This is Day 5 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!

“To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation.” Chinese Proverb

repped-day5Now that you understand the different reputations that will need your focus over the coming weeks and months, it’s time to figure out where exactly those reputations are being discussed. Hopefully, you already have at least a vague idea of the different blogs, networks, forums, and other online water-coolers that your customers, partners, and industry peers tend to hang out. If not, don’t panic. I’m going to walk you through a simple process to determine where your reputations are being discussed and how best to join these conversations.

It all starts with Google

Let’s be honest, while there are many moving parts to online reputation management, just about everything centers around Google. So that’s where you’ll start with your online listening. Now, before I have you head over to Google.com and start searching your various reputations, there’s something important you need to know.

Google is biased.

Not a shock, I know, but for the most part that’s not a bad thing. In fact, just about any time you search for something on Google, the search engine giant will customize results with just enough personalization that it hopes you’re more likely to find something that appeals to you. That kind of bias is normally beneficial, but for your research, you want to strip out that bias. It doesn’t help you if Google shows you a web site or social network that it knows you like or frequent a lot. You’re trying to find the ones that your customers, partners, and other reputation stakeholders use.

So, how do you strip out that bias? The best solution is to fire up Google’s Chrome browser and open an Incognito Tab. When you do, you’ll see this message:

Incognito

You’ve gone incognito. Pages you view in this window won’t appear in your browser history or search history, and they won’t leave other traces, like cookies, on your computer after you close all open incognito windows. Any files you download or bookmarks you create will be preserved, however. 

When you search while incognito, Google doesn’t know all of your prior preferences and you are much more likely to get an unbiased view of the web.

Now that you’re no longer seeing the results that Google thinks you will prefer, you can start searching for your reputations and discover which social networks, forums, and blogs tend to show up in the first 20-30 results. Make a note of any that appear to be hubs for potential or existing customers to hang out. You’ll use this list again on Day 6.

Analyze your analytics

The next step in listening is to take a look at the web analytics software you use to track all visitors to your site. Google Analytics (I told you everything revolves around Google) is a robust, free solution, but any web analytics vendor is fine for this task.

Once you have your web analytics in front of you, set the date criteria for the past 6 months or so, and in particular, drill down to the list of web sites that refer traffic to your own site. If you don’t have a web site, you can skip this step (you’ll learn later on that there are many reputation benefits to owning your own web site).

With the list of referring sites in front of you, make a note of any that send a sizeable chunk of visitors to your web site. There’s a reason why those sites are sending you traffic and we need to start monitoring them to see if those reasons are favorable to your reputation or not.

Actively ListenManual monitoring

Now that you’ve compiled a list from both Google and your web analytics, you have a seed list of web sites that you should monitor on a regular basis. You can either, manually visit these sites each day, and check for any new mentions of your reputation, or you can find an automated solution that will check them for you.

Automate your online monitoring

The reason you just went through the above steps is that far too many people sign up for a social media monitoring software solution without having any idea of what exactly it is they need to monitor. Now that you have your seed list, you have a better understanding of whether you need a solution that monitors forums, review sites, Twitter, Facebook, or perhaps some specific industry focused site, such as TripAdvisor.

With that knowledge, you can research which of the three different types of social media monitoring tools best fit your needs. Let’s take a look at them:

Free – free tools such as Google Alerts or Social Mention have one great advantage going for them, they are free. Unfortunately, that typically comes with a lot of limitations and you may find that any free monitoring tool lacks the features you’re looking for, or doesn’t have the coverage you need. Still, for the majority of you, a free tool will be sufficient for your monitoring needs.

Self-Service – the limitations of the many free tools is the very reason that I decided to launch Trackur.com in 2008. Starting at just $27 a month, Trackur provides broad coverage of the internet, lets you measure influence and sentiment, and will send you alerts via RSS or email. If you don’t have deep pockets, and are willing to roll up your sleeves, a self-service monitoring solution such as Trackur is a great choice.

Full-Service – if you have the budget, or perhaps don’t have the time, you can use a solution such as SAS’s Social Media Analytics or salesforce.com’s Marketing Cloud (formerly Radian6). With a full service monitoring solution, you’ll receive robust social media analytics, full support from their expert staff, and a lighter wallet.

Don’t just listen

Social media listeningThe biggest mistake you could make at this point is to simply listen. Normal listening is no better than hearing. You hear the conversation, but you do nothing with the information. Instead you need to actively listen to what is being said about your reputation.

Wikipedia defines active listening as follows:

Active listening is a communication technique used in counseling, training and conflict resolution, which requires the listener to feed back what they hear to the speaker, by way of re-stating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words, to confirm what they have heard and moreover, to confirm the understanding of both parties.

In other words, demonstrate to those talking about your reputation that you care about what they say, by doing something about the feedback they’ve provided.

This would be a good time to think about who will be responsible for listening to the online conversations and then making sure any feedback is acted upon. If you’re managing your own personal reputation, congratulations, the job is yours! If you’re part of a larger organization, then you’ll initially assign this role to someone that already has similar responsibilities and then eventually create a full time position.

Finding your centers of influence

Let’s recap.

You’ve used Google and your web analytics to seed the list of web sites that are already discussing your reputation. You’ve also chosen a social media monitoring solution that will help you to automate the process of identifying any new conversations. Lastly, you, or someone on your team, have committed to actively listen to those conversations.

You’re almost ready to start joining these reputation discussions. Before you do, you need to identify the rules of engagement for the online networks and communities you are about to join. You need to understand your reputation’s centers of influence.

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