June 7, 2011
In the online world, your reputation is one of your most valuable business assets. A good reputation instills confidence in your consumers and business partners, and can also help carry your company though bad press if/when it arises. Much of your online success is related to your online reputation, so that reputation needs to be carefully protected and maintained.
The maturation of social media has taken the control of a brand and placed it squarely in the hands of the consumer. It doesn’t matter how you define your brand, it all comes down to what your audience says. One negative comment on a social networking site can spread like wildfire in a matter of seconds and companies have to be prepared to deal with any related fall-out.
Here are 5 ways you can better manage your online reputation:
Set up e-mail alerts
All you need is a Gmail account. An e-mail alert is Google’s attempt to condense web activity around a given keyword or search phrase into a daily e-mail. While it doesn’t show you the entire buzz about your company and related keywords, it is a good way to get a snapshot every day of what is going on online.
Keep an eye on industry forums
Forums are like the hybrid cousin of blogging and social networking, and they are a ripe breeding ground for consumer complaints and grievances. Many consumers turn to forums when they have troubleshooting questions about a product. They are looking to their peers for the solution to their problem. Others look at online forums as a great way to bash (sometimes anonymously) companies about their products, services and more. By becoming an active member of the big consumer forums in your industry, you can keep an eye out for places where your company is mentioned. You’ll be able to directly respond to consumer questions or complaints, building a stronger reputation and
customer service program in the process.
Social media silence = death
If you find your company on the defense, make sure you respond quickly and efficiently. Companies no longer have the luxury of waiting a week, a day, or even a few hours to issue a press release or hold a press conference to tell their side of the story. When bad news breaks you better come up with a response, and it better be fast. Social media is all about instant connections, so consumers have little patience for a company that takes their time responding to a bad situation. Don’t stick your head in the sand and wait for things to pass. Silence only hurts your reputation. Take a look at the recent Urban Outfitters debacle to see what kind of damage the combination of social media and silence can produce. By not addressing an issue immediately, you only add fuel to the fire.
Build strong relationships with industry leaders
Bloggers have a lot of power. Popular and well-respected bloggers have even more. Their blog could be reaching thousands of people every day, so what they say has a very far-reaching effect. No smart blogger is going to align themselves with a company that has a bad reputation, doesn’t deliver on their promises, sells low-quality products or dismisses the concerns of their customers. Having that blogger on your side means you have their unspoken endorsement. It also means that you have a strong support network should online trolls start attacking your company. Having a community of industry leaders rally to your side is a great way to defend your online reputation.
Keep the lines of communication open
One of the easiest ways to hurt your online reputation is to shut yourself off from your consumers. If you don’t allow them to communicate with you (for better AND for worse), you are removing yourself from the conversation. You should encourage your customers to write online reviews about your company. Thank the ones who write a glowing review and reach out to those who gave you two thumbs down. If you try to bury negative reviews or comments, you’re asking for trouble. Consumers start wondering why you are so quick to hide the bad as opposed to fixing the situation. Hiding in your ivory tower is no way to manage your online reputation. Your customers are the lifeblood of your business and you need to be willing and able to communicate with them.
Basically, the best way to manage your online reputation is to be proactive about it. You want to build as strong and solid a reputation as possible BEFORE you have to defend yourself. It’s hard to play catch-up online, because news literally travels around the world in a matter of moments; once it’s out there, you can’t take it back. Old news stories can rank in the search engines long after the scandal is settled (sometimes years!), making it harder to sweep that situation under the rug.
A lot of online reputation management companies have built their business on repairing a damaged reputation. Isn’t it better to build a reputation that is hard to damage? Think of your online reputation like the walls of a medieval castle. You want to be sure those walls will hold out against a Saxon attack long before the Saxons show up. Once the assault on your online reputation begins, you won’t have time to build higher walls.
Nick Stamoulis is the President and Founder of Brick Marketing, full-service Internet marketing services company based in Boston. With over 12 years of industry experience, Nick Stamoulis shares his knowledge by posting daily SEO articles to his blog, the Search Engine Optimization Journal, and publishing the Brick Marketing SEO Newsletter, read by over 130,000 opt-in subscribers.