As a business, you can influence the way that people perceive your brand, but you can’t control the way they think, or feel – or what they say. And with the Internet playing such a prominent role in product promotion and creating brand awareness, what people say about you online can be a make-or-break measure of your success.
You could have the snazziest and most colourful ad campaigns out there, and be offering the world’s greatest and most useful products. But a wrong word here, a scathing review there, or even the release of some “candid” shots of your CEO or media figurehead in their private hours could have disastrous effects.
Important as it is to keep generating fresh new material and maintaining a presence, it’s just as vital to keep an eye on what’s being said about you and how your enterprise is perceived. That’s where reputation management comes in.
What is Reputation Management?
Formally known as Online Reputation Management or ORM, it’s essentially a means of regulating the kind of content that your brand puts out online, and managing the response to it on social media, discussion forums, product reviews, the industry press, and so on.
The key here is “managing”, rather than “controlling”. ORM requires you to monitor, evaluate, and try to improve the content, context, or information available online concerning your brand, your business, and the members of your organisation. One of the major elements influencing how your brand is viewed online is the content returned from keyword searches in the major search engines.
The SEO Dilemma
For years, Search Engine Optimisation or SEO has been viewed as a marketing ideal, with first page rankings on the likes of Google and Bing being seen as a measure of a brand’s success. That’s all very well, if the information being returned shows your business in a positive light. But if (for example) your brand has recently been embroiled in a major scandal, search engine results associated with your name will reflect this, rather than any positive image you’re trying to project.
In reputation management, an SEO strategy essentially looks to keep negative or out of date information and content relegated to the lower reaches of the search engine index, by continually placing new and positive material on top.
Of course, quality is of the essence, here. Search engines won’t rank new content highly on their pages unless it’s considered noteworthy enough to be there. So the challenge for businesses is to produce new material with an understanding of the algorithms and other criteria that search engines use, and in a manner that won’t be judged by them as “spammy” or in contravention of their rules.
It’s a stiff challenge, but there are services available to help. These are commercial organisations offering free or subscription packages to assist in online reputation management – the likes of Brand Yourself, or Reputation.com.
Ultimately though, managing your online presence and reputation is something you’ll need to have a hand in, yourself. Fortunately, there are tools available to help.
Reputation management software covers the full range from free online resources like Google’s suite of tools including Google Alerts and Google Analytics, to commercial products from third-party manufacturers.
There are generalised platforms such as Trackur and Sendible, which can help you monitor any reviews of your products, services, or organisation. In addition, there may be websites covering issues specific to your industry or market sector.
And social tools like Social Searcher and Social Mention (both of which are free) can delve into the conversation on social media, to see what’s being said about your brand.
Of course, the tools are only as good as the way you employ them – so you’ll need to have a solid methodology in place, to co-ordinate your ORM efforts.
- Begin by studying the first 3 pages of results after putting your brand or company name into each of the major search engines. You can do this anonymously (i.e., signed out of your accounts on Google, Yahoo!, or similar).
- Do an analysis of these results, to identify the positive views, neutral mentions, and negative comments – and which sites or stories you have the power to influence, yourself. This will serve as a benchmark against which you can measure your ORM results, as the weeks progress.
- Develop a response strategy. If someone compliments your brand or business, a simple “Thank You” should be the least that you offer. A tangible reward like a free product sample or discount voucher may be something to consider, as well.
- In the case of criticism or negative reviews, take some time to think, and be measured in your response. If the grievance is genuine, owning up to your mistake and apologising for it may cast you in a better light than “Yes, but…”
- Take ownership of your image. Even the bad stuff. In this age of transparency, people think more of an organisation or individual that accepts responsibility for the content they produce and the image they project – warts, and all.
- Project as positive an image as you can. You should continually be producing high-quality content: blogs, promotional materials, goods and services, and interactions on social media.
- Give it time. Establishing your online presence in the first place takes time. Maintaining and monitoring it is an ongoing process. And fostering good relations with your customers, clients and partners is a long-term affair. It will also take time to regain customer confidence and loyalty, in the event of a bad product release, or other negative event.
Common sense should also be a factor – as should “Netiquette”, and common courtesy. Be measured and circumspect, in your email correspondence, comments and conversation on social media, and in your dealings with people in “real life”.
Building up a solid reputation and a positive brand image can take weeks, months, or even years. The incident that ruins it all can take place in an instant. So be careful.