A patient complained about a doctor on Facebook and generated a lot of online traffic. The story was reported in the newspapers. The Medical Board started an investigation. Pending the outcome the doctor relocated to another city. This left the local community without a doctor as no replacement could be found.
A year later the doctor’s name was cleared by the board. But the damage was done. And for many years the article kept showing up in Google search results in relation to the doctor as well as her old practice.
The good news is that I made this scenario up. The bad news: reputation damage can happen to all of us. Pro-active online reputation management should be part of a healthy risk mitigation strategy.
Here are some simple (ethical) tricks I have used to manage my online reputation and improve my Google rankings. You can do it too, it’s easy. It is applicable to your personal brand (your name) as well as your organisation.
#1: Respond to customer needs and expectations
Prevention is better than cure. Our managers act on complaints immediately, as negative comments have the potential to spiral rapidly out of control, especially online. Here is an example of how not to handle a social media crisis.
Our quality assurance committee starts its meetings with a ‘good, bad and ugly’ review of the past month. The group looks at any problems or feedback received, including e.g. Facebook comments. We’re not perfect by any means, but this approach allows our organisation to improve patient services on an ongoing basis.
#2: Create, promote, and update your own online content
Develop a professional website but don’t stop there! Start a Blog. Create social media profiles on LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+, and update your profiles regularly. This will improve search engine rankings so your own content will show up first. Use namechk.com to find out which social networks are available.
#3: Interconnect your online profiles
This will further improve rankings. Splash pages like about.me help to connect your profiles in one place.
#4: Encourage constructive criticism and respond timely to feedback
Engage when people post comments. Respond preferably on the same day. Look at feedback as free business advice. Thank the reviewer and explain your point of view. We have learned from the comments on our website and practice Facebook page.
#5: Don’t argue online (and offline)
Set an example. Be a leader. I know this is not always easy, but an angry response is as bad as no response. Be aware that many clients are watching. Avoid deleting comments as this will usually not help your case.
#6: Monitor the web
Google yourself and your organisation at least weekly. Set up Google alerts for your own name and other brands or topics you would like to follow. Free services like peekyou.com, Socialmention.com, and Veooz.com can be helpful. There are lots of other tools to watch your web presence.
#7: Correct and improve information on external sites
Most sites will update your details at no cost. Some sites like HealthEngine or HealthOptions Australia may have added your name and address but will only allow you to update details or improve your listing after paying a subscription fee.
If you feel a review about you or your organisation is incorrect or unfair ask the owner of the website to make amendments. If that’s not an option request to write a comment on the feedback. Google will only remove reviews if they contain unlawful content, are spam, off-topic or if there is a conflict of interest.
Google offers useful tips about how to respond to reviews.
#8: Improve positive content, push down negative content
There are many reputation management services on the web. They improve rankings and make it harder for negative content to show up high in search results. Brandyourself.com is an excellent free reputation management tool to improve your personal search results. You need to have a social media profile and a website before you start.
#9: Be ready to engage with traditional media
Have an official spokes person. Consider media training. I like to give journalists a written summary of the main message our organisation wants to bring across.
#10: Know the rules
The AHPRA guidelines explain the advertising limitations under the ‘Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act 2009’. The Good Medical Practice Code of Conduct includes principles about how to respond to complaints. If in doubt, ask your medical defence organisation.
Most social media networks, including Facebook have rules. This article is a great illustration: Kicked off Facebook? Here’s what happened. If you want to know how not to use social media – and stay out of trouble – have a look at the AMA social media guidelines.