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5 Steps to Effective Online Reputation Management

Your association's reputation directly affects your recruiting efforts. Here's how to take control of the story that's being told about you and communicate your organization's best qualities to potential candidates.

By Rebecca Hawk

The concept of online reputation management might conjure up images of a sleek, high-profile corporation. But online reputation management isn’t just a for-profit exercise. Associations and other nonprofits need to pay attention to it as well, because how your organization is portrayed online affects not only your membership but also your efforts to recruit and retain talented staff.

Krista Neher, CEO of Boot Camp Digital, says reputation management is related to branding but that organizations shouldn’t confuse the two. “A brand is, essentially, the thoughts, ideas, and feelings that you associate with an organization. Reputation management is really similar,” Neher says. “The difference is, reputation management generally has more to do with reviews and user-generated content.”

Reputation management is typically handled by marketing or communications staff. “This person will really know how your organization should be representing itself,” Neher says. “She will be able to evaluate: What does our desired state look like, versus our actual state? How can we fix any discrepancies?”

If you want to have a positive reputation online, don’t wait for someone to write a bad review and then stumble upon it by accident.

— Krista Neher

Today, the primary focus of reputation management is the online component. Here are some tips for starting proactive online reputation management efforts at your association.

Step 1: Look at your association’s search results. No matter how deep your knowledge of your organization’s operations may be, you simply can’t know everything—especially the way others perceive you. Neher recommends beginning with a quick internet search. After all, that’s one of the first things a potential candidate will do when he finds out about your job opening. If he sees an outdated website or incorrect contact information, he’ll likely get the impression that your organization is dated, tech-averse, and perhaps even sloppy. If you find any incorrect information in the search results, work to amend it immediately.  

Step 2: Go where the candidates are. Aside from your organization’s web properties, your LinkedIn page will be one of the first search results listed. “LinkedIn is the number one place job seekers are spending their time,” says Neher. “So you want to be sure your page has a strong presence.”

If your association doesn’t have an established LinkedIn page, make creating one a priority. It takes less than 10 minutes to create a basic profile page for an organization.

Neher recommends using the LinkedIn profile as a true reflection of your organization as a workplace, rather than a bland listing. “Use custom images, show what your organization is all about, post some status updates—even if you’re replicating material that’s being used on your other social networks,” she says.

Candidates are also likely to look at the profiles of your chief executive and the relevant hiring manager,  so those employees should make sure their profiles are up to date and polished.

Step 3: Target sites that rank high in the search results. A good strategy for building some online clout, especially if your association is small or newly established, is to piggyback on the strength of other websites by getting your site listed with them.

Neher cites Glassdoor, a popular site that allows former and current employees to rate their organizations on salaries, interview experiences, and overall environment and opportunity. Employees can also make recommendations to employers they’ve rated. “A lot of business are surprised to find that their ratings on Glassdoor aren’t very good,” Neher says, “or that they don’t have any ratings at all.”

The reality is that reviews on sites like Glassdoor are often negative because employees who have positive experiences generally don’t think to post a review, Neher notes. “In sports, they say the best defense is a good offense. That’s also true of your online reputation,” she says. “If you want to have a positive reputation online, don’t wait for someone to write a bad review and then stumble upon it by accident. Encourage happy employees to leave positive reviews, so you’re taking ownership of what’s being said about you.”

Step 4: Don’t sweat the bad reviews. If your association does end up with a few negative opinions online, it’s OK: Bad reviews happen. “Not everyone’s going to have a great experience [working with your organization]. It’s not always going to be the best fit,” she says.

Neher notes that one or two unflattering reviews might even be a good thing. “It’s interesting, actually: Studies show that people trust less-than-perfect reviews more than perfect reviews,” she says. A page of mixed but mostly positive reviews communicates authenticity and balance.

As tempting as it may be, responding to a former employee’s negative review is typically not in your organization’s best interest. “It’s difficult for an organization to leave a comment and not sound defensive,” Neher says. “And people generally have good sense [about negative reviews]. A person who leaves a really, really negative review actually looks less credible. [Candidates] will see that the review isn’t balanced, and the reviewer was likely upset while writing it.”

Generally, organizations should only respond to reviews to correct inaccurate statements. “For example, if a positive review incorrectly said that you didn’t offer health insurance, you would correct something like that,” Neher says.

Step 5: Build a designated place to showcase your association’s professional opportunities. Aside from asking happy employees to review your organization, Neher encourages building a designated space to highlight your association’s workplace benefits. A simple solution: Create a careers section on your website (or just add a tab to your LinkedIn page). Use it to introduce candidates to your team members, for example, or outline some of the professional development opportunities you provide. 

You can’t control everything that’s being said about your organization. But you can take control of your story and show candidates what makes your association a great place to work. 

Rebecca Hawk is the marketing specialist for Association CareerHQ at ASAE Business Services, Inc. Email: [email protected]