The idea about social or online reputation is not a new one. As far back as April 1999, just months before Google received its first major round of funding and nearly five years before Facebook was launched, The Cluetrain Manifesto was written.
The main idea behind the Cluetrain Manifesto, according to the authors, was to challenge the outmoded 20th-century thinking about mass-marketing and business in light of the emergence of the web through a set of 95 theses. In reality, it was an attempt to define a new model for interaction between businesses and consumers, given the conversational style the Internet was rapidly becoming.
If you’ve not read the Cluetrain Manifesto, here are a few snippets
“Markets are conversations.”
“There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.”
“A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.”
Fast forward 12 years and we’ve got millions if not billions of conversations taking place every day on the Internet and business owners cannot afford to ignore them. These conversations propagate through news sites, social networking sites, blogs and forums at a frightening pace. Social networks are now one of the major influencers of brand reputation and market insight. Companies need to know what, why and where conversations are taking place about their brand or market. Whilst many of these conversations can be harmless and benign, unfortunately some can be negative in tone causing businesses immediate issues of how to manage and repair their reputation.
Online Reputation Management (ORM) is the practice of monitoring reputation on the Internet with a goal of suppressing negative mentions entirely or constructively pushing them lower down the search engine results pages (SERPs).
When negative comments are published and circulated online, the potential damage is effectively done. In most cases if your products or services become linked to negative publicity, you may find your sales drop as a result. Bad news travels quickly on the Internet, so it is imperative that any negative references are addressed immediately before they have a chance to take hold.
The biggest mistake you can make is to ignore what people are saying about you online. Whilst customer review websites, for example, can drive new customers to your website, they can also convince them to stay clear of your products and services. You simply cannot afford to ignore the comments on review websites.
You also need to look at the bigger picture when assessing your reputation. Don’t try to respond to every criticism. Whilst nine out of 10 reviews of your product or service might be positive, there may be one negative review that’s not really that important, especially if it makes claims that are inconsistent with the other nine positive reviews.
There are tools and services available that use sophisticated technology to scan the Internet for target words and phrases associated with your business or brand. These might include the name of your business, your product brands, or the name of key individuals. Reports about any publicity, both positive as well as negative will allow you to act accordingly.
If negative references are reported you can also look at SEO tactics to reduce the impact of the references by effectively pushing them lower down the search engine results pages. In some instances, you can also appeal and negotiate with the search engines to have negative comments removed.
It’s also a good idea with your SEO tactics to displace the negative references by boosting the rankings of positive references in the search engine results. Aggressive replacement of negative content with more positive exposure is the best way of repairing brand reputation in the event that it has been damaged.
Regardless of your company’s size, online reputation management is essential to maintaining your brand equity and developing a positive customer relationship. Whilst smaller companies may be able to manage on their own, larger companies will need a specialist with monitoring tools, experienced SEO staff and a team dedicated to listening, locating and fixing.
And finally, don’t be fooled into thinking this is just limited to an online practice or a reactive process to dispel negative sentiment. There is always a bigger picture to look at and some brands are taking the initiative better than others.
Bill Bivin of Dell recently commented, “Dell has become more focused in the last year on not just responding publicly to conversations, but finding actionable items that improve customer experience and using social media to become more efficient and profitable in all areas of our business. It’s not just about customer support or public relations. We are evolving to a point where we listen to our customer voice, and connect global customers and communities, listening and delivering on the products and services they want.”
Source: The Online Reputation and Buzz Monitoring Buyer’s Guide 2010 from eConsultancy
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