You are what you are perceived to be. It is very important for a brand, a new business or an established firm to manage its reputation. Be it offline or online, if you don’t control your brand someone else will.
Search engines handle millions of searches everyday. People searching for you are your potential consumers, business partners, stockholders, investors, journalists, etc. and what they see on these search engines defines your business for them. The increase in people turning online to search and share their thoughts has made online reputation management for brands increasingly difficult to maintain. It is very easy for a dissatisfied customer to post a comment, create a blog, make a video or create a hate website; thus, it is important to maintain a clean search engine result. A brand’s online reputation can convert searchers into customers or loyal fans.
A company’s net worth is tied in its intangible assets such as brand equity and reputation. Thus, there are some things every brand must know about online reputation management.
• One bad review does not define a company or a brand.
• Every brand must know its presence online and must plan to use those assets to its advantage.
• A company’s website is not enough and a brand must try leveraging social media channels to attract, engage, promote and encourage positive feedback.
• It is important to plan your posts, your presence and answers to queries or questions.
• Be sure to have a consistent approach on all platforms.
• It is impossible to censor every negative comment or piece of information but it helps to consistently attend to these posts, ensuring a positive note.
• Build and cultivate relations with key influencers online so that if an issue arises you have an army prepared to approach the subject.
• Plan for negative press.
• Reverting negativity with negativity will be a disaster. Try and have a positive approach and do your best to address the situation immediately.
• Learn from your mistakes. Poor response to negative feedback can be handled well by planning your response strategy. Addressing an issue with a positive light can do wonders for your reputation.
• Monitoring your online reputation will help protect your online assets. Monitor not only your brand but also your company, products, events, key executives, etc.
Nine steps to online reputation management
Step 1: Protect your name by registering or purchasing all domains, handles, usernames, etc. This can prevent causing a gap in your brand strategy. New social network websites pop up every day and if you don’t act fast someone else can register your name and it could be either a dissatisfied customer or just someone hoping to get cash from the real owner of the brand. You should purchase negative domains as well such as [company name]sucks.com, etc. This can prevent others from making hate sites.
Step 2: After securing your usernames it is time to protect it. Set your privacy settings on all platforms where you are present, especially social networking websites. Inappropriate photos, comments, statements or remarks would do no good for your reputation on your own property.
Step 3: Now start will simple searches on search engines i.e. your name, company name, brand name, products, key executives and most importantly handles/usernames/domain names. Most users won’t look past the first page or two of search results, so you only need to look at a couple pages for each keyword.
Step 4: If you have a couple of keywords already ranking for you it means that it is about time you start your online reputation management. Why? Since you haven’t actively grown your search results it is much easier for something to creep to the top if someone does have a problem.
Step 5: Creating a website is important but it is also important to build your networks and get involved on professional, personal and media websites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, etc. Showing your presence in industry relevant blogs, forums, groups, and specific social networks also helps.
Apart from the above, other things that can help your brand is the kind of content you generate, share and how you connect with your fans. Donate to charity, sponsor an event or conference, receive nominations and awards, promote newsworthy information through press releases, get interviewed on other’s blogs or podcasts, etc.
Step 6: Monitor your brand on all platforms. Setup alerts, feeds to catch everything being said or mentioned about your brand, company, domains, executives, etc. There are hundreds of tools available online that can help you manage and track the important conversations happening around your brand so that you can identify opportunities to get involved, locate people to engage, and to handle small customer service issues before they grow out of control.
Step 7: As you grow your presence online, it will get more and more difficult to track, manage and monitor your properties. Make use of tools such as Socialbakers, Hoot Suite, Disqus, SocialStream, etc.
Step 8: Most reputation problems start because the customer is not being able to communicate easily with the brand / company. Some customers can get frustrated and turn to other sites, blogs, Twitter, etc. Hence, be sure to be accessible and to invest in customer service. Display contact information, have a suggestion box and be listed on all relevant websites. If you find a negative comment being made or if someone is genuinely upset, contact him or her and address the issue. Either promise them that they will be treated differently in the future or refund or give a free product. The point is to make them feel that they are cared for and that you listen.
Step 9: Build your credibility by collecting testimonials from customers and posting them on the website or sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Giving people the ability to add reviews or share comments can help build your credibility to prospective users. If you are a part of a trust or industry specific group, then this is the time to display its logos. Do the same with quality rating services as they make the users feel more secure.
The author is Partner at FoxyMoron