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How to protect your reputation in the internet age

How to protect your reputation in the internet age

By Paul Miller, senior consultant at Cision

On May 17 2007, just after midday on Wall Street, the value of Apple Inc. fell by $4 billion (£2.3bn). Within 15 minutes, the stock had made an almost full recovery. The source of the market’s fleeting alarm? An erroneous report of delays in Apple’s product pipeline, including a three-month lag in the arrival of the hugely anticipated iPhone.  

This report came not from a newswire but from influential tech blog Engadget. While the story wasn’t true, for a few minutes on the world’s most powerful stock exchange it had all the consequences of truth.

The reputation of an organisation has always depended on the channels through which its values, performance and overall business health are communicated.

People weren’t communicating by carrier pigeon and smoke signal before the arrival of the Internet. Nonetheless, the Internet – or rather, the broadband-enabled Internet, widely and not especially aesthetically known as Web 2.0 – is making things considerably more complicated.

What is Web 2.0? The answer to that question depends on who you ask. Software engineers, for example, will launch into a monologue likely to reference programming languages such as AJAX and SOAP. Wikipedia – a Web 2.0 product par excellence, even if that’s one of few par excellence things about it - responds with a discussion of communities and hosted services.

But the best definition I have seen came from the unlikely source of Stephen Fry - yes, that Stephen Fry – who describes Web 2.0 as a state of mind, one in which the idea of give and take is central to communications. Content, says Web 2.0, is no longer something for mere consumption; it is part of a conversation. For a generation raised on broadband, this is not a value-add, or novelty – it’s a fundamental expectation.

Anyone can contribute to one of these conversations, as two hundred million MySpace pages testify. Getting heard is a different matter.

Knowing the the probability that a conversation will be heard by an organisation’s stakeholders is vital for reputation, because, with potentially relevant content strewn across a vast and expanding digital universe, something has to give. Even Google can’t index the entirety of the Internet.

There is a mainstream online, which increasingly resembles the offline mainstream, with channels such as the BBC and the New York Times prime destinations for many surfing for news.

The online mainstream also includes brands not known as content providers in the offline world; any company with a website is a media company, a publisher of content. This mainstream is readily identifiable and should be monitored and engaged with in much the same way as traditional media.

Beyond the mainstream is the realm of user-generated content. But these channels, of course, are not equal. Some blogs are effectively mainstream channels (at least in certain sectors), while some MySpace pages are unappealing even to their creators.

In the same way, some YouTube channels are more viewed, some Facebook groups home to more influential members, and some chatrooms host more vibrant conversations, than others.

Mapping this landscape means ranking channels according to their likely discoverability. There is no shortage of metrics available, ranging from the obvious – it is clear that a YouTube channel whose videos have racked up hundreds of thousands of views is one to be reckoned with – to tech-arcana (it is the quantity and quality of inbound links to a page that largely determines that page’s search engine visibility).

If this sounds like a big job, that’s because it is. Even so, by narrowing the focus by sector and nurturing an understanding of what the various Web 2.0 platforms mean to their users, what at first appears daunting becomes more manageable.

And once you have a grasp of the Web 2.0 hierarchies that apply to your organisation, you can use it not just to monitor for threats to reputation – such as that behind the stampeed from Apple shares – but also as a guide to building that reputation through a strategy of efficient, targeted stakeholder engagement.

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