After I posted the most recent Spokesmonster cartoon yesterday, I sent the link around to all my friends and invited their comments. One friend, a StepRep user, emailed back with his thoughts on StepRep and the whole concept of online reputation management, and I thought I’d address his arguments here.
I have not really added anything to my StepRep profile page because … I kinda thought that the system does not really make any sense. If everyone knows that the page is managing your reputation, then they know that it is only showing the good stories about you and leaving out the bad stories. If I wanted to buy something for my house, I want to read all the bad stories about the contractor, not read his “managed” page which only tells me the good things. Why would anyone read a StepRep page when they know it is clearly biased?
The guys at the French website L’Atelier raised a similar point when they reviewed StepRep a few months ago. And it’s a good question, a question we’re going to have to learn to confront if we want the site to keep growing.
Here’s how I’d respond to my friend:
“Bad stories” only tell you so much.
Your argument is kind of like saying, “Why would anyone ever go to the Air Canada website? Air Canada isn’t going to share all the bad stories about flight delays and grumpy flight attendants.” But “bad stories” aren’t the only things consumers are looking for online.
If someone is trying to decide whether to hire you as (say) a contractor, one of the things that person might look at is a site that offers unbiased reviews. But once he’s decided to hire you, the unbiased reviews aren’t going to give him your phone number, or link to your blog and your Facebook page, or link to stories that have appeared about you in the local press, or show who you’ve worked for in the past, or link to photos of the actual work you’ve done. Your StepRep profile page will do all that.
Building a reputation based on trust.
Down the line, as the StepRep / MyFrontSteps community grows, your StepRep profile will also give visitors valuable information about your reputation: they’ll be able to see which consumers have endorsed you or linked to you as a “trusted service provider”. If visitors are MyFrontSteps users themselves, they’ll be able to use the StepRep Directory to find the service providers that their friends trust and recommend. This is a far more valuable piece of information than some anonymous whine left on a discussion board somewhere.
Of course consumers won’t treat your StepRep profile page as if it’s the only source of information about your business. They’ll look at other sites that come up when they Google your name. But here’s where StepRep comes in handy. Because StepRep was designed to be very attractive to search robots, the links leading from your widget and profile page to the stories you’ve marked as “good” will influence search engines to give more weight to those stories.
The results probably won’t be dramatic. StepRep’s influence might be just enough to nudge positive stories a little higher in the search results, where people are more likely to see them.
(PS. MyFrontSteps’ Jeff Tomlin had a great post a while back about how Google ranks pages. Reading it will help to explain how the StepRep profile page and widget work.)
Making yourself a little more Google-friendly.
In the second Spokesmonster cartoon, where we talked about online reputation management, maybe we made it seem like the objective was only to chase away criticism and negative reviews. And sometimes that’s part of it. But there’s another objective which is likely to resonate for many folks who run small businesses – folks who might not have much of an online presence right now. And that’s simply helping searchers to find you when they Google your name.
Say you’ve got a fairly common name, like – oh, I don’t know, Michael A. Charles. Googling my name brings up a whole lot of irrelevant results – irrelevant to me, I mean – like the American artist Michael Ray Charles, the Australian blues guitarist Michael Charles, the Houston dentist Michael A. Charles.
By using my StepRep widget and profile page to aggregate and link to all the sites that refer to me – the real Michael A. Charles – I can influence Google so that it’s more likely to put those sites in the first page of results, where more people will see them. And that Aussie guitarist can slink back down to the second page where he belongs.
Does it all seem a little complicated?
As you can see, I’m still figuring out how to make these arguments as brief and punchy as possible. StepRep has a lot of different angles – notice I didn’t even mention quotes and referral fees, which are the subject of the most recent cartoon.
But really the best selling point is that it’s all free. You can set up an account in about two minutes. Try it out, explore the site, maybe add the StepRep widget to your blog or website, see if it makes any difference to your Google results.
Meanwhile I’ll work on polishing my rhetorical skills.