With political season in high gear, reputation management seems to be getting a bit more press than usual. For real estate professionals, many of whom rely very heavily on their "personality brand" — not to be confused with personal brand, I’ll get into that in another column — reputation management is always high on the list of things to worry about late at night.

The trouble with reputation management, as a service, is that it typically is applied too late, too thinly and without enough conviction.

While some of my friends in the industry might add "just like so many efforts in real estate," I refuse to go there. Plenty of real estate practitioners approach their actions strategically. Painting the entire industry with the same broad brush doesn’t help, rather it gives solace to those who should be improving but for whatever reason are not.

To help people improve, when it comes to reputation management, I’ve made a list of things that aren’t reputation management. Here it is:

1. Setting up Google Alerts to watch for your name.
2. Setting up Google Alerts to watch for your company name.
3. Setting up Google Alerts to watch for your competitors’ names.
4. Getting a website removed from Google.
5. Checking Yelp reviews three times each day.
6. Contacting the Web host of a website that says bad things about you.
7. Having your lawyers send letters to threaten people.
8. Finding out "who’s behind this."
9. Getting revenge.
10. Hiring people to give positive reviews of you on websites.
11. Hiring people to leave negative reviews of someone else on websites.
12. Creating 15 bland websites that are optimized for your name.
13. Making a single, medium-sized donation to a well-known charity.
14. Expunging your record.
15. Following the letter of the law but not the spirit of the community.
16. Demonstrating, in comments on a blog or on Yelp, how someone else is obviously an idiot.
17. Being sarcastic.
18. Being ironic.
19. "Just kidding!"
20. Being sorry that people misunderstood what you really meant to say.
21. Making up for harm done to party/person/group A by giving donations to party/person/group B.
22. Hacking a Web server.
23. "Sending a large amount of traffic" to a Web server.
24. Explaining instead of demonstrating.
25. Complaining about what is fair.
26. Calling someone a liar without clear, well-documented, presentable-in-a-court-of-law evidence.
27. Calling someone a liar when they buy their pixels by the barrel.
28. Causing a "distraction" from the thing that you don’t want people to see.
29. Not changing anything about how you do things.
30. Throwing money at the problem and hoping it goes away.
31. Asking your friends what they think you should do.
32. Not asking respected advisers what they think you should do.
33. Calling the cops.
34. Calling the newspaper.
35. Calling the lawyers.
36. Calling your friend the well-known, red-meat-eating blogger.
37. Calling your friend with a lot of Twitter followers.
38. Calling your friend with a huge Facebook following.
39. Calling the boss of the person you perceive as having damaged your online reputation.
40. Not responding to something because the person/publisher/site isn’t that important.
41. Responding to every little thing in extreme detail.

Managing your online reputation may incorporate many of the items above (hopefully not any of the illegal ones though). But if it does, chances are you’re walking down a very, very narrow path to a very, very specific outcome that poses incredible risk to you, your livelihood and the livelihood of those who associate with you.

As I mentioned before the list, most responses to an online reputation management threat are too late, too thin and lack conviction. Now that we have the laundry list of not-very-good tactics out of the way, let’s quickly review the minimum basics — the table stakes — for avoiding the three pitfalls.

Too late

Most people worry about online reputation only when something negative appears about them in a search result. By this time, it’s too late. If, out of 10 search results available for your name, a single negative result is so powerful that your company/personality narrative is thrown into disarray, then you didn’t care enough to begin with.

If you think that your online reputation will be important, then start now. Start by crafting your narrative and demonstrating it in as thorough a manner as possible. This alone will minimize danger from any online reputation threat.

Too thin

If you want to get rid of a negative result in a search engine, doing one thing for a couple weeks isn’t going to resolve it. In fact, once a reputation management firm knows that you have a problem, you may be at increased risk depending on the scrupulousness of the firm.

Some actions have a strong effect for a short period of time. This means that their effect wears off. And eventually you’ll be back where you started.

Remember, there are a minimum of 10 links on the search engine result for your company or personality. Doing something to have an impact on only one of those slots will not be enough. Doing something temporary will also not be enough unless you want to budget that action into the future on a permanent basis.

Not enough conviction

Having an online reputation problem provides you with a unique opportunity. Suddenly, it makes very clear business sense to engage in a variety of good activities you may have wanted to do for some time.

Don’t miss that opportunity. Don’t shirk it. Don’t shortchange it. Take the opportunity to get deeply involved in some mission or community and make a positive change.

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