Reputation Management for New Media

A strong brand helps to communicate that a company and its offerings are relevant and uniquely able to meet customer needs. Most companies today pour millions into brand-building campaigns to generate that external awareness, which in theory can speed up the sales cycle. This has become the accepted norm, taught to us by the very advertising agencies we hire.

But all this great awareness can come crashing down on you with one reputation disaster online.

Good and bad reputations are opposite sides of the brand coin. And the ability of consumers today to share their opinions of your brand with just a click of a mouse levels the playing field for all and puts your brand in constant peril.

A solid reputation reflects the partners you do business with, the strength of your management team, your company’s financial performance to date and, ultimately, the types of employees you hire and will hire in the future. But literally millions of customers and prospects engage in social communities on the Web today. Facebook alone has 50 million community members, with over half of them logging in daily! Couple that with the ease and ability to create a quick video or podcast, or post a negative comment on a blog, and you have a recipe for reputation disaster.

Unfortunately, when a reputation disaster occurs, it is becoming more difficult for your PR team to execute using the usual crisis management playbook, because the type of media, placement of media and approach to each medium differs. This fragmentation means it will become increasingly difficult to neutralize criticism and restore reputations when something happens.

Additionally, the Internet already has built-in, automatic reputation ranking systems. Currently examples are Google for companies and eBay for vendors. These ranking engines are quickly becoming extremely effective ways for people to determine how reputable your company is before deciding whether to do business with you.

The bottom line: As media continue to fragment with the explosion of yet more social networks, aggregators like Google will become increasingly important in helping users decide whether or not to do business with you.

So what is a company to do?

I recommend a three-step approach to reputation management called “MRO”:

  1. Monitor – Companies should designate an employee or hire an external service to monitor, moderate and drive positive discussions.
  2. Respond – Technical staff should be designated to respond to any product or support issues that arise from communities and take the lead in responding with action plans to any negative sentiments that develop.
  3. Optimize – Companies need to proactively optimize their reputation online over time by exploiting the positive aspects of their brand (an example here is GE, whose Ecomagination is demonstrating the company’s commitment to keeping the environment clean).

Each MRO element is designed to give you a point person for this reputation-protection trifecta:

Monitor gives you a way to see and engage in conversations before they get out of control. People will be a lot more polite online when they know you are listening. The challenge is learning about conversations that arise quickly. This is where you need reputation bulldogs, who can be out there watching all the time.

Respond gives you a dedicated point person internally who can talk about your product or service with authority and provide clarity on how you might resolve an issue. As I said above, this should be a technical person rather than a communications person. This will convey the company’s commitment to address the issue.

And finally, Optimize. Optimizing your reputation in the marketplace means you go beyond just keeping it on track. You invest in the online aspects of your reputation just as you invest in other dimensions of your brand.

Having a strong brand doesn’t mean you have a strong reputation. Ignoring this critical factor is a risk that companies can’t afford to take today.

8 comments to Reputation Management for New Media

  • Phil Darby

    I don’t disagree with anything that you say, but I’d like to add a few caveats.

    Firstly if your business crashes because you screw up, then it probably deserves to.

    Successful companies do all of these things, not out of a desire to avoid flak, but a genuine desire to delight their customers. A subtle difference, but nonetheless important.

    If you have built a strong brand community you can make mistakes without your business crashing. In fact there are cases where the the right response from an organisation with a strong brand community has enhanced their brand’s standing.

    A strong brand community is based on honesty and trustworthiness. Too many organisations talk the talk and even take a few tottering steps in the same direction without genuinely committing. These oranisation are always found out eventually (and because of the media, increasingly quickly) and pay a price that is far greater than most organisations recognise.

    If your PR team are called in on damage limitation its iusually a sign that you haven’t done the job right way back.

  • Paul Dunay

    Excellent points Phil and well stated.

    Not everyone has a strong brand community surrounding them, so I guess another important point is to build that community before you need them!

  • Christian Smagg

    It is true that the Internet has quickly become a complex ecosystem where public opinion can be created and disseminated within seconds. Keeping your eyes and ears on the world of consumer generated media can be a daunting task for any company.

    Blogs, forums, wikis and social networks gain popularity every day and without a plan to monitor and manage your company’s online reputation, you could be at risk.

    I have actually recently published an article entitled “New Year’s top resolution: Managing your online reputation!”. For further insight on this topic, please visit: http://www.saastream.com/my_weblog/2008/01/new-years-top-r.html

  • Computer Consulting Kit Home Study Course

    Paul, I agree with most of these basic reputation management issues.

    However what do you do when a competitor masquarades as a disgruntled-customer-persona?

    Unfortunately, Google’s current algorithms don’t take into account a competitor’s abuse of reputation management for financial gain.

    An offline quasi-analogy… when a celebrity like Cameron Diaz gets slandered/libeled in a tabloid, there’s 8-figure litation.

    When a small business gets attacked for financial gain by a malicious competitor, the mechanism basically defaults to presumed guilty. And yes, being proactive is crucial to staying in front of these issues. But not always effective.

  • Paul Dunay

    Dear Computer Consulting Home Study Kit

    Great point and example using Cameron Diaz

    The reality is there is no mechanism right now to correct those wrongs

    Perhaps in the future but right now all we really have is proactive monitoring

  • Anonymous

    As an online business owner, I have done exactly as you suggested by participating in forum groups and answering any negative publicity that is posted by competitors hiding behind screenames. Unfortunately, I am finding that my competitors are now starting forums under aliases for the sole reason, to fill the content with fake messages from users that they created themselves. These users Bash me whenever I enter the forum and comment on Anything.

    Because this is not regulated by any government agency, these competitors have managed to build large networks of blogs and forums groups with false screenames for the sole purpose to build their own brand by slandering their competitors. These sites are very high traffic sites so all it takes if one negative comment from one of their employee – phony members to turn the results into the top ten results in google when my name is googled.

    Google Janesdeals and you will see what I mean.

    The forum I was banned in turns out to be my competitor. I did not know it when I joined since they were using another name. So, they banned me for the sole purpose of it showing a negative in google.

    They proceded to file a false rip off report which they later took back but the original results are still in the top ten in google.

    This is criminal what has happened. I hope your competitors are not as sleazy as mine.

    by the way, any suggestions on what I can do about it??

    They even ran a google ad to call me a scam. It is horrible. I have not one single complaint from one customer in 10 years.

    We hold funds until delivery and inspection so no one can possibly ever loose their money.

    http://www.janesdeals.com

  • Paul Dunay

    Dear Anonymous

    Wow that is a raw deal I am sorry to hear about it but thanks for bringing this to my attention and my readers attention

    There is only 3 ways I am aware of to get this fixed
    1) ask them to remove it
    2) set the record clean with your own statements on the site
    3) sweep it under the rug by getting a bunch of good publicity for you that knocks it off the first page of Google

    my recommendation would be #3

    email me directly for some ideas on how to do that

  • celebrity reputation management

    Thanks for the great reading, catholic podcast . I will pass this on to our Ira clients to read.

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