person on the internet. Then techniques are used to promote positive or neutral content, generate new content and move the ranking of that content to the first one to three pages of a search engine (Google, Yahoo, etc.) while moving the negative content to the “back” pages.
Studies show that the vast majority of persons only search the first page of search results. This method effectively removes negatives from view and benefits from moving true, positive search results to the first page of search results where most people will see them. A content development strategy backed by aggressive search engine optimization can move negatives to page two and beyond. A content development strategy backed by aggressive search engine optimization can move negatives to page two and beyond. Not everyone needs to or can afford to hire a firm to help them; there are steps that you can personally take to change or improve your reputation.
Your goal is to market who you are as a professional and ‘overwhelm’ the negative information on the web in your name with positive information. Remember, you are responding to the technique of “googling someone,” which is producing negative information about you on search engine results. So, use your name or something catchy that will consistently point back to you for search engine results if you have a common name. The idea is to sell yourself or ‘brand’ and market yourself, your accomplishments, and your skills and abilities. Techniques used to brand yourself include:
Develop websites with your name in the URL: A domain name with your name in it is called an ‘exact match URL.’ This type of domain is almost guaranteed to rise in search results, especially if it contains the coveted.com or.net in the URL. You can develop websites by utilizing free resources like Google or WordPress to create pages or posts. Or, you can purchase domain names and contract with a website hosting company such as GoDaddy.com. Whatever you do, use your name in the URL. These sites can be created using off-the-shelf content management systems. The material and design on each site should be unique and not mirror the other sites to maximize the proliferation of content for your brand name.
It is possible to hire firms who will do this work for you. However, if you choose to manage your own websites’ purchase, registration, development, and hosting, choose your web hosting service cautiously. Key factors for consideration in choosing a good web host are
The reputation of the provider, Cost, and payment plans, Number of websites the provider can host, Technical support depending on your individual needs and understanding of working with websites, Management tools, how easy is it to manage your space, and Up-time guarantee- If the hosting service does not have the ability to keep your site up at least 95% of the time, you are wasting all of your website development efforts. After the preliminaries are complete, you should make every effort to regularly maintain and update the sites to keep the content fresh for search engine purposes.
In addition to website development, another common technique is to generate social profiles in your name and join Social Networking Websites. Numerous platforms can be used to build social/personal or professional profiles and social networking sites to build your presence on the web.
It is important to keep these sites positive and updated regularly. It would help if you considered keeping personal and professional profiles separate, including pictures that you share on each site. How many of us want a prospective employer to see pictures of our children and grandchildren. But, don’t ignore the personal profiles. Personal profiles can also add to the proliferation of positive information about you on the web. Control your sites and the content by controlling who you ‘friend’ and commenting on your profile sites.
The big three, Linked-In, Facebook, and Twitter for networking and linking purposes. These sites have some of the highest rankings with Search Engine Sites and are a must to expand your presence and market yourself positively on the web. Review lists on the web to find additional high-ranked sites to increase my presence on the web. Use well-known sites because they are considered ‘stronger’ by search engines and therefore have a better chance of rising in search results.
Finally, publishing or becoming an authority in your field on the web will increase your presence on the web. Utilize publishing platforms to include blogs, article directories, and press release sites.
Write and post articles and blog about yourself and your subject area expertise regularly. Blogging tools such as Blogger and WordPress allow you to create your own Blog sites utilizing your personal brand (your name).
Negative articles and blogs negatively affected your professional reputation; therefore, generating and controlling your own positive articles and blogs will positively affect your professional reputation. Publishing requires effort and time to ensure that what you are publishing meets accepted professional standards and does not detract from your intent of promoting your image positively. Publish about yourself and on topics about which you are knowledgeable or passionate. Use your full name in all that you write, so the search engine returns to your name-personal brand, reflecting the fresh associated positive data you generate. Hire a firm or do it yourself, but get started!
Additionally, find the top-ranked blog sites and comment or post on topics of interest to you. Stay positive. Do not respond to negatives. Stay active and visible. Occasionally, blog posts will rise to prominence in the search results for obvious and active blogs.
Become a recognized authority and publish articles in your areas of expertise. The first place to publish is your own website or blog. Then consider re-publishing on sites such as local government or public administration authority sites that accept submissions from guest writers, online reference sites such as Wikipedia, and article submission sites or directories which will allow reprints such as EzineArticles.
Article directories allow users to submit articles to the site directory, which are then categorized by content. Utilize article directories that have high page rankings and maintain credibility with the search engine sites. Because these directories are considered authority sites, they are constantly crawled by search engines searching for current material. Utilizing your name and embedding back-links to your website creates linkages that increase page ranking and visibility for your profile sites.
Finally, do not hesitate to publish your own press releases touting your expertise and professional accomplishments. Numerous free press release sites and fee-based sites provide a broader distribution of your press release.
Generating positive content alone is ineffectual unless coupled with promotion and internet marketing tools that maximize the visibility of your positive content with the search engines. Promoting and maintaining your new positive image can be accomplished via an ongoing contract with an internet reputation management firm, or you can begin to control yourself. Whether you go with a firm or do it yourself will ultimately depend upon time and financial resources and your understanding of the ORM processes.