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Online Reputation Management

Managing Your Online Reputation

Written By: Fionn Downhill

Do you know what your customers are saying about your brand in the online world? How about your competitors? What about your ex-employees? The Internet and many Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, video sharing and online customer reviews, have provided just about everyone with the ability to create content and have it immediately available to whoever is interested. 

For businesses, it is vitally important to listen to what is being said, promote a positive image wherever possible and address any negative sentiment before it starts to affect brand perception, sales and the bottom line. People rely heavily on reputation before they venture into relationships, purchases and investments. Ensuring that the content available on the web accurately and positively reflects the value of your brand is the goal of reputation management in the digital space.

WHAT IS BRAND REPUTATION MANAGEMENT

Reputation management is about taking an active role in the perception of your brand.  It should be noted that you cannot control everything being said about your brand online, but by actively listening, participating in conversations with both fans and detractors, and promoting and distributing positively charged content you can better manage your brand’s reputation online.

People are increasingly using blogs, video, podcasts, images and customer reviews to gather information about your brand. This information may guide the decisions they make about the interactions they have with your brand. 

IMPACT

Perception is reality. If someone does a search for your brand in Google, what will they see? Hopefully, there will be a link to your website, but what if there is a link to a site that talks about a bad experience someone had, or worse yet, what if there was a video that showed how your brand caused harm to someone? Perception of the brand at that moment is probably pretty poor. And brand perception isn’t the only thing that will suffer. The following are all in danger too:

  • Sales
  • Recruitment
  • Intellectual Property
  • Investor Relations
  • Financials

So, how does one protect his/her/the brand’s reputation online?

PLANNING

First, establish a plan! Managing a brand’s reputation online requires proper planning. A well-planned brand reputation management program requires the identification of communities that have the largest and most vocal membership, ongoing monitoring, and active participation in these communities in order to promote a positive brand image and suppress negative sentiment. The following questions should be addressed during the planning session:

  • What is the purpose of the program?
  • Where are we going to focus our efforts?
  • How often will we be monitoring?  
  • Who is going to manage the program?

IDENTIFY

A new blog is created every six seconds. Many of those will not amass a large enough audience to worry about. But there will be a number of blogs and forums where there is a good-sized audience, which is particularly “engaged”.  Some ways to measure engagement include the number of pages viewed in a session or the amount of time the average visitor spends on the site. The more pages viewed and/or time spent on site, the more “engaged” that audience.  The social media space is made up of a lot of moving parts and can be daunting to try and control. Your efforts should be focused on those blogs, forums and sites that have the largest, most vocal audiences as these will be the places where conversations about your brand are most visible.

MONITOR

There are a number of tools available online that will provide you the ability to monitor your brand. Most of these tools scan the major search engines, blogs, forums and other social media outlets to record any mention of the terms or phrases you specify, such as the name of your company, product, service or key corporate executive. 

Most of the data that is provided by these brand-monitoring tools requires a human to analyze the results. The technology behind these tools is getting more intelligent and some even offer “tonal analysis”, which is the ability to determine whether a particular mention is positive, negative or neutral.  However, it is always recommended that a human analyze the data to determine the tone and intention of blog post or web site.

Based on the analysis of the data and the sites, blogs and forums that have been flagged as most important, you should categorize each mention of your brand according to the threat that it presents.  High risk threats might be those that require legal intervention such as sending a “cease and desist” letter, whereas low-risk threats might not require immediate attention.

ENGAGE – PROMOTE A POSITIVE BRAND IMAGE

A positive brand image online requires the creation, optimization and dissemination of content. This content can take many forms from articles to press releases to video. The point is – the more relevant and engaging content you can generate and distribute that puts your brand in a positive light – the easier it will be to control the visibility of your brand and deal with negative sentiment if it pops up.

In addition to creating, optimizing and distributing content make sure your website is optimized to allow the search engines to find the content within your site. This allows for the content to be indexed and displayed when people search for your brand or company’s offerings. Besides being accessible, the content on your site should also be enabled to allow for your visitors to bookmark, email and submit your content to sites like Digg and De.Licio.us. These sites allow people to “vote” for content they feel is important and worthy of others attention.

Below are some additional ideas to promote a positive brand image online.

  • Articles and White Papers
  • Press Releases
  • Video/Podcasts
  • Photos and Graphics
  • Social Network Profiles

ENGAGE – SUPPRESS NEGATIVE SETIMENT

By promoting a positive image using some of the ideas described above, you can create a solid foundation to work from if negative sentiment begins to appear. There are some additional steps that can be taken in order to push down websites and blogs that have some “not so nice things” to say about your brand:

  • Paid search for quick visibility
  • Court the influencers
  • Address negative reviews
  • Link to positive content
  • Purchase domain name variations

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE

The key to successful reputation management is persistence and a dogged determination to maintaining positive brand perception in the online space. By identifying the social media outlets that are most active, monitoring the conversations that exist around your brand and proactively engaging both fans and critics in open and honest dialogue, you can effectively manage your brand’s online reputation.

 

Fionn Downhill is the CEO of Elixir Interactive, a national digital marketing agency.

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