5 New Reasons CEOs Should Maintain A Stellar Reputation Online
In today’s world of social media, CEOs are extremely visible. This week I’ve received some input from online reputation expert Don Sorensen, president of Big Blue Robot. Don’s advise to entrepreneurs: “There has never been a more important time for CEOs to actively manage their online reputations. A positive reputation can establish credibility and trust with shareholders, the media and customers. Conversely, when there is a personal or company crisis, a CEO’s online reputation can fall quickly. Without the proper management, it may be impossible to recover.”
When something goes wrong in a company the CEO’s reputation is directly affected even if there’s nothing he or she could have done. For example, consider Target CEO Gregg W. Steinhafel: If you search his name online, hundreds of results appear about Target’s recent data breach. Even though many of the headlines don’t include his name, his reputation is implicated. The breach, and his reactions, have become a part of his personal online reputation that will remain on the Internet forever. Anyone at all including customers, potential hires, investors and even competitors, can find and use that information from now on.
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Given the implications, here are the five new reasons a CEO should care about their online reputations, via Don:
1. Customers may consider a CEO’s reputation before buying from or endorsing a company. This is especially true if your business offers long-term services, if you’ll be working with the client directly, or if you support controversial causes or policies. A CEO’s personal opinion can quickly turn loyal customers against them and the fallout can live forever in search results.
For example, Lululemon’s founder Chip Wilson was popular enough he had a veritable cult following until he uttered the infamous words about his customers’ weight being the possible problem with his company’s yoga pants. Stock has tumbled and Wilson is looking for another job. No future investor or company will miss the controversy that now accompanies his name.
2. A CEO’s online reputation can help establish them as thought leaders and industry experts. Business leaders should strive to be thought leaders to help their companies and consumers, and to create a solid image for themselves online. Every executive should work to improve their expertise, credibility, and authority and to communicate that value to others on a continual basis. Says Sorensen: “Because you’re an executive, people expect you to have an opinion, to analyze trends, to predict changes, to publish research and case studies, and more. Don’t be afraid to use your unique voice, style, experiences, and point of view to your advantage.” (How to do that? This is an area where a strong PR agency can be of particularly high benefit, I would add.)
3. Shareholders may consider a CEO’s reputation before investing. How someone appears online could influence how much and when a potential investor chooses to invest, and even whether they invest in your company at all. If the CEO is creating a start-up, will manage the investment funds, or will have a large influence on how money is allocated, investors will most likely consider the individual’s reputation before getting involved.
4. A CEO’s reputation affects how they’re portrayed in the media. Journalists consider a CEO’s reputation to determine who to interview for a news story. Reporters use both practical information as well as a CEO’s reputation to gauge how well they might fit their stories and how important a quote from them might be. They don’t just consider a CEO’s work on the job, but also the causes they support and even how friendly they are to the media. A CEO’s reputation can even influence what angle a journalist takes when writing. It can mean the difference between a scathing business review and a positive story. For example, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has a reputation for being visionary. This journalist even called him a superhero. When Bezos has an announcement, the press listens.
5. Search results can fulfill or kill a potential hire. With information from a job interview and an online search, a potential employer can get a pretty good idea of who you are, what you do, and how you react in certain situations. If you seem like a good fit with their values, mission, and culture, you’re more likely to be hired.
What should a CEO do to protect their online reputation? Ideally, you would never have anything negative written about you. But that may not be realistic. Sorensen recommends a proactive approach, starting with monitoring. To begin, search for your name in different search engines to see what comes up (do both a regular and a picture search). Then, put a Google or Talkwalker alert on your name so that you’ll get an email whenever your name appears online.
Next, you can add to your positive reputation by c0ntributing to trusted websites and touting good news with a press release or blog post.
Conversely, the biggest mistake a CEO can make is to be reactive. Although it might be tempting to stay out of the search engines altogether, the last thing you our your customers or investors want is to see no results for your name and position at all. Even a few “brand mentions” can do an individual and their business a great deal of good. Yet a single negative story, without proactive attention or management, could damage your personal and professional reputation for years to come.
In summary, even if you can only do a little to build your online reputation, now would be the ideal time to accomplish at least a few reputation building activities each quarter, if not every month.