Trading Faces: Building and caring for your online reputation

You’ve spent years building your professional reputation and protecting your organization’s good name, but in today’s interconnected, information-rich world it’s easier than ever for the actions of others to damage the goodwill you’ve established.

Networking is a basic responsibility of business owners and organizations serving them. We network to keep abreast of best practices, to identify opportunities and attract new customers, clients, and members. There’s a big upside. But Entrepreneur’s networking columnist Ivan Misner points out that there’s a risk involved as well (Word-of-Mouth Marketing Can Bite Back, March 4, 2009). When you pass on information, you do so with an implied stamp of approval.

That’s just common sense. If you recommend a consultant to another community, and the consultant overcharges or performs poorly, some of that negative feeling is cast back on you.  But now that online networking has stormed the nation (No, Grandma, I don’t want to be your Facebook friend), haven’t we all gotten a little liberal with our recommendations?

Being a fan, befriending, posting, and inviting are all ways to put your stamp of approval on an organization or person. Do it thoughtfully.

Forbes’ Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg make this connection, encouraging readers to consider their reputation as currency (Is your reputation worth $15 Billion?). Trading posts on social networking sites and Web sites is one popular way to increase traffic to your organization’s message, but it’s worth considering how readily you trade links. Is your organization still on message? Are you linking to anyone you wouldn’t want to go into business with?

Search Engine Optimization guru Jim Boykin says who you link to matters. While page rankings currently rise with traded links, search engines can tell who’s linking to you, and may soon screen out the links on sites where an extraordinarily high percentage of links are reciprocated. Reciprocal links with natural partners are good, but if there’s not a match with what you do, you might want to clean them up. And don’t link anywhere you wouldn’t want your grandmother see.