Online Reputation Management Still as Important As Ever

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Way back in 2007, I wrote a series of posts on online reputation management.  As we’ve been doing a series of retro posts, I wanted to consolidate and share these posts in a epic retro post on the importance of reputation management.  In the age of #MeToo, one’s reputation has become more sacred and the same goes for a company’s brand.  Here’s what we were discussing about online reputation back in 2007 (and yes there may be a reference to My Space).

Online Reputation Management: What You Need to Know

It’s safe to say that reputation management is vitally important for all organizations that exist. In fact, whether it’s on a personal or corporate level, everyone should be concerned about their reputation. On a personal level, having a damaged reputation can mean being a part of the “in-crowd” or being a loner. For businesses a damaged or negative reputation can mean millions of dollars. The importance of reputation management cannot be emphasized enough. In the wake of a negative experience and tarnished reputations, organizations have lost millions overnight, have had CEO’s step down immediately and have even folded within months of negative publicity.

Prior to the development of the Internet, news often traveled slowly and methodically, but with the increasing popularity of blogs and social networks, news tends to travel rapidly and reaches the masses with swiftness as never before. In many cases, the general public is aware of information about your organization that you may not even be aware of yet. Online reputation management is a necessity.

Online Reputation Management What You Need to Know

Rumor, gossip, disgruntled employees and customer scorn can be highly damaging for brand reputation. Competition is increasing and PR firms are often reactive as opposed to proactive when dealing with their client’s reputation. In fact studies about the world’s top 10 PR firms suggests that around half of them have been linked to supposed PR disasters. So how do you go about protecting your online reputation? There are five keys to online reputation management.

  1. Monitor Your Existing Online Presence – consumers use search to find information. When they perform a query in hope of finding information on your organization or brand, you want to make sure that your website and online properties are listed high in the search results. In order to manage your online reputation, you need to know what is being said about your brand online. An easy way to do this is through tools such as Google Alerts to see how your brand is fairing in the online world of Google. Set up alerts for key branded phrases including your company name.
  2. Analyze Your Online Presence within the Search Engine Results – the search engine results update their index on a regular basis. With the increase in consumer generate content out there, it is not uncommon for a blog post or negative article about your company to surface in the first page of organic search results. A company scandal or an ongoing law suit can provide fuel for the fire and can appear in the prime real estate of Google or other search engines. You need to get a grasp and develop a keen understanding of your search engine environment and that of your key competitors.
  3. Control Your Online Destiny with Optimization – optimize your site and online properties so that you dominate the search results for your important branded terms. This includes optimizing your main corporate site, any micro-sites and sub-domains, corporate blogs, press releases, articles as well as online properties such as employee blogs and partner sites.
  4. Control Your Online Destiny with Participation – Be active in industry forms, social networks, consumer review/opinion sites and the like. If your online reputation is suffering, participation within these areas can help change the negative perception that you may be incurring. Blogs are extremely popular for consumers and are often the first place they will go to find information. As a result commenting on blogs can help communicate your stance and promote your company in a positive light.
  5. Repeat Steps One Through Four – online reputation management only works if it is ongoing. Being proactive and understanding the consumer’s perception of your brand and your organization is one of the best ways to begin with your online reputation management strategy.

To prevent the loss of revenue and repeat business, an ongoing online reputation management strategy should be developed by all organizations. Online reputation management can ensure the ongoing success of your brand and your organization.

Online Reputation Management in 2007 – Part One

Previously we discussed how rumors, gossip, disgruntled employees and customer scorn can be highly damaging for brand reputation. With competition increasing many PR firms are often reactive as opposed to proactive when dealing with their client’s reputation. However we are starting to see more organizations becoming more active with online reputation management. This is a step in the right direction.

Why the Change?

So just why are organizations trying to be more proactive when it comes to online reputation management? Is it because they have skeletons in their closet and know that some negative press for their firm is inevitable? Well possibly, but I think the real reason why more organizations are becoming more proactive with online reputation management in 2007 is due to the rate at which news and opinion travel across the Web.

Environments such as blogs, forums, social media outlets and other online communities make it very easy for dissatisfied consumers, disgruntled employees, and gossip starters to get the “good” or bad word out about your organization with swiftness and ease. They do say that negative news/publicity travels at a rate of ten times faster than good news. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that large corporations are looking at blogging strategies and participating in social communities as a means of reputation management.

