19 November 2010

Speak Up: If You Don’t Talk About Yourself, They Will

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango & Occasional Media Socialite…

Call it Public Frenemy Number One.

Google can be your best friend because it can help other people learn about you. Google can also be your worst enemy because it can help other people learn about you.

What’s the difference? It depends on the source…

Getting Schooled in Social Media

I recently spoke on a social media panel hosted by the Regional Independent School Communicators. One of my fellow panelists, Stephen Johnson, the Director of Communications at Windward School, noted that many schools won’t participate in social media because they fear what could be said about them. His response to those schools? “People are already talking about you.” These schools could sit on the sidelines and watch the conversations unfold, or they could get into the game and try to shape the discussions.

This isn’t just true for schools; it applies to any organization and even individuals. You can either speak for yourself or allow others to speak for you. Google doesn’t discriminate in that way.

Seek and Thou Shalt Find Some Good Dirt

One reason Google quickly claimed prominence in search was because it offered personal uses – very personal. Google’s ability to search for our friends, family, exes and even ourselves soon made it a household verb.

As we all know, Googling has gone beyond voyeurism to corporate and consumer research. Employers Google job applicants in quest of dirty laundry. Consumers seek out product and business reviews before making a commitment.

Because of this universal hunger for background info, review sites have sprouted up everywhere. Yelp enables anyone to review a business. Charity Navigator reviews nonprofit organizations. And now there’s a website that enables people to review other people anonymously. Yes, it’s a heinous concept, so I won’t name it or link to it, but it proves that even if you avoid the media to protect your privacy and reputation, you could still be dragged in.

So what can you do about it?

Open the Floodgates

An online reputation management industry has arisen because of these issues. Reputation management companies try to compel websites to remove negative mentions of their clients. This isn’t always possible, so these companies also flood the channels with positive mentions, using search-engine optimization (SEO) techniques to gain higher results in Google.

So if you don’t like what someone says about you, douse the Web with a tsunami of positive information. Nearly 90% of all clicks on Google occur on the first page, so bury that vile gossip to the second page – or better yet, the sixth or seventh. You could hire a reputation management company or, to save a few dinero, do it yourself.

Social media is a good place to start.

The Crayola Corollary

Now, as my students know, when it comes to social media – or any media – my favorite metaphor is the Crayola 64-crayon box. What kid wouldn’t want 64 colors (plus a killer built-in crayon sharpener)?

Well, actually, most kids don’t even want all the colors that come in that box – including such chromatic mutants as burnt sienna, raw umber and other crayons that look like someone left a rainbow in the toaster. Consequently, they wind up using up all the primary colors and leaving plenty of raw umber for little siblings to chew on.

Media is just like those crayons: just because one exists doesn’t mean you have to use it. Twitter may be all the rage and it definitely has its uses, but so do periwinkle and cornflower crayons. It depends on what you want.

I won’t try to teach my entire social media course here, but the key is to experiment with one (or more) media platforms, find one you’re comfortable with, and start plugging away. I personally endorse LinkedIn because it’s career-focused and offers a high Google rank. Google also likes websites that end with a .edu – yes, schools – so figure out how to get your name on one by, say, writing for one of their blogs.

One more quick tip: if you have a newsworthy announcement, learn to write and issue press releases (or hire a PR/journalism student). Numerous websites will post your press release for free or minimal cost. The goal here isn’t the news media (getting a journalist to pick up your story is challenging), it’s Google and other search engines.

Now that You’ve Jumped in, Make a Splash

Let’s now give this the positive perspective it deserves. Going online isn’t just a matter of drowning out negative voices; it’s about using the Internet to market yourself and your causes.

Keep it up, and you just might find that your reluctant venture into the wild wild Web will begin to generate actual value and rewards. Of course, you need strategy, creativity and continuous learning to maximize the results, but at least you’ve made a start.

The best part? You just might like it.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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