Thursday, December 16, 2010

What's Your Reputation Worth?

by Olalah Njenga, Marketing Strategist & Author, owner of YellowWood Group and Carolina Business Connection Columnist
For several years, we were “that” house in the neighborhood. “That” house is the house where neighborhood kids congregate on the porch. Kids you don’t know show up bumped, bruised and bleeding looking for a kind word and a first aid kit. “That” house is the house where neighbors show up with dog on lease, key in hand, a feeding schedule and a sticky note of emergency phone numbers in case something happened to the dog, the house or both. How did we become “that” house in our neighborhood? Reputation!

Over the past 10 years, we’ve changed how we connect with each other, how we define friend and how we vet vendors and employees. In fact, over the past decade, we’ve changed nearly every aspect of how we live, work and play and that includes how we build our reputations. Now, more than any other time in history, our reputation is framed by more outside influences than ones we directly control. Before we ever meet people face to face, they’ve likely “googled” us to see what we look like, who we know and what we do for a living. With all of this going on in the background, have you ever contemplated whether your reputation online reflects your reputation offline?

Our offline reputation is typically comprised of the relationships we’ve built with people. Whether friends, colleagues, contacts or customers, we’ve put time and energy into cultivating relationships that allow people to feel good about being in association with us. In fact, it’s refreshing to meet someone who, upon your introducing yourself, says immediately, “I’ve heard such great things about you.” We all want that comforting feeling.

The very same people who are framing your reputation offline are also doing it online, whether you know it or not. That’s right! They are mentioning your name in online conversations. They are tagging you in blog posts and pictures. They are referencing you in articles and videos. In fact, your online reputation is equally as important as your offline one. So . . . how do you manage your overall reputation when you don’t know it’s happening in the background and you can’t control it? That’s easy . . . software!

Reputation monitoring tools are software programs that proactively find out information about you and who’s saying it. Don’t you want to know what is being said about you, who’s saying it and why? Your reputation has social and professional equity. It lingers long after you’ve left a job, a community, a group, a church, even a marriage. In fact, I would argue that your reputation, whether online or offline, is your most valuable piece of collateral. Protect it at all cost.

While I don’t have a favorite, there are several reputation monitoring tools to choose from with varying degrees of complexity. For example, on the simple end, Google Alerts will email you notifications when your word alert criteria is matched. Social Mention works similarly. Neither of these programs offer deep analytics. I’d say they function more like “listening” tools. Think of listening tools as a third ear that allows you to hear what’s being said about you online.

On the comprehensive side, there are tons of options. Meltwater, a very sophisticated system with analytics that can “learn” if mentions of you are “good”, “bad” or “neutral”. Another choice is Trackr, which offers robust analytics and detailed reporting.

The point is not to overwhelm you with software choices. The point is to stress that evolving technologies have blurred the lines between living, working and playing. Our fingertip ability to find out hundreds of pieces of information about each other in mere seconds means monitoring and managing your online reputation is just as important as the handshake relationships that we’ve cultivated over the years.

Because of my own reputation monitoring, I’ve discovered I was nominated for two achievements, mentioned in several blogs, tagged in scores of photos, quoted in an article and, if you can believe it, had a meeting – which I apparently forgot to put on my calendar. Thank goodness the woman I was meeting was so excited to meet with me that she chatted about the meeting online with a friend.

If your reputation is worth anything to you, than the notion that people will talk about you whether you are listening to them or not should make you just uncomfortable enough to take your online reputation as seriously as the one you’ve worked so hard to create offline.

Olalah Njenga, YellowWood Group, LLC

Olalah Njenga is the CEO and Senior Marketing Strategist at YellowWood Group, a marketing firm that specializes in helping companies align marketing strategies with sales goals. She is also the creator of the Marketing With Ease™ System and the author of 37 What Were They Thinking Moments In Marketing. As a member of the National Speakers Association (NSA), Olalah speaks nationally on business impacting topics, including strategic marketing, entrepreneurship, business planning, differentiation, social media and branding. In 2009 and 2010, Olalah was honored as a Stevie® Awards Women In Business Finalist in the Lifetime Achievement category. Olalah sits on several advisory boards and serves as a volunteer counselor for SCORE. SCORE, the “Counselors of America’s Small Business Owners”, is a national association dedicated to helping small business owners form and grow their businesses.
Contact Information: 
Olalah Njenga, Columnist
Carolina Business Connection
YellowWood Group, LLC
Thanks to Olalah  and Carolina Business Connection for okay to share this article