There was a time when the only people who marketed your company were, well, the marketing department. You relied on senior management to say the right things in public. Your well-trained reception staff answered the telephone; letters, then emails, were composed on company letterhead or templates. Employees may have had a few choice words to say to their friends in the pub on a Friday night, but it ended there.
In the digital age, things have changed. A company’s digital footprint is created without any effort or consent from you, as company information is published by the likes of trade directories, and shared by suppliers and customers. Without your knowledge, a web of data can build up online – and the chances of it being accurate or helpful are not as high as you’d think.
It’s fairly straightforward to track and control static information (company name, contact details, business activities) but once people come into the mix, it’s a whole different ball game. This is a real challenge for business leaders who have great corporate experience, but are not up to date with the latest technology (the Penguins) – especially when faced with staff whose grasp of the online space is more intuitive than their understanding of corporate risk (the Polar Bears).
Now, everyone associated with your business can represent you, and their activities add to your digital footprint. When an employee states on Facebook ‘I work at…..’ this is a searchable link with your business, and their activity can in some cases reflect on you. A customer may post an opinion about your product or service on a review site or forum, without your knowledge – and failing to respond can be damaging. How can you manage the fluid sharing of information on social media, or ensure that any mention of your business leads an interested visitor to your website? You need to get to grips with the online space, join up the different channels of active communication, and decide how YOU want the company to be portrayed.
Five steps for managing your digital footprint
- Dive in. Build your digital skills. Not only will this help you manage risk, but it can reveal opportunities you may not have considered to grow your business.
- Decide how you want your brand to be reflected online. Add this to your company handbook, and let your values underpin every communication from your company and employees.
- Help the impetuous Polar Bears to understand that what you say online, stays online! Manage the active communication risks.
- Use simple tools such as Google Alerts to monitor mentions of your brand; act on what you find.
- Recognise that the digital footprint does not stand alone – it is inextricably linked to the day to day activity of your business.
Your digital footprint will spread whether or not you act. Managing it ensures that the business message is uncompromised, and you can take advantage of new opportunities and reach new markets as you build your business.