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We've talked about some ways to manage your reputation. Don't forget that building a positive reputation is all about transparency: Companies that have issues to hide may well be more susceptible to the negative reputation impact that operating in the social media world might bring.

But what do you do when something negative actually occurs online between parties? When do you move something offline – perhaps in a live phone conversation – versus engaging in a back-and-forth diatribe online, which can leave a permanent negative footprint?

As one example, marketing manager Sherry created a compelling article and infographic on women and wealth, carefully citing sources of various statistics and obtaining her boss's review before posting and sharing it on social media. Unfortunately, a thought leader with a major international company (with thousands of followers) commented through Twitter that perhaps the infographic was “inadvertently sexist.” Specifically, Sherry was told that she was stereotyping women when she suggested they are more interested in topics such as babies and fashion. See Figure 25.2. Now, it's easy for anyone to make even a slightly negative comment since, after all, it's controversy that makes news – and generates followers! Still, no one likes anything negative.

A Keyword Cloud – Featured in a Graphic – Highlights the Terms Women Search for Online

FIGURE 25.2 A Keyword Cloud – Featured in a Graphic – Highlights the Terms Women Search for Online

What did Sherry do in this situation?

■ Reply to the primary comment in a personalized and thoughtful way. Sherry replied by thanking her for the comment and explaining that she hadn't seen it that way. Her transparency led the person who left the comment to start following her.

■ Sherry also replied directly to all others who commented on the original comment.

■ Finally, Sherry avoided trying to act defensive or challenge their views. Instead, she took it as an opportunity to take feedback and build new relationships.

However, depending on the issue, it may make sense to obtain the contact information of someone and have a direct phone conversation rather than hashing something out in the social media world. Then, once the parties come to an understanding, a proper comment or new post can then be shared online, perhaps even incorporating the original commenter.

To maintain an untarnished reputation as an expert in this constantly evolving profession, you have to jump in to social media with both feet. Granted, it does take work and time, but in an era where news travels faster now than ever before, you must maintain a bold online presence if you hope to stay competitive. And if your reputation does take a hit from a negative comment, take the time to digest it and decide what actions you'll take to remedy the issue, but then move on and leave it in your past. Spend your energy repopulating the Web with content only you control, and you'll be back on top in no time.

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