by Paul Diaz, Vice President Policy, Public Interest Registry
In today’s culture, an organization’s “real world” reputation is inextricable from its online one. While the Internet has long ceased to be a place that is separate from the “real world,” the rules of engagement on the web have become ever more important for organizations to value and understand. Participating responsibly online is crucial for mission-based leaders and their teams.
Think of your .ORG as your home. Your choice of style reflects your personality and reveals a sense of your tastes and interests. You wouldn’t put a book on your coffee table, or a painting on your wall that would send the wrong message about the type of person you are to guests who come to visit. Likewise, you wouldn’t put your or your family’s personal information out on the front lawn, fail to take out the proper insurance, leave the house unlocked at night, or avoid the required annual maintenance to protect your investment.
Your mission-based organization’s online presence requires the same level of attention. Doing so will set your .ORG up for long term success. Let’s explore some “house rules” for maintaining your online reputation.
Don’t Go it Alone
The way in which information travels today often puts big demands on organizations to respond quickly, internally and externally, to emerging stories or social issues. But acting too fast with a tweet or Facebook post before thoroughly vetting the message can seriously backfire. The Internet is filled with examples of companies and organizations that caught online ire when attempting to be clever or witty by publishing social posts that missed the mark. To avoid that fate, try to avoid placing your organization’s entire social media outreach responsibilities in the hands of one person. Instead, consider creating an internal team to backstop and review your .ORG’s social messaging before anything is posted online. The more eyes you have on your content before it goes live, the better. And if you don’t have a team of people, check out this piece by GoDaddy about best practices, which include being accurate, professional, and valuable.
Always put yourself in the shoes of your audience when composing social media messaging. Is the point you’re making clear? Or could it be misinterpreted? Call a friend to gut-check it if a second opinion would help. Just like the perfect paint color that has an off pallor in the wrong light, what may seem like an innocuous statement to some could be perceived as insensitive or irresponsible to others. Taking the simple step to get a second opinion just might help you avoid a misstep that could harm your organization’s credibility. Another important way to ensure you stay on target…
Stay True to Your Style
If you have a colonial house, maybe steer clear of a mid-century aesthetic; if you live in a super-modern apartment, grandma’s heirlooms may look out of place. It’s all in how you put it together that makes it work. Classy.org offers these great tips for staying true to your organization’s “good bones” on social platforms while having some fun with décor.
“As long as you’re sticking to your nonprofit’s brand and mission, there aren’t any definite rules about how you post on social media. Post content with and without links, with one hashtag or many, and see what happens when you throw in the occasional emoji.” But choose wisely. With social media, especially, it’s important to stay up on best practices for user engagement, according to Philanthropy News Digest.
Lock Up Those Important Files
Just as we use safes or fireboxes to secure our most important documents, family treasures, and personal information, so too must .ORGs protect their data to avoid the reputational risks associated with a digital security breach. Organizations that ignore the importance of keeping their digital files safe leave themselves wide open to criticism that they didn’t take these 21st century threats seriously. Beyond the public relations damage these incidents can cause, there could be legal implications as well. The Council of Nonprofits recommends these steps to make sure your .ORG—and its valuables—are safe and sound. And if something does happen…
Don’t Forget Insurance! You Never Know When You Might Need It.
When an organization’s credibility is suddenly called into question, the clock is ticking. The more time you have to think through what you need to do to handle an unexpected situation, the higher the likelihood of a more favorable outcome. Use the time you have now to your advantage: consider gaming out a few scenarios—here is a crisis-communications checklist from Michigan Foundations to help you anticipate the tools and resources needed to enhance your overall state of readiness. Develop those key talking points, map out your website needs, think through your social media strategy, and consider testing your response capabilities by conducting internal crisis-scenario drills. Most important, identify a short list of trusted colleagues and / or consultants who would form the basis of a rapid response advisory group, the team empowered to make quick decisions, should the need to engage quickly arise. You can never be too prepared.
Check Your Property Regularly To Spot Potential Problems
It’s always a good idea to annually review your .ORG’s outward-facing materials, social media posts and website or blog content to further ensure your messaging and images are maintaining the highest professional standards. These reviews can often detect inactive links or outdated information that require updating. And take note there are many laws both US-based and abroad that have highlighted the importance of online privacy issues, and often websites must comply with them. You can read more about how cookies, or tiny bits of data, function on the web and how they may affect your mission-based organization.
Set up Google alerts to receive notifications about news articles and online references about your .ORG in real time. And monitor those comment boards or other blogs where discussion about your .ORG’s focus area is taking place. Protecting your online reputation isn’t only about avoiding problems—just like taking care of your home isn’t all about keeping your gutters free of debris and tree limbs trimmed. It’s also about getting to know your neighbors, or those in your industry or with a similar or complementary mission. You can strengthen your group’s reputation by participating in Q&As, online interviews, and engaging in forums with online communities where your expertise can shine.