Everybody talks, or: managing your online reputation.

One of the most important lessons I learned when I was working at Xomba was that you have to be prepared to deal with bad press. On a corporate level or a professional one, if you get big enough, you are going to face people who say terrible things about you, sometimes really loudly and not always to your face. If you don’t have a plan in place (and too many companies don’t, according to this infographic at Adweek), you run the risk of losing business in a very big way.

In order to take care of bad press, however, you have to know that it’s out there. Partly, this means that you need to have a presence in many places on the web, so that you have better reach and more visibility, and, in turn, more ways for people to communicate with you.

More importantly, you have to listen actively to the Internet. This means using tools like PR Newswire’s Social Media Metrics, Google AlertsSocialDonRadian6, and Crowdbooster to keep tabs on articles, blog posts, comments, Facebook pages and Tweets in real time, as they are posted. The Internet sleeps, after all, and a negative post published at 9 p.m. has plenty of time to go viral and be seen by thousands or millions of people by the time you get back to the office the next morning.

It’s not just about listening for the bad stuff, though; you also want to listen for the neutral and the positive things being said about you or your company. These comments can show you what you’re doing right and who your customers really are, and they help to put the negative comments in perspective, especially if the negative speech makes up only a small percentage of all that people are saying about you.

Ultimately, handling your online reputation is a combination of working with the press (only “the press” is now made up of millions and millions of highly individual, wildly unpredictable, sometimes terribly vocal people), customer service (a topic I’ve already delved into), and good, old-fashioned listening. It’s time-consuming and challenging, but it’s absolutely necessary.

How do you keep track of your online reputation? Do you disagree about the necessity of online reputation management? Can you think of an example of a brand that failed to adequately address negative social media?

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