One of the hottest topics that transcends the public relations, social media and search marketing worlds is online reputation management. Search engines are fantastic for finding things. They're also a significant contributor to influence online. Blogs, forums, social networks and media sharing sites all offer venues for customers to express their opinions about brands - good and bad.
The influence of search visibility as well as word of mouth on social media sites (the social web) is too significant for companies with any kind of brand equity to ignore. Lucky for readers of this blog or those you pass it on to, there are two upcoming opportunities to learn in depth about how to tackle online reputation management.
I'll get to those opportunities in a moment, but first I'll offer some context for why this is such an important issue.
There are plenty of CEOs, executives, brand and business managers that are facing the dilemma of what to do about their company and brand reputation online. Some have been oblivious and have no real idea what customers and the marketplace are saying about their brands. Some are dealing with motivated dissenters blogging about negative issues and soliciting followers. Yet others are experiencing another kind of energetic consumer - evangelists.
Dealing with each situation is different and from conversations I've had will companies and other digital marketing consultants, most companies have no idea what to do. Online Marketing Blog has outlined the key considerations for dealing with search and online reputation management issues in the past which is a good primer. Judging by the growth rate of the social web (Facebook 10 million new users per month) in terms of adoption and new social communication/connection tools, the effect of social media on corporate, brand and even consumer reputations is not going away anytime soon.
Companies like Kryptonite Locks, Comcast, Dell, Walmart and Sony have all experienced what it's like to ignore the influence of the social web and the subsequent effect on how their brands are reflected, both in the search results and within social media channels. These are classic examples that have been well documented, which is one reason why they persist in the search results. Some like Dell and Comcast have learned and acted on their observations, becoming case studies for how companies can engage customers on the social web.
Any company publishing content online or that has customers engaging with content online (producing, interacting or just reading) is a candidate for an online reputation management effort. That covers just about every company in business, don't you think?
Don't wait until somebody decides to launch a "yourbrandsucks.com" site because by the time a web site ranks well in the search results for your company's brand names, you'll be hard pressed to compete. It's possible and will take both time and expense. It's much better to be proactive about your online reputation management.
As with all things involving social media, the first step is listening. To find those dissenting and evangelizing customers early on and before they have a major impact, it's impotant to implement a social media monitoring effort. This also includes monitoring search results on different types of search engines. There are plenty of tools to do this ranging from Google Alerts to Trackur to Radian6.
In the course of listening, those opinion makers and their followers will become evident and the task of qualifying current and future influentials will be an important next step. Some companies have enough community management staff to address nearly every concern they come across. A great example is what H&R Block and Zappos are doing by listening on Twitter.
Dissenters can be engaged by customer support staff and evangelists are often engaged by marketing staff. Other situations might necessitate legal, PR or product experts. The process of listening, qualifying and engaging opinionated customers online presents tremendous learning opportunity for companies that want to champion communicating on the social web.
A SEO-centric and proactive approach to search repuation management involves monitoring both search listings and social media, optimizing and promoting content in more locations than just your own domain name, analyze the effect of your efforts and refine as necessary.
You might be reading this and thinking this is all fine and good, but you really want to sink your teeth into the topic with some actionable advice and a clear plan on what to do next. Lucky you, there are two such opportunities coming up quickly that will offer examples, tools and advice.
From a search perspective, there's WebmasterWorld Pubcon coming up next week, where Andy Beal of MarketingPilgim / Trackur, Ted