So what does online reputation management in 2007 mean to you? Well it should mean monitoring and protecting your brand in the online world. Negative commentary can have a significant impact on your brand that you have spent time money and resources to build. Here’s a quick list of items to remember when preparing your online reputation management strategy.

  1. Monitor Your Brand – This includes your actual brands, products, company and key executives an officials. When monitoring, you’ll want to include modifiers such as “sucks” “scam” “scandal” etc. You’ll want to monitor news resources, Social Media/Tags, Search Engine Results Pages, Blogs and Forums. Be sure to utilize tools such as Google Alerts, Yahoo Alerts, RSS feed subscriptions to search results Technorati, Feedster, Yahoo & Google News and social media sites such as MySpace and Facebook.
  2. Participate – If you have incurred the wraith of negative publicity there are a few things that you will want to do to address it. Whether it’s true or not, research the source of the negativity. If the story is false, you’ll need to provide the facts and ask for corrections and if need by an apology. If the story is true, prepare to discuss and open the lines of communication. Respond in the same environment either with your own blog or within a social community. Don’t try to hide, be honest, clear, concise, transparent and listen.

Even in 2007 customer service and common courtesy is in vogue. Avoiding negative publicity is a great tactic for your online reputation strategy. However in this day and age, it is best to be proactive so planning an online reputation management strategy is a must.

Online Reputation Management Resources (Part Two)

In part one of our series on online reputation management in 2007, we examined the trend with organizations who are becoming more active with online reputation management. We cannot emphasize the importance on online reputation management in 2007. Online reputation management is really the only way you can measure what is being said about your company, product and business methods online.

Online Reputation Management in 2007 means understanding and knowing about the resources that are available to provide assistance when starting an online reputation management strategy. Of course there are a number of companies that provide reputation management services, but there are also a number of key resources that can help you with your online reputation management strategy.

It is important to realize just how powerful consumer generated media can be. Your brand can be on top one the world in one instance and than it can be destroyed by an angry blogger the next. As a result your organization needs to be proactive with your online reputation management strategy. In our piece entitled “What You Need to Know About Online Reputation Management”, we stated that there are five keys to online reputation management:

  1. Monitoring Your Existing Online Presence
  2. Analyzing Your Online Presence within the Search Engine Results
  3. Controlling Your Online Destiny with Optimized Content
  4. Controlling Your Online Destiny with Participation
  5. Repeating the Above Steps

Resources for Online Reputation Management

In order to track, monitor and analyze your online reputation, you will need to incorporate the use of a number of resources. Here is a look at some of these key resources that you should become familiar with.

  1. Sign up for Google and Yahoo email alerts using your desired keywords and branded terms (http://alerts.yahoo.com/ and www.google.com/alerts).
  2. Something that we have done is created our own search engine at Rollyo.com. Rollyo presents a great way to search the content of a list of specified websites, allowing you to narrow down the results to pages from websites that you already know and trust. It’s great for tracking your presence.
  3. Set up custom RSS feeds based on specific keyword searches (ie important branded phrases, new product names, top executive names etc.). RSS Resources include: Google News, Feedster.com, Technorati.com, Google.com/blogsearch, Blogpulse.com, MSN Spaces Yahoo! News etc.
  4. Compile all feeds into one RSS reader for easy access and to save you time when reviewing. Popular RSS feed readers include: Newsgator.com, Bloglines.com, Google Reader or Sage.
  5. Review the top groups to track: Yahoo Groups, AOL Groups, MSN Groups, Google Groups
  6. Set up a presence in Social Media sites such as MySpace, MyBlogLog, Facebook or any other relevant social networking community seen here.
  7. Examine popular video sites and perform a search for your branded phrases and organization’s name. Consider reviewing sites such as You Tube or Jumpcut
  8. Determine which forums and message boards you need to track: BoardReader.com, ForumFind.com, Big-Boards.com, BoardTracker.com, iVillage, Yahoo Message Boards, MSN Money
  9. If your company is publicly traded, frequent sites such as Google Finance and Yahoo Finance. Perform a search for your company and review the latest news stories and blog posts.
  10. Use the Search Engines! Use Google, Yahoo, ASK, AOL, Windows Live etc. to see what the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) are displaying regarding your brand and organization.

