29 Jan 2014

Take control of your economic development organization's digital footprint

Alissa Sklar is the director of marketing for GIS Planning. She has extensive experience as a consultant, writer and educator in the fields of technology and communications. Dr. Sklar has a Ph.D. in Communications from the University of Massachusetts of Amherst, and has as worked closely with B2Bs and economic development agencies to assess, develop and implement social media strategies for business development.

One of the issues that absorb some of my time outside of work is the issue of digital citizenship. Today’s schools and education systems are busy grappling with how to teach the next generation how to effectively learn and manage digital technologies. I spend a fair bit of my spare time in community service working with educators to show them how this can be -- and should -- be done by strategically incorporating these tools into the curriculum rather than banning it.

One of my key recommendations is to help users stay on top of their presence online by actively managing it. This is true for everyone - not just kids. As economic development professionals, it is critical that you not only know how you and your community appear online, but that you take concrete steps to ensure high-quality, positive links are easy to find.

I describe this as "curating your digital footprint." In other words, you want to take care to make your discoverable presence online as complete and helpful as possible. 

By ColmBritton

So how do you do that? Here are some tips you can use to make sure your professional footprint helps to improve your image online, and that your organization’s digital footprint has clear links to critical information and data.

-1- Map your existing digital footprint. Start off by Googling yourself and the name of your organization.  The links that come up in the first page can be considered your “Google home page.” These are what people are most likely to see if they search for you.

-2- Examine the links you find on the first few pages. Look back at the next 4 pages and scan all the links (few users will be motivated to go back further than that).  First take a step back and see if the links you find adequately tell your story, or the story of your location. Is this what you want searchers to find. Is the critical information and data there? For example, we know that over 95% of site selectors and businesses seeking locations begin their searches online; will your location make it to the shortlist, or will it be ruled out simply because the data wasn’t there?

Next, look for negative associations. Are there any links that are false, untrue or negative? Are there any that are so outdated as to be potentially embarrassing? Are there any links that have your name or your organization’s name but link to someone or something else and cause potential confusion? If so, these are opportunities to make some corrections. You should attempt to contact those responsible for untrue, unflattering or embarrassing links and ask to have them removed. Do so via email instead of by telephone so you have a record of attempts to set the record straight.  Remember that you can also obscure those problematic links by burying them deep in your Google results (see #3 and #4).

-3- Work to build links to high quality content that will land at the top of your search results. In other words, actively seed the search so that positive, informative links come up first. This is easier than you might realize. For starters, recognize that Google’s search algorithm gives priority to Google products. That means YouTube channels and videos, Google+ profiles and Blogger blogs will always come out near the top. A complete LinkedIn profile (or LinkedIn organizational profile page) will also get priority listing, so it’s certainly worth taking the time to complete it. Your organization will get additional links if you fill out the Products & Services tab on the organizational profile to showcase any online search tools (see here for a great example).

-4- Consider using available services to build and maintain your brand. Make no mistake here - your professional brand is your own good name, just as your organization has its name as a brand. One service I really like is BrandYourself.com. This site was started by a guy who realized he was losing out on job opportunities because a convicted drug dealer in his region shared the same name - and was consequently, undeservedly harming his reputation. BrandYourself lets you fill out and publish a personal profile, and then analyze your Google results. You can boost links that offer informative, positive information, so that other results are pushed back down to lesser viewed pages. The service will also email you regular updates when new links or posted, or make suggestions to help manage the links that are there.

-5- Stay on top of your digital footprint going forwards. Set up Google Alerts with your name and your organization’s name (and any other names or terms that are important for you to track), so that you will be emailed with links any time those terms appear anywhere on the public areas of the Internet. This includes any publicly accessible websites, Twitter, LinkedIn and many other social media networks, and Facebook pages with “public” profiles. Facebook accounts with privacy controls set to “private” are not accessed by Google search.


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