Stacy Jackson is a founding partner at Jackson Marketing, Inc., a marketing firm located in Dunedin, Florida. In addition to her work at Jackson Marketing, Stacy is a co-host of The B2B Mix Show podcast. You can follow her on Twitter at @stacy_jax and connect with her on LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/stacyjax).

damage your online reputationWhat do you think — are most online brand reputations ruined by angry customers or crafty competitors? Review in your mind some of the craziest brand gaffes over the past years online? Gilbert Gottfried was fired for a Twitter gaffe. Look up famous social media gaffes, and you’ll find plenty of top ten lists compiling some of the most embarrassing ones yet. While you and/or your brand may not be as famous as some of the people you will find listed on TVGuide’s list of celebrity Twitter gaffes, don’t underestimate the effect a social media “oops” can have on your brand that costs you in terms of customer trust. Here are eight of the most damaging online reputation killers to avoid.

1. Posting Under the Influence

If you’ve ever done anything stupid while drinking, you know that the stupid act was often undertaken with the utmost confidence that “this is gonna be great!” Sometimes the choices are hilarious — remember the time your friend went streaking through campus? — sometimes they are just reputation damaging — remember the time you went streaking? It’s best to refrain from operating machinery while under the influence — that includes machinery like laptops and smartphones that connect your tipsy thoughts with your fans and followers. Don’t even tweet or post while buzzed — your defenses are down and your filters are off. Don’t wake up to discover something stupid you did last night — it’s just not worth the risk to you or your brand’s reputation.

2. Trash Talking Online

Maybe a client did you wrong or made you mad. Don’t take it online. If you are badmouthing or telling tales online about a client, you’ve broadcast to all of your potential clients that you can’t be trusted. It doesn’t matter if you have a right to be angry. It doesn’t matter if the client is actually terrible. The purpose of taking your brand online is to build a positive presence that attracts new business. If you are being negative, prospects will likely perceive your actions as inappropriate and disrespectful. That means lost opportunities.

Beyond clients, it’s important to maintain a positive presence online when it comes to colleagues, competitors, and others. You want to be known as a helpful, useful resource that people look to for expertise, guidance, and quality products and services. Keeping it positive is the way to go.

3. Lying Online

It seems pretty easy to lie online — you feel somewhat anonymous. You don’t have to look someone in the face. You may be fudging it or stretching the truth without even realizing it. Before you post your next blog or social media message, assess the message. Be sure you aren’t stretching the truth or lying. If someone challenges you or catches you in a lie, it can be tough to repair your reputation and rebuild credibility. By the time you even realize you’ve been discovered, the news could have been spread throughout Twitter or Facebook to all of your customers. Be honest and transparent, and always assume that any lie — big or small — that you are tempted to share online will be discovered. Honesty is the best policy. If you discover you’ve accidentally misrepresented the facts, come clean.

4. Posting Compromising Photos

Sometimes you may think it’s hilarious to share a photo with a small group of friends online — maybe it’s one of you drunk at a party. What if one of those friends shares it with someone else or posts it publicly on his or her Pinterest page? Suddenly your funny photo can become a major embarrassment for your business or for you personally. If it’s something you don’t want your mom or grandma to see, then it’s probably best not to post it online. If you have friends who are posting crazy photos of you, ask them to take them down. If they won’t, consider new friends — and not acting so darn crazy when cameras are around! You can also hire a reputation expert to help you drive these “negative” results down in search results.

5. Ignoring Complaints

If you just let a negative comment sit there on social media or on your blog and never publicly address it, you are sending a signal to everyone who reads it — “hey, I don’t care that you are complaining!” This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you are listening and that you care. Your customers are watching and listening — what a great way to show your attentiveness. It may not be appropriate to fully address the complaint online, but you can at least say something like, “I’m sorry you are having an issue with our product. Please send me a private message with your contact information so that I may put a customer service representative in touch with you to resolve the problem.” Turn the complaint into a customer service opportunity.

6. Being Defensive

Going hand in hand with our last point. . . . When you address a customer complaint online, it is critical that you handle yourself professionally and with a commitment to making the customer happy. Sometimes people will be nasty, but it is important that you do not get defensive. When you lash out — even at a mean-spirited person — it looks bad. Remain calm and confident. Just remember — your other current and potential customers are watching and listening.

7. Becoming Invisible

Routine and consistency are building blocks for a good online reputation. If you are going to blog or participate on social media as part of your brand building efforts, you can’t just disappear for days or weeks at a time. Being present and interacting with your audience regularly are critical for maintaining a positive online reputation.

8. Putting it on Autopilot

Scheduling posts and automated tools can take a burden off your daily social media routine, but you can’t put it all on autopilot. You need to actively monitor your reputation for good and bad signals. Engage with people whenever they talk about your brand. Set up Google Alerts and/or listening streams in your favorite social media monitoring tool so that you know when people are talking about you and can respond quickly when they do.

Now you know the eight ways you can damage your online reputation — and how NOT to do it. Make sure your staff and contractors who may manage your social media and online presence are on the same page with you when it comes to presenting a positive brand persona online. Create a social media policy and train staffers to handle postings and customer complaints appropriately.

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