We have listed ten type of resources that organizations should consider when establishing their online reputation management strategy. Within each of these types of resources, there are a number of free resources that can help you monitor and analyze your online reputation. The key is participation. You have to be actively involved in the online reputation management process because if you’re not, you can bet that your consumers and competitors are.

Participation: Online Reputation Management (Part Three)

In the first two parts of our series on online reputation management in 2007, we have discussed the importance of the need for active participation as part of your online reputation management strategy. In part one we discussed the fact that we are starting to see more organizations becoming more active with online reputation management. The second installment saw us review a number of effective resources that can be used for online reputation management.

Participation in Online Reputation Management

In our piece entitled, “Online Reputation Management: What You Need To Know”, we mentioned that participation is one of the keys and arguably the most important component of online reputation management. In fact we stated that you can actually control your online destiny with participation.

Control Your Online Destiny with Participation – Be active in industry forms, social networks, consumer review/opinion sites and the like. If your online reputation is suffering, participation within these areas can help change the negative perception that you may be incurring. Blogs are extremely popular for consumers and are often the first place they will go to find information. As a result commenting on blogs can help communicate your stance and promote your company in a positive light.

Whether you are in the B2C space or B2B arena, participating in online forums and social networks should be a regular occurrence as part of your online reputation management strategy. I’ve heard it from numerous organizations that they do not need to frequent social networking sites or other online community environments. While these organizations choose not to participate, many are not even aware that these social networks and industry forums even exist and can be an effetive tool for gathering information about what is being said about their brand. Take Pepsi for example. Do you think that they are aware of this MySpace page entitled “Pepsi Sucks“? Just to show that we’re all about equal opportunity there is also a MySpace “Coke Sucks” page as well.

So where should this participation happen? Well chances are you have identified your target market and created personas for your target consumer. As a result you should have some idea as to their habits, and hopefully an idea of their online habits. For example, ask yourself do they frequent industry related blogs? Do they visit comparison shopping and product review sites? Are they users of You Tube, MySpace, FaceBook and other online communities? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then these are all great place to start.

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Participate in:

  1. Blogs – this include key industry blogs, consumer blogs, and any related blog that you are aware about in which your target consumer may frequent.
  2. Social Networks – a good place to start would be MySpace. Create a MySpace account for your organization and use it to see if there are any MySpace pages that are anti. Consider creating a Facebook page and search for past and current employee names who may have been disgruntled. Don’t forget about popular sites such as YouTube or Second Life.
  3. Industry Forums and other Consumer Feedback Sites
  4. Consumer Comparison Sites – such as sites like Price Grabber and Smart Shopper
  5. Your Own Company Blogs – be sure to participate and monitor your own company blogs.

Online reputation management in 2007, means being actively engaged in the same online environment that your employees, consumers and competitors frequent. Actively participating helps you be proactive in dealing with any negative publicity that enters the vast world that is online. Controlling your online destiny through participation will continue to be key in growing your online reputation management strategy. Think of it like this, just because you don’t participate doesn’t mean that your competition and dissatisfied consumers are not participating. Know what people are saying about you. Respond to it if it indeed requires a response. Respect your reputation and protect it.

Online Reputation Management: Monitoring your Existing Online Presence (Part Four)

We’ve previously discussed the need for active participation as part of your online reputation management strategy, the topic au jour is the importance of monitoring your existing online presence as part of your online reputation management strategy.

Human nature is interesting isn’t it? People (ie. consumers) use search engines to find information. When they perform a query using a search engine, they do so in hope of finding information on your organization or brand. What they may discover about your organization may surprise you. Ideally, you want to make sure that your website and your online properties are listed high in the search results so that when a user types in a branded term for your business your listing(s) come up first. However this is not always the case with the search results.

Take Enron for example. Before the financial scandal of the energy company was revealed in late 2001, you would have probably found that the top 10 listings in Google for “Enron” would have consisted of the company’s websites and related press releases and stories about one of the world’s leading electricity, natural gas, pulp and paper, and communications companies. In fact Enron posted revenues of $111 billion in 2000. Then in 2001 the company was faced with on the biggest bankruptcy cases in U.S. history. Enter today where you perform a query for “enron” in Google and are presented with these search results. Eight out of the 10 listings deal with the negative publicity of the Enron Scandal.

