Picture this. Over the last 25 years your company has done everything in its power to deliver quality services to its customers. You have ramped up your customer support teams, ensured a 24X7 inbound tele-marketing organization to address any client queries and concerns and even put your employees through extensive training on the importance and means to elicit client delight. However, despite your efforts, pesky bloggers emerge out of the blue and decide to make it their mission to tarnish your company’s reputation, sour your customers belief and break down everything that you and your organization have spent years building up, most importantly your reputation. Sounds all too familiar? Well if it does, this article will interest you and share with you a checklist to follow for web reputation.
For smart maintenance, let’s divide the steps in two phases:
Phase I, you will learn how best you can manage your company’s web reputation when playing offense
Phase II, will address our lucky peers who have not had to deal with an online reputation problem (just yet)
1. Know what you’re dealing with: You do not want to enter a battle blind. The first step is to figure out the lay of the land and understand what you’re dealing with. Use Search to get a sense of the issues and challenges you could potentially face but do not just search for your brand name. Deepen your search and intentionally look for something bad; add negative keywords like <brand name> + <problems/issues/challenges/sucks> to understand what people are really saying about you. Use a social listening tool like Sysomos, Radian6, etc. if you can and don’t get side-tracked - remember your focus is to look for dirt.
2. Profile the naysayers: Most often brands and agencies fall into the trap of immediately pushing out a response but history serves as evidence of just how bad things can get for brands without a proper, well thought out, response framework in place. It is crucial to keep in mind that the start of the exercise is not to chalk out what to say in such a situation but to gain a deeper understanding of who you are talking to. You need to understand your specific naysayer and articulate the right response that will connect with their situation instantaneously. A profiling exercise which is typically the cornerstone of an email marketing program needs to be built into this as well. The way you talk to a blogger vs. a consumer vs. an activist vs. a journalist will be different – and it becomes imperative to understand just why and how it differs.
3. Craft your response: While your response reaffirms the facts, taking into consideration the audience you are addressing, there are a few things you need to keep in mind in the way that you author it. To elaborate, make sure your response is simple and easy to understand, avoid using jargon and corporate lingo that might further infuriate your audience and ensure you are honest and have cross-checked the facts – the last thing you want are wrong facts being published, blowing the situation further out of control. It’s important that you refrain from ‘corporate speak’ and instead maintain a humane approach, speaking like an individual and showing empathy while remaining firm.
4. Publish and track progress: Once you get your point of view out, remember you don’t really have the final say when it comes to the World Wide Web. It’s important to ensure your team is constantly tracking the impact of your message that’s placed on the website or a social media channel and always, always have a plan B.
5. Protect your turf: Newer social properties are mushrooming every other year, providing customers and brands alike a platform to engage, making it important to ensure you have procured profiles pertaining to your key brand terms at the offset. Given that a lot of social content has the propensity to rank higher on search owing to speed and recency of updates, the last thing you want is someone else publishing spurious content using your brand handles. Have your agency create a list of all your social brand handles, old and new, on the web and share them with you periodically. Whether you choose to leverage those platforms for conversations with customers or not, it’s important that you own and protect them.
6. Create a search block: On average, close to 50% of your prospects discover more about your brand through search engines and this is why Forrester called search a discovery enablement tool. However, you must remember that what your audience sees in search is something you can exercise some control over. Make sure to leverage a cross system of social networks, brand owned websites and third-party publications to ensure that your customers see and read what you want them to. A well thought out social and search integrated program will address this for you.
7. Look for the signs: Don’t be on the back foot when it comes to your brands online reputation because sometimes a problem will strike when you least expect it. A few things to keep in mind when it comes to maintaining your brands reputation involves setting up Google alerts including a rich mix of brand terms, category keywords, solution keywords, etc. as this is one of the best ways to know if something is amiss. You can also leverage free social listening tools like Social Mention once a month to check the sentiment polarity of your brand because the moment the skew shifts to negative, you know you have reason to be concerned. Tracking direct traffic as well as brand led visits to your website will give you indication of a dip, which is something that you should explore further. Lastly, know your top 5-10 referral sites which are contributing website sessions and if the mix changes, find out why.
8. Build your fortress: The best and probably only way for you to manage your online reputation is to prepare well in advance. I am sure you are wondering how you can do that when you don’t really know the nature of a potential issue, correct? Don’t worry, because the good thing about the web is that anything that you put out there is indexed and therefore available to you till literally the end of time (if one wants to be dramatic about it). But seriously, there is a certain degree of permanency that is available on the internet that gives you access to information and knowledge pertaining to what other brands in your category, in your region or anywhere else in the world have had to face. Given that history is the best teacher, learn from the mistakes and success of others before you and use that knowledge to build out your fortress - a response management framework that works through multiple contexts, permutations and combinations arming you and your team with enough ammunition to manage anything that comes your way.
Although this is not an all conclusive guide and it may be that your specific context is different. These are some best practices, which I encourage my digital team at Gutenberg to follow. It guides us to help our clients with a certain degree of foresight and preparedness to survive with a good score in this digital age. Adopting them will ensure your brand is prepared to take on a potential battle against its online reputation, if and when the need arises.
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