No man (woman or business) is an island
It’s a common misconception, particularly by those who understandably wish to remain private, that digital reputation management is really about self-promotion and brand building – that it’s about Google rankings, likes and artfully taken selfies. But this is not the case; it’s about critical risk management and taking control of your online profile – which already exists and, if you aren’t controlling it, then others are. In short, it’s something we all need to be doing – and too few of us are.
Today, businesses and individuals – whether we like it or not – all have a portfolio of digital assets. Even if you don’t actively seek to build or develop a digital portfolio, digital assets about you are created by third parties such as review websites, news organisations and online databases. Entrepreneurs, organizations, brands and senior employees (especially CEOs and senior leadership teams) all have countless digital assets that can work to your advantage – or against you.
It’s time we started thinking about, and treating these assets on a par with our financial portfolios; requiring pro-active strategic structuring and development, active management and nurturing to create the best returns for you and allow you to achieve your objectives. Taking control of your digital portfolio – identifying, growing and investing in these assets – makes good business sense.
Three components for success
As with your financial portfolio, if you properly identify your objectives, develop a sound strategy and then follow it and keep it up to date, you’ll achieve far greater returns. So what can you do to manage your digital reputation?
1. Investigate: carry out an inventory so that you have a full, warts and all, picture of what your existing digital assets are. To do this properly, you will need to dive deeper than just the Google results– you’ll need to create a composite picture that includes all of the many different assets about you online. It’s worth noting that only around 5% of the data that’s available on the internet is from the surface web (search results presented to you via Google search). And recent growth in the data aggregation and data broking industries means there is an increasing number of companies buying up data (for example, from social media platforms and online payments companies) and selling it on. In practice, this means that preparing this inventory and knowing where to look for the rest of the data often requires specialist help.
2. Identify: work out where you want to be. If you haven’t already, set out some clear business (or personal) objectives for your digital asset portfolio. These should dovetail with and support your wider business or personal objectives. The needs and aspirations of a well-known consumer brand will differ significantly from a private single-family office, so it’s worth thinking this through carefully and ensuring you know what you are trying to achieve and why. Ideally, these objectives will include KPIs or some other form of measurements for success. If you are outsourcing the work, this is particularly important to ensure that the strategy remains on track. It’s also vital to consider the bigger picture; think about what else is going on that could make a difference to how you handle your portfolio – for example if you are preparing to sell the business or launch an IPO or you are changing roles or investing in a new company. If you are particularly likely to be the subject of due diligence then this is the ideal time to action to understand and take control of your digital asset portfolio and have full visibility of any potential risks.
3. Engage, create, optimise and monitor: you’re now in a position to take action. Create a team to implement the agreed strategy – any comprehensive strategy will require legal, technical and communication skills. This strategy will involve a combination of engaging on existing assets, for example using data protection laws to ensure accuracy; utilising technical expertise, such as improving website functionality and ranking; and content generation, including proper biographies, to ensure that the assets in your digital portfolio are accurate and relevant.. Once the project it is underway it is important to regularly review progress and ensure that your strategy is still working. You will also need to revisit your objectives to ensure that they remain aligned with your broader business or personal objectives and are still helping you achieve underlying goals.
A financial portfolio and the accompanying strategy is not really about making money – it’s about generating the capital and income necessary to achieve your bigger objectives, like buying or expanding your business or retiring at a certain age with a certain lifestyle. This is exactly the same for a well-structured and well implemented strategy for your digital asset portfolio – it’s not really just about the assets in the portfolio but how managing and controlling these can help you to achieve your wider goals, like selling your business, achieving a successful IPO, ensuring you can be successful in a new role or creating opportunities to participate in exclusive investment groups.
As a financial advisor once told me: I’m not really talking about mutual funds and equity strategies, I’m selling sunshine at the beach when you’re retired in your 50s. Proper digital portfolio management is the same – we aren’t talking about digital assets and algorithms, we are talking about achieving ‘sunshine at the beach’ (or whatever your other larger business and personal objectives are).