While this may be an extreme case, it does illustrate how easy it is for negative press to “leak” into the prime real estate of the search engine results pages. In order to manage your online reputation, you need to know what is being said about your brand online. So exactly how do you monitor your online reputation?

Monitoring Your Online Reputation

  1. Perform a search for your brand in Google – For starters perform a couple of quick search for your brand in the search engines. Examine the top 10 organic listings as well as any sponsored ads that may be appearing. Search for brand related terms; this includes your company name, popular product names, key personnel names
  2. Perform a search in the engines for branded phrases that have been appended with negative qualifiers – Try a search for your company name with phrases such as “sucks”, “rip-off” “scandal” etc. If you are lucky you will see a limited number of negative results. If you see numerous results you may have an online reputation management issue.
  3. Perform a search for your brand in social communities – Start with popular social communities such as MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube. From here visit popular industry forums and product review sites.
  4. Set Up Google and Yahoo Alerts – find out about what people are saying about you and your products, what people are blogging about. Use Google Alerts to monitor your brand reputation on the web and in the blogosphere. Similarly you can do same thing in Yahoo. Set up Google Alerts and be active in monitoring your brand. Set up alerts for key branded phrases including your company name.
  5. Monitor Your Competition – Visit your main competitor’s sites to see if they are saying anything negative about your brand or your organization. This may mean that you monitor your competitors through message boards and user groups and that you set up Alerts for your competition.

Monitoring your reputation is something that takes a dedicated effort. Due to the importance of reputation monitoring, it is something that should be part of a continuous process. If you don’t know what people are saying about your company, you will not be able to turn the negative perception around. Being unaware of negative online publicity will delay you during a time when you need to devise strategies to help counter criticism and improve your image.

Your organization’s reputation is its most important asset – being immediately aware of a negative or erroneous article, blog post or negative social community presence can mean the difference between a proactive and a reactive response. The fact of the matter is, that if you provide exceptional customer service and avoid any actions that people may deem as scandalous or negative in nature, monitoring your online reputation becomes easier.

Online Reputation Management: Factors Affecting your Online Reputation

As with any reputation issues, there are numerous factors that can affect your online reputation. External factors on your business as a result of rumors or gossip can have a negative impact on your online visibility. Here is a look at some of the most common factors that can affect your online reputation.

Factors Affecting Your Online Reputation

Questionable Business Operations – This is where corporate activity adversely impacts on stakeholder groups. Examples include the Enron dilemma and more recently the World Wrestling Entertainment having to defend themselves against allegations that the use of steroids is rampant with their performers in the wake of the Chris Benoit murder suicide. From a PR disaster viewpoint, in Enron’s case they were unable to recover resulting in the downfall of the company.

Corporate Moves – With things such as acquisitions, mergers or takeovers, there’s plenty of room for dissatisfaction and even scandal, such as when a jury found Martha Stewart guilty on all four counts of obstructing justice and lying to investigators about a well-timed stock sale. Other examples of corporate downfalls include the Bre-X scandal when in 1997, Bre-X collapsed and its shares became worthless in one of the biggest stock scandals in Canadian history, and the biggest mining scandal of all time.

Legalities / Court Proceedings – When issues are debated in court, then reported in the media – such as the much publicized McDonald’s ‘McLibel’ case, the potential for PR disasters can be enormous. Many labeled the McDonald’s libel case as ‘the world’s biggest corporate PR disaster’.

Rumors – Gossip can be highly damaging for brand reputation. For years Procter & Gamble were linked to rumors of Satanism. The rumors started in part by a competitor plagued the company for decades forcing an international logo redesign and extensive reputation management and damage control efforts.

Staff – the story of two former Walmart executives—Julie Roehm and Sean Womack—accused of engaging in an affair while hunting for new ad agencies for the retail giant. Another well publicized PR blunder involving staff took place in 2001 when New York’s Twin Towers collapsed on 9/11, staff at one of the city’s Starbucks charged rescue workers for bottled water they needed to treat victims of the attack. When word got out ‘virally’ about this incident, the PR fallout was highly damaging.

Scandal – Financial, sexual or personal exploits generally capture the media’s attention, such as when Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was recently found to be involved with a dog fighting ring. After the media caught wind of the story, Vick’s lucrative sponsorship deals (Nike) and image of rags-to-riches became jeopardized.

