Online reputation management—monitoring and managing your business' brand perception in the online world—is now a critical part of business. Customers encounter your brand online. And with the growth of mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, this may even happen while they are physically at your business, or in route to see you.
It's important to understand the ways your business reputation is fostered or attacked online. The Web not only makes it easier for customers to learn about your business from content you create, it also allows and fuels anyone with a browser to share their opinion. These online dialogs are a driving factor of what is often referred to as the “social Web," and they have a big impact on your brand reputation.
Popular sources of brand reputation and dialogs:
- Rating sites such as Yelp, Trip Advisor and Angie’s List.
- Blogs from major media players like Gizmodo and TechCrunch to passionate individuals’ blogs.
- Web communities and social networks including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube
How do you find out what people are saying about your business?
Finding out who is talking about your brand is almost as easy as posting comments in the first place. Several tools exist to help you monitor your brand, from free services like Google Alerts and HootSuite Basic Version to enterprise-class solutions like Radian6 ($600/month) and Lithium Social Media Monitoring ($250+ per month).
All of the tools automate the discovery process but use different technologies to scour the Web in real time to search for the keywords and phrases you provide, including your company name, product names, product categories, competitors’ names, among other terms. Alerts notify you of the different kinds of mentions, and reports track who is talking about your company and competitors, what they are saying and who is listening to the chatter.
What should you monitor?
One of the most important areas to monitor is sentiment—the collective feelings and perceptions of your brand. In certain cases, you can drill down to specific individuals. In most cases, you can begin to address negative, and often erroneous, comments before they cause substantial damage.
Search engines are typically the number one contributor to most business’ websites, so search engine reputation management is important. Since the most relevant and popular content displays at the top of the results, it's important to seek and promote your positive mentions. Over time, this practice will move negative comments further down.
How do you maintain a good reputation?
To get your positive content to the top of the list, focus on searh engine optimization (SEO) for your site. Good SEO strategies, by default, combat negative mentions. SEO activities typically take at least three months before making an impact, but the long-term value it can generate is unlike any other marketing tactic.
There is no substitute for great customer service, and customers will reward your commitment by sharing their passion for your brand with their family, friends and colleagues. Ask these people to become your advocates and share their positive experiences with your products or services online.
What about the multitude of people you don’t know? Dive into the dialog. Leverage the monitoring tools to join the conversation. If you identify erroneous information, provide accurate updates. However, avoid defensive or excited responses.
If current or former customers have legitimate complaints, address them. Someone that complains online usually wants you to respond. There are those that are purely vindictive, but even those will likely respond positively to a real attempt to address their concerns.
There are many excellent examples of companies responding to customer service issues that have turned into generating positive “buzz” about the company. JetBlue is a company that often demonstrates a keen ability to turn what might seem like a PR nightmare into positive brand awareness. The airline’s response to weather-related delays and, more recently, a disgruntled employee are just two examples.
Starbucks frequently sends coupon codes to people they find that have had a bad experience in a specific store. The redemption rate is high on such “incentives,” and it allows you to actually track the impact of the incentive when they are redeemed.
Reputation management is a lot to keep up with! And certainly one could argue that you can’t afford not to keep up with it all. There are, however, options to automate some of the processes. Reputation.com (formerly Reputation Defender) and Reputation Managers are two services that focus solely on creating positive and useful content that is designed and disseminated in a fashion designed to suppress negative content.
While these services can be useful for short-term responses, they are not a replacement for a full-time commitment to monitoring and building your online brand.
So, what should you do now? Just dive right in. Begin by looking at your current mentions to understand where you stand in the social web. It is possible that you can begin engaging right away.
OPEN cardmember Trevor Fagerskog is a founder and co-owner of ThoughtMatrix, an award-winning digital agency based in San Francisco.