Many of the entrepreneurs I advise or invest with spend considerable time on the Internet, keeping up with technology, customers, and competitors, but very few feel the need for an early personal presence. In fact, some totally avoid it, assuming their product or solution will speak for itself later. They don’t realize that you need to build positives early, to offset any negatives later.
The reality online these days is that even the best solutions attract doubters and unhappy competitors, so don’t wait for that first negative message to make you surface online. Be proactive in defining your personal and business identity early with positive content, well before your product debuts, highlighting your current vision, accomplishments, and personal image:
- Establish a personal brand online as an influencer and leader. Contributing to industry blogs, or starting your own, is an ideal way to express your positive values, and build a reputation that can save you later if your product stumbles, or you receive some negative challenges. A positive personal brand will give your product instant credibility.You should also use these forums to test and hone your solution idea for general acceptance before you risk your own money and investor funds to build a shippable version. It’s easier, cheaper, and quicker to pivot at this stage rather than later.
- Anticipate and establish supporting social media accounts. It’s amazing how quickly competitors and “me too” products can encroach on your space, after your product debuts, with account names you should have reserved. You may not see the need for a YouTube, Instagram, or Twitter account now until someone takes the name you want.Identify misdirection can be as devastating to a business as identify theft. Customers expect consistency of your brand name across all channels, so don’t pick a web site name if the comparable name is available or already taken on relevant social media.
- Consistently review and respond to relevant online feedback. There are dozens of tools available to help you monitor relevant activity, including Social Mention and Google Alerts. All significant feedback, both positive and negative, should be acknowledged or answered in a timely and non-defensive fashion to show that you are listening and care.Don’t make the mistake of ignoring negative comments or reviews, hoping they will go away, or someone else will come to your defense. Remember the classic “United Breaks Guitars” experience, which reportedly United cost over a billion dollars in lost business.
- Invest your time in networking online, as well as offline. Your reputation and impact these days are highly influenced by who you know and interact with online, as well as your recognized expertise. You need to be an active member of LinkedIn, Meetup, or equivalent sites where influencers exchange ideas and discuss current business issues.These online interactions must be complemented by comparable offline activities, such as participation in industry conferences, mentoring, and publishing print articles to solidify and expand your reputation. Every future entrepreneur should start by networking.
- Make your lifestyle a model of the online reputation you want. In today’s world, it is impossible to live one image and project a different one online. The Internet, through pictures, sound, and text, sees everything, including the good, bad, and the ugly. In fact, sharing a positive portion of your personal story is a memorable way to get presence.If you listen carefully, I think you will find that most of the people you know who have a high level of respect for a famous entrepreneur, for example, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, will remember one or more personal anecdotes, better than a technical contribution.
- Reach out to friends and supporters for positive mentions. If they credit you in their blog or industry articles, those backlinks will boost your SEO ranking, as well as your perceived reputation online. Most people now believe that we learn more from our mistakes than from successes, so even indications that you are not perfect can help you.I find that even friends and supporters online have short attention spans. If they don’t hear from you, or you don’t offer to do something for them occasionally, they will forget about you in assigning credit or soliciting mutual future support.
I recognize that preparation for and execution of a product launch can be all-consuming, causing you to back away from your normal networking and online communication activities. Yet I assure you that your personal impact, and future product success, can be severely impacted by this lack of focus. A positive online solution image and reputation requires constant personal nurturing.