Just Google “Dell Hell” and you may never buy a Dell computer again. Just search “Kryptonite lock” into Google and one of the first listings is a video that demonstrates how to how to pick a $95 Kryptonite lock With a Bic Pen. Just search your company’s name plus the word “sucks” and you may be appalled by the results. While you are at it, just Google your own name and hope that people like you.
Unfortunately, most consumers are reluctant to give complements, but they love to complain. The Internet empowers consumers with new user-generated content sites that enable them to speak their mind anonymously and they do: More than 40% of all social networkers said they use social media to learn more about brands or products, and 28% said a “friend” has recommended a brand or product to them through social sites.
So why is this important? Peer reviews are more respected and trusted than expert reviews. Consumer Reports has lost its luster and consumers are turning to social shopping to shape their buying decisions. The popularity of Yelp! Amazon, Ebay and TripAdvisor are the proof in the pudding. Negative feedback in these channels can be lethal to any company, but a positive reputation can be the driver of explosive sales as word-of mouth endorsements become viral and organic.
So, how can you maximize social shopping and protect your reputation at the same time? There are many solutions, but may be to turn to the experts. BusinessWeek recently ordained the online reputation management field as an industry. Reputation management firms are popping up everywhere that purport that they protect and manage your reputation online. Here are some service providers that have built proprietary systems to monitor and manage your reputation.
While all of these companies claim to deliver the best results, their methodology is inherently flawed. Their systems are weak on the upfront information gathering and the social media monitoring phase. How can you know that there is a perception problem if you can’t adequately monitor Internet? The best social media and Internet motoring platform in existence is Google. It is no secret that Google’s search platform renders the most comprehensive results. On the contrary, the new upstarts base their monitoring efforts, not on Google search results, but rather on their own proprietary search technology. As a result, they are not able to capture all of the “chatter” being said about your brand and are not seeing the entire picture. Meanwhile disgruntled consumers continue to harm your hard-earned reputation. In addition, these “reputation defenders” charge a pretty penny for their service- in some cases making it cost-prohibitive to get in the game. While their platforms layer in value-added intelligence and analysis to their findings, such as, sentiment, reach, passion, strength, they lack a key component to any successful reputation management program: crisis communications. One could argue that PR firms experienced in crisis management are best positioned to handle these issues. After all, who is better positioned to use words to turn a sour grape into fine wine?
Revisiting Google, we have found that combining Google Alerts with a RSS reader generates the most comprehensive results and most effectively monitors online conversations. The first step is to conduct a thoughtful keyword analysis that aggregates all of the keywords that drive your business. Be sure to complement these keywords with derivations like ”sucks”, “bad”, “expensive”, “broken”, etc.. to view what the naysayers have to say. In addition, you can complement your online reputation management with a few free sites that specialize in tracking social commentary. Try these on for size: Social Mention, http://www.yacktrack.com, http://www.keotag.com/ and www.whostalkin.com.
Taken in combination, you now have built a solid social media monitoring service. Now, that your platform is established, be sure to man the ship with an savvy communications captain that actively monitors the conversation, surfaces negative feedback to the right stakeholders and takes action to right the ship. Many companies find that their PR team is best suited to handle this function being intimately familiar with your brand and messaging platform. Be sure to select a firm with combined experience in crisis communications, SEO and social media monitoring.
So, now that you have sent the bots to scour the Internet and blogosphere for feedback on your brand, what do you do when they return negative feedback and vibes? You’ll have to stay tuned for Part II as we reveal the brass-tactics to dodge the mud balls and keep your reputation spick and span.