Reputation disasters can emerge from almost any area including your business dealings or from the private lives of employees. These reputation mishaps can be difficult to predict, prevent or recover from. Offline PR blunders can affect your online visibility. The factors listed above are but a few factors that can affect your online reputation.

More Examples of Corporate Scandal

http://www.forbes.com/2002/07/25/accountingtracker.html
http://www.ex.ac.uk/~RDavies/arian/scandals/classic.html

Online Reputation Management: Analyzing your Online Presence within the Search Results (Part Five)

In part four of our series on Online Reputation Management in 2007, we discussed monitoring your existing online presence. We mentioned that consumers use search simply to find information. When they perform a query in hope of finding information on your organization or brand, you want to make sure that your website and online properties are listed high in the search results. In order to manage your online reputation, you need to know what is being said about your brand online.

As part of your total online reputation management strategy, in addition to the monitoring of your brand, another key component is to Analyze Your Online Presence within the Search Engine Results. The search engines update their index on a regular basis. As a result just because you rank in the top spot for a phrase doesn’t mean that a negative story about your organization cannot rank in the number two spot or number five or number nine… With the increase in consumer generated content out there, it is not uncommon for a blogpost or negative article about your company to surface in the first page of organic search results. A company scandal or an ongoing law suit can provide fuel for the fire and can appear in the prime real estate of Google or other search engines. You need to get a grasp and develop a keen understanding of your search engine environment and that of your key competitors.

In order to analyze your online presence, you need to be aware of the top online destinations that your consumer may be attending. While it may be impossible to find every negative article or every negative blog post about your company or your brand, you can focus on the top online destinations where users may come into contact with a potentially damaging story.

Steps to Analyze Your Online Presence within the Search Engine Results

  1. Focus only on the Top 30 Search Results – Research has shown that the average user will not click on organic search results past the third page (if they even make it to the third page of search results.) Analyze and evaluate the top 30 listings in the major search engines for branded phrases, top product phrases, top executive names and the like. Start with Google but remember to evaluate Yahoo, MSN/Windows Live, AOL and ASK. Examine the environment and what sites (or videos, images and other items through Universal Search) are currently being found in the prime search engine results real estate.
  2. Take Note of any Questionable Listings – Are there any potentially damaging listings that are showing up in the SERPs? If so take a closer look at these listings and consider monitoring them through Google or Yahoo alerts.
  3. Evaluate Industry Forums – visit industry forums and other environments that elicit consumer response and feedback. It is not impossible for a negative forum post to suddenly appear near the top of the search results.
  4. Examine Top Social Networking Communities – perform a search for your top brand related phrases in social communities such as MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and the like. Social networks can be a popular place for people to communicate their disdain for products or poor service experience. These pages can also show up where you least expect it… the search engine results pages.
  5. Examine Search Results for your Competition – use your search engine of choice and type in a couple of branded phrases for your main competitors. Do any of the listings communicate anything negative about your company? If so take the appropriate action to have that listing removed. (We’ll discuss this in more detail in our next installment.)

It’s not enough to simply monitor your existing online presence. As part of your online reputation management strategy you need to regularly analyze the search engines results to see if there are any listings that may damage your online reputation. It’s an on-going practice that can be an effective form of being proactive in the management of your online reputation. Protect your reputation at all costs. It is true that bad news/negative publicity travels at a rate of ten times faster than good news. The least you can do is to try and restrict the amount of “bad” publicity that is being communicated about your organization via the Internet.

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Online Reputation Management: Controlling your Online Visibility with Optimization (Part Six)

Continuing our series on online reputation management, this week we discuss how you can control your online destiny/visibility with fundamental optimization efforts. We have previously discussed the following areas with regards to developing an effective online reputation management strategy:

  • Controlling Your Online Destiny with Participation
  • Monitoring Your Existing Online Presence
  • Analyzing your Online Presence Specifically within the Search Engine Results

This installment delves into how you can “control” your online visibility with simple optimization.

