Editor's note: Michael Fertik is the founder and CEO of
Reputation.com, the world's leading provider on online privacy and
reputation management services. The company recently launched an online
medical review monitoring
service. Fertik is a member of the World
Economic Forum Agenda Council on the Future of the Internet and a recipient
of the WEF Technology Pioneer 2011 Award.

Technophile or technophobe, your online presence is becoming increasingly
important. Four out of five Internet users now look online when they need
health care information, and searches for specific providers make up a sizable
portion of their requests, according to recent data from the Pew Research
Center
. You've likely heard a fair amount about the threats this can pose,
yet what's important to keep in mind is that it's also a powerful opportunity.
Below are six key ideas you can use on your own.

Prevention is more effective than treatment: From both a financial and
time-saving perspective, preventive reputation building is much more efficient
than reacting after a problem appears. Doximity's public profiles can be a
good start–you control what information you share, from practice address to
published works. You can also set up an About.me page or a
www.YourNameMD.com site, listing any professional information you want to
emphasize. In addition, update your practice information on physician review
sites. Search engines prioritize websites that have been up for a long time, so
there's no time like the present to get started.

Own your presence: If you fail to publish some of your own information, your
online reputation will consist entirely of what other people have written about
you. Patients often search by condition or procedure, so even if you don't have
any negative reviews, you might, for example, find yourself with a lot of
content that–while positive–doesn't represent the full scope of your practice
or interests.

Diversity is your friend: Once you start putting information online, try to hit
as many bases as possible. Search engines penalize duplicate content, and they
give priority to different types of results: websites, blogs, new articles,
journal publications, photos, videos, social media and so on. Make sure you
have a presence on several types of sites.

Rebuttals usually backfire: If someone attacks you online, avoid the temptation
to post a rebuke in the comments. Your feedback tells search engines that this
is an important website that people will want to see–the opposite of the
message you want to send. For this reason, your best approach is almost always
to keep your cool and just move on.

Remember there are positives to patient reviews: For many consumers these days,
reviews are almost as trusted as word-of-mouth endorsements. And there are
plenty of positives to this. Don't be shy, for example, about encouraging
satisfied patients to leave their opinions on review sites. Also, consider
linking to positive reviews on your website; they're an added reminder to
potential patients of just what you're capable of. Lastly, be sure to establish
a patient wrap-up protocol with your staff that encourages unhappy patients to
vent in your office instead of online [Editor's note: For more on this,
see Howard Luks's recent post: Online Physician Reviews: 6 Essential
Actions
].

With social media, it's okay to stick to your comfort zone: You need a
basic presence in social media to prevent "brandjacking" (antagonistic
impersonations of yourself), so go ahead and set up a Facebook page and
Twitter handle for your practice. If you enjoy social media, use those
accounts, taking care to respect HIPAA regulations and other ethical
considerations. However, if you don't or feel you have too much on your plate,
that's fine. Social media is a good way to build your online reputation, but
there are plenty of other paths you can take.

The bottom line: The more types of material you publish, the more you yourself
can own your online presence.