Your personal or professional reputation is important. Today, that reputation exists mostly online – shaped by your pictures, posts and tweets as well as by what others post and tweet about you.
The same is true of your town, city or region. When the vast majority of searching takes place online, it becomes an essential skill of the digital age to proactively manage a community’s online reputation.
Understanding and Managing an Online Reputation
An innovative program underway in the US state of Mississippi is helping rural communities manage their online reputations. This program involves three university units and takes place in two phases.
The first phase engages communications students in searching the Internet to audit and document the online reputation of a community, its organizations and businesses. From this audit, the students create the community’s online profile. These students then physically visit the community, in a secret-shopper mode, to compare their impressions with what they found online. The final stage of Phase 1 is to present their findings to community leaders, pictured below.
The second phase consists of providing recommendations, technical assistance, and mentoring to guide community leaders and volunteers in managing the community’s online reputation. This assistance and mentoring can take place remotely and provides the communication students with real-life experience, while educating and informing community residents of marketing concepts, public relations strategies, and the need to increase their use of online platforms.
ICF Institute in Mississippi
This innovative program involves the Social Science Research Center (SSRC), the Mississippi State University Extension Intelligent Community Institute and the Communications Department at Mississippi State University. The SSRC provides guidance, ideas, and resources (for example the SSRC has access to the entire Twitter database) while the Extension Institute promotes and recruits communities to participate in this program. Lastly, the Communications Department provides the expertise and the students.
This program recently completed its first project in a rural Mississippi community through Phase 1. The students’ main conclusion was that the community’s online reputation was a “clean slate” – neither positive nor negative. More importantly, the students found the community more “charming and attractive” on their physical visit than their online research, which suggests opportunities to create a positive online reputation. That work is now underway in Phase 2, which is identifying community assets in order to better market the community.
We will report more on this engaging project as it completes Phase 2. It is our goal, working with the Extension Institute, to expand this program beyond Mississippi by making curriculum materials available to colleges and universities in ICF Intelligent Communities worldwide.
Photo credits Flickr Creative Commons: Gayla Baer-Taylor / Roberto Gallardo