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Life in a fishbowl

Pat Patera

Ira Gostin, marketing and sales manager at LeFiell Company Inc. in Reno, ordered a little item from an online store. It arrived damaged.

When he emailed a complaint, the company rolled him into a group response posted to all complainers a post that displayed all of their email addresses.

The result? The complainers got together and ganged up on the company as a group.

“They took something bad and made it so much worse,” Gostin says.

Situations such as those point up the need for companies to cultivate and monitor their online reputations, says Judy Strauss, professor at University of Nevada, Reno, and author of “Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online.”

Visiting with members of the Reno chapter of the American Marketing Association, Strauss said companies and individual executives can take proactive steps to boost their reputations in the online world. One way: “Edit Wikipedia articles to become famous for your thought leadership,” Strauss says.

It’s also important to know if your reputation is being tarnished by others. A good first step, Strauss says, is to sign up for Google alerts to know if your company is being talked about.

But if a company finds that talk isn’t positive, it must take steps to mitigate the negative spin. And that dictates preparation of a plan to deal with an online crisis.

“When you’re a big company or a public figure, you can expect to be trashed online,” says Strauss. The way to displace uncomplimentary links on a search engine results page is to post more current, favorable information. Its timeliness will win it a place at the top of the list, and you can hope it will push the previous derogatory links down onto a second page. And few people ever venture beyond the first page of search results.

The first step toward repairing Web damage, says Strauss, is to be open and honest online; admit mistakes.

Another way companies can manage their online presence is through steps to move their Web sites to the top of Google search pages.

“If content is king,” Strauss says, “Connections are queen. Make friends. Get people to link to your site. It gives you Google juice.”

Fresh content, meanwhile, gets the attention of “spiders” that roam the Web taking notes on site relevance.

Martin Amba, vice president at Global Studio, an ad agency and Web site development company, knows the importance of getting a front seat in search engine results.

“I hear that three to four times a week from customers how to show up or move up in search engines,” he says. A key element, he says, is lots of activity on the site.

Conrad Wong, Webmaster at John Ascuaga’s Nugget, says he’s taking Strauss’ advice to heart and intends make the company information page more personable.

The site now will highlight employees of the month and will ease the way for customers to post comments.

And, Wong plans to talk with management about establishing a blog so that customers and vendors can talk to and about the Nugget.

“A blog translates to constant traffic,” he notes. “Search spiders link date and content, then search engines register that updated content.”

Search engine positioning remains the brass ring for marketers in the region.

“It’s important for us to be high on the list in search engines,” says Melissa Molyneaux, associate at Colliers International. “I will now ask people what they type in when searching for businesses like ours.”

And, to get further attention from those Web-crawling spiders, she adds, “We link to other sites mortgage lenders, real estate attorneys. But I will now ask them to make it reciprocal.”

Blogging is the new kid on the block.

“I had been planning to become more interactive through blogging,” says Greg Solem, owner of Nevada Casting Group, Inc. “I want to search for blogs that discuss this line of work. Or if not, start one.”

Nevada Casting’s Web site was already built when Solem bought the company three years ago. But he plans to enhance it and make it interactive.

Alice Heiman, owner of Alice Heiman Consulting, has been putting personality online via streaming radio.

“I have been working with a great company called womensradio.com and have been interviewed on one of their radio shows,” she says. “I post my articles there frequently. I have a video on youtube.com and I am learning how to get people to view it. On LinkedIn I have had some success with answering posted questions in my area of expertise.”

But businesses must keep their priorities straight.

“Managing your online presence properly is a full time job even for a small company like me,” says Heiman. “I enjoy it but it is a time sink. Small companies need to be wary of spending too much time on this and neglecting other things like sales.”