Let us assume that you have performed a search in the major search engines for your top branded phrases. Initially you may just want to focus on Google, Yahoo, MSN/Windows Live, AOL and ASK. In addition begin with evaluating only the top 10 organic listings. (Ideally you will want to focus on at least the top 30 listings within each engine.) If you have located any “questionable” listings, you will then need to optimize your website(s) in an attempt to push the “questionable” listings down in the search results. (ie. If you are experiencing a negative listing on the first page of results, you will want to focus efforts on pushing this listing to page two and eventually page three and so on out of the top organic results.) Why only the top 30 you ask? Well studies have shown that the average search user will not scroll past the third page of results. In fact the majority of users may not scroll past the second page of results. The search engine results page default settings are set to show 10 organic results. The average user does not change their settings for their search engines results page.

Once you have reviewed the search engine results listings and have identified a negative or questionable listing, you should focus on optimizing your site’s presence to improve your site’s visibility over that of the negative listing. Here’s how to optimize your brand to help control your online reputation and project a positive image.

Here’s an example, let’s say that I was Micheal Vick and was concerned about my online reputation. I conduct a search in Google for “Michael Vick“. On the first page of listings I notice that five out of the ten results are “negative” results. Now imagine if this was your organization’s brand. This could have a strong impact on people’s perception about your product, your business and your brand. While having five negative listings is above the norm, there is really only one way to “remove” these listings and communicate a positive image of your brand… optimization of your brand.

10 Ways to Optimize Your Brand & Increase Positive Online Visibility

Consider these methods of improving your organic visibility for each branded phrase that you have identified that has a negative listing in the search engine results listings.

  1. Optimize your Existing Results – if you have existing listings in the top 30 that are below any negative listings, optimize these listing by improving keyword density on these pages for your branded term in question.
  2. Create new Content on your Site – create new content that could consist of a simple page or two about the branded phrase in question. Ensure that the new page that you create contains an optimized title (place the branded phrase at the beginning of the title) and description (again placing the branded phrase near the beginning of the description.)
  3. Improve External Link Inventory to your Web Pages – whether its the new page that you just created or an existing page, improving the link inventory will help improve authority to that page. As the search engines re-index your site, your page will be treated as more authoritative by the search engines and as a result should improve in the organic rankings.
  4. Create a MySpace Page for your Brand – the search engines tend to rank popular social network pages fairly high in the organic listings. Creating a MySpace page for your brand can help force any negative listings down lower in the search results pages.
  5. Consider Creating a LinkedIn page for your Brand – Preferably for noticeable employees who may be in the public eye. Of course if there is any controversy surrounding these employees you may not want to create a LinkedIn profile for them.
  6. Create Sub-Domains for Your Products/Services – sub-domains are in essence separate sites that can promote your brand. If you have the content available to create sub-domains, they can be a great tool for removing any negative listings that may be affecting your reputation. Perform a search for “google” in Google and you will see that each of the top 10 listings are for sub-domains of their various product and service offerings.
  7. Consider Creating a Wikipedia Page for your Brand – if one doesn’t currently exist, try submitting an entry to Wikipedia. At this time you may notice a number of Wikipedia listings near the top results in Google. This can be an easy way to control the valuable online real estate that my be currently occupied by negative listings.
  8. Create A Video Clip for YouTube – This can be effective in removing negative listings in Google as Google’s promotion of Universal Search results continues to become more prominent. Creating a video clip that promotes your brand in a positive manner is another great way to optimize your brand for the organic search results.
  9. Create a Presence in other Social Communities – consider setting up in other social communities such as MyBlogLog, Friendster, Ryze etc.
  10. Blog, Blog, Blog – set up a corporate blog or even multiple blogs that can be used to promote your brand. Of course you will want to implement a company wide blogging policy as you do not want everyone to blog about you (in case of disgruntled employees etc.)

If you are faced with negative organic search results listings, the easiest way to deal with it is through well optimized content. Developing content that promotes your brand as a positive entity will help reduce and can even eliminate negative listings from showing up in the search engine results. Controlling your online visibility with fundamental optimization efforts should be a part on your online reputation management strategy. While you cannot always control what is said about your brand, you can have some control as to what the search engines display about your brand.

Online Reputation Management: Dealing with Negative Consumer Generated Content (Part Seven)

Throughout our series on online reputation management we have discussed the importance of monitoring/analyzing your brand in the search engine results, participating in forums and social communities and we have looked at tools that can be valuable in monitoring your online reputation. A new area of concern for those interested in brand awareness is in the form of user generated content or consumer generated content.

