This is Day 22 of our new series: 30 days to a better online reputation. Be sure to subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss a single important lesson!

“Once we know our weaknesses they cease to do us any harm.
Georg C. Lichtenberg

repped-day22At some point in your career, you’ll stare down the most infamous interview question of them all: What are your biggest weaknesses? If you’re like most job candidates, you’ll have prepared an answer that takes a pseudo weakness and turns it into an apparent strength. “My biggest weakness is that I care too much about people.” That may be great for job interviews, but that kind of response is not going to cut it in reputation management.

While you may not ever want to reveal your biggest weaknesses to a hiring manager, when it comes to your online reputation, you absolutely need to identify and own your weaknesses. The alternative is to go about your business blissfully unaware of your reputation’s Achilles’ heel or worse, know your weaknesses, but deny that they’ll ever present a problem. Well, research firm Oxford Metrica would like you to know that there is an 80% chance your company will lose at least 20% of its value at some point over the next five years (source: Reputation Review 2012).

Do you still want to ignore your reputation’s weaknesses?

Discover your weaknesses

Weakest linkWhile many reputation crises involve some kind of self-inflicted harm—a rogue employee’s tweet, or crass Facebook post—the biggest threat comes from being blind-sided by an attack that focuses on your biggest weakness. To ensure that you are better prepared, it’s vital that you identify those areas of vulnerability before someone else does.

If you spend the time to take an honest look at the way you conduct business, it should become apparent where you are weak. If you find yourself struggling, then ask others for their thoughts. Your employees, co-workers, customers, or business partners can all provide an impartial opinion on where they feel you are most weak. Be sure to ask enough people so that you can discover any commonality among the feedback. If more than a handful of people identify the same weakness, then you can bet that at some point it will become the target of someone intent on attacking your reputation.

Look to your competitors

One of the best ways to identify your own weaknesses is to look at those of your biggest competitors. Any time you see a rival face an attack on their reputation, use that as an opportunity to identify if the same weakness exists for you. If it doesn’t great, you just discovered another “strength” that you can highlight, when talking to prospective customers (remember highlight your strengths, don’t talk trash about a competitor.) If you discover you actually share your competitor’s weakness than you can be thankful for two reasons. One, the attack happened to them and not you. Two, you can take steps to insulate your reputation from a similar attack.

Be on alert

Once you’ve identified your reputation’s weak spots, the next step is to make sure your reputation monitoring is set up to alert you to any specific mention of them. Unless you’re a distant relative to Nostradamus, you can’t possibly foresee the focus of your next reputation attack, but you can certainly take steps to make sure you are monitoring for those that might target your weaknesses.

A great idea is to send any reputation alerts that mention your weaknesses to a priority destination. While it may be okay that all general reputation alerts go to an intern that checks them once a day, Monday through Friday, any alert that includes a known weakness shouldn’t get lost in the mix. Instead, set these alerts to go to someone that has the authority to act, even on a weekend. If needed, use a specific email address that makes their smart phone light up like a Christmas tree! Just make sure someone sees it.

Prepare your response

Another big benefit to knowing your reputation’s weaknesses is that you can take a few steps to prepare for an attack. By knowing where your reputation will most likely come under fire, you can prepare talking points or even take some steps to preempt an attack.

If you know your latest camera suffers from poor battery life, make sure you prepare talking points that explain that it’s to be expected in order to achieve all of the other great features it offers. If your company doesn’t offer telephone support on the weekends, make sure your customers know that this allows you to offer prices that are much lower than your competitors. If you can take your weaknesses and contrast them with your strengths, your stakeholders will be less likely to attack you over them.

Remove them from the equation

The best way to protect your reputation from its weaknesses is to remove those weaknesses from the equation. Once you know your biggest failings, you can spend time and effort on ways to improve upon them.

When Motorola released its flagship Moto X phone it was praised by critics for everything except its camera. Every review of the otherwise excellent smart phone was marred by negative comments about the absolutely awful photos it took. Motorola listened, and just a few months later, released a software update that dramatically improved the quality of the photographs taken with the device. The Moto X is no longer criticized for having a weak camera.

Admittedly, you’re won’t always be able to fix your weaknesses and there’s still the issue of inadvertently self-inflicting damage to your own reputation. That’s why on Day 23 you’ll learn the three most important components of a reputation attack safety net.

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