Protecting Your Professional Reputation…Online and Off

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If you own a business,  reflect for a moment on all the things you do to build that business.  (This is a good exercise if you work for a company you don’t own — just replace “business” with “professional reputation”).

The way you feel about your business or reputation, it’s almost like a family member, isn’t it?  It is for me.  Think of all the care that goes into it.

If you’re like me, you put a lot of hard work into your business…

  • You obtain a business license, and adhere to all the legal and financial requirements associated with owning a business.
  • You have your logo, website, and business card designed, so people can recognize you and your brand. And that’s just the start of all the marketing your probably do!
  • You set up profiles for your business on LinkedIn and Facebook.
  • You go to professional networking events and make presentations.
  • You keep a sharp eye on the competition, but you also build partnerships.  Relationships built on trust and mutual support.
  • You reach out and help others, as others have helped you.

And you wouldn’t let anyone take that away from you, would you?

Today, my post is about being careful with your business, and with your online reputation. Not about being paranoid, just about taking care about who and what you associate with your business.  Because your reputation is the most valuable thing you have.

Reputation and visibility go hand in hand.  If you develop a presence on social media — as well as offline, you and your business become more visible.  There are ways to manage that visibility to benefit you.  Having a robust presence on all the social media related to your business is critical.  It will help you build and preserve — and even protect — your reputation.

But you do not have to give away the store!  This week, as I was sending holiday cards from Fletcher Prince, I took a careful look at my personal LinkedIn contacts.  Since Fletcher Prince has a fully developed public profile on LinkedIn — including video — I realized I didn’t really need to share my precious contacts and professional support network with people I didn’t know that well.  I’m not a selfish person, but I started thinking about the ways someone I didn’t know that well could use their so-called affiliation with me, and I decided it was time to be a little more discerning (By the way, if anyone calls you saying they do know me, you know you can always call me to verify that, right?)

So while my personal LinkedIn profile remains public, my contacts were shaved down to people I really do know well and who are quite familiar with my business and what I do.  If I hadn’t already established a very thorough presence on social media (Googling my name as an exact search term yields more than 65,000 search engine results), I might think twice about that move, but as it is, I feel I can afford to be a little more exclusive, at least in this area!

I thought about it again today when I got a very interesting phone call and business proposition — on a Sunday morning no less — from someone I had just met that week at a conference who asked me for my card.  I’m sure you have received those out-of-the-blue sales calls.  Well, this was like that, but different in an important way. What was interesting about this was how this person conducts his business.  He may be on the up and up on everything else, but he did admit to me that he is using a non-permission based list to send commercial email to a database of more than 10,000 contacts.  And he knows that it’s wrong.  I tried to explain to him how SPAM is illegal, but although he knew what he was doing was “technically” illegal, he still felt that his approach was just fine, and after all, no one had bothered him about it.  I tried to explain to him — as gently as I could — how I could not associate my business with a practice that is breaking a federal law.

Federal law. It’s not like going a few miles over the speed limit.  People have received prison sentences and multi-thousand dollar fines for sending SPAM!

I didn’t say it but I thought it: “I have not worked this hard to affiliate me and Fletcher Prince with anything illegal.”

As I gave him my polite “no-thanks” and ended the call, I thought about how many times my blog readers have been probably approached with proposals that could adversely affect their own businesses.

If you have been following any of my recommendations this year, then you have worked very hard to cultivate something of great value.  My little reminder to myself and to you today is to protect that!  You can still be “out there” and telling your message, but guard the interests of your business as you would care for a dearly loved child.  Don’t let anyone tarnish your reputation, or that of your business.  If you lose money, you can always make more.  But if you lose your reputation, that is much harder to regain.

And my second reminder, as we do a lot more networking and getting together with clients, is to remember that this is a season of good will.  You have done good work, and you deserve to be recognized for it.  So don’t be shy to ask for LinkedIn recommendations, YouTube video testimonials, and feedback from your carefully cultivated contacts and colleagues.

And be generous with your own sincere LinkedIn recommendations of others.  My challenge to you this week is write at least one LinkedIn recommendation for a colleague or client, and to at least consider the value of a video testimonial.

There is no better insurance for your business (other than business insurance 😉 than well-nurtured professional contacts, LinkedIn recommendations, and YouTube video testimonials.  Do what you have to do to obtain these, and disregard the advances of those who do not know or understand your business, your values, and your professionalism.

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About Mary Fletcher Jones

Mary Fletcher Jones is a public relations and marketing consultant, and owns Fletcher Prince (www.FletcherPrince.com). Follow Mary on Twitter @FletcherPrince.

Posted on December 6, 2010, in Client/Agency Relationship, LinkedIn, small business marketing tips and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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