With the recent popularity of blogs and social networking sites, consumer generated content is becoming increasingly more common in search engine results. Take the numerous anti-Wal-Mart blogs out there. Blogs such as Wakeup Walmart, have been around for a few years and are a common visiting place for those who are anti Wal-Mart. This is one of many blogs started by consumers who have no doubt had a negative experience with the large discount box-store. Whether it’s Wal-Mart or your own brand, consumer generated content is beginning to become a top trusted resource for consumers looking for information about various organizations big and small. Perform a search in Google for “anti blogs” and see what shows up in the results. There will no doubt be blogs, consumer review sites and other web properties that can damage your brand and reputation. So just how do you deal with all of this consumer generated content? What can you do to monitor all of the feedback that consumers are saying about your product, your service or your brand?

Dealing with consumer generated content is a full time job. Really if you are a large corporation, you should have a mechanism (or person) in place to monitor consumer generated content that pops up all over the Web. The thing is, is that you will never be able to keep up with everything that is being said about you and your brand all of the time. You cannot please all of the people all of the time. However a successful business should always listen to the needs of their customers and work towards providing exceptional customer service. A positive customer experience (whether online or offline) may entice positive consumer generated content that can promote your brand and organization. The problem arises when the consumer generated content is not so favorable.

In the past, I worked as a customer service rep. in a large retail chain. Providing exceptional customer service proved to be difficult with this retailer as the company was too concerned about the bottom line and as a result did not always factor the needs of their customers first. Quite often they would not have sufficient staff to serve their clients and customers. A common complaint was that there was never any staff on hand to ask questions of or to provide assistance with a product. It was not uncommon for the store manager to receive letters from dissatisfied customers. Consider this as a form of offline consumer generated content if you will. The chain rarely did anything to accommodate these customers as they had this attitude that for every dissatisfied consumer that they had, they would get a couple of new consumers to offset the unhappy one. It was never written as such, but that was the mentality of the management team. Very rarely were the complaints followed up with and dealt with in a professional manner. The end result was not a couple but many dissatisfied customers, and lower staff morale as the customer service department became a place where verbal abuse from the customer was not uncommon. The retail outlet you ask? Rona Hardware / Home & Garden. I would suspect that if you polled the staff at various Rona’s about customer service and morale, the scores would be low. Poll the average customer and the score would probably be even lower.

While the case of Rona represents a real life example, in the online space, consumer generated content can be an easy means for an unhappy customer to post about a negative experience with your brand. So what can you do to control this consumer generated content? Well the fact is you simply can’t. As mentioned you cannot please all of the people all of the time, but here are a few hints that you can use to deal with consumer generated content.

  1. Examine the Consumer Generated Landscape – Identify the top sources including blogs, review sites, industry forums etc. that your users and consumers tend to frequent then frequent them as well. Know what is being said about your brand. Know where people go to praise you and more importantly know which sites users go to “knock” your brand.
  2. Encourage Consumer Generated Content on Your Web Properties – provide your consumers with a feedback mechanism on your existing web properties to voice their opinion. Include both the good and the bad (providing that the bad isn’t so bad that it will influence others’ perception about your brand.) If users are going to talk about your brand, the first place they should do it is on your turf not somewhere else such as on a competitor’s site.
  3. Avoid Major Scandal and Poor Service – don’t add fuel to the fire by giving your consumers something negative to right about. The best way to deal with negative consumer generated content may be to not contribute to it.
  4. Provide Exceptional Service & Value – the fact of the matter is that if your organization is innovative and ethical and you provide the best possible service, you shouldn’t have to worry about your online reputation. Listen to your consumers and satisfy their needs in conjunction with marketing your brand and you will experience success and life-long value.

Consumer generated content is not going away. In fact it is becoming more commonplace. Dealing with negative consumer generated content means knowing where this content resides, working to avoid poor customer service and providing a feedback mechanism on your web properties to allow you some control over the user generated content about your brand. Being in control of what is being said about your brand can be a helpful step as part of your online reputation management strategy.

There you have it, my our original series on online reputation management.  I warned you about the My Space references didn’t I?  Fact of the matter is your reputation IS worth something and you need to protect it and project and partake in positive actions to ensure that your brand is not damaged.  The world had become a lot mote sensitive in the past decade and you need to be aware of that when it comes to your business and your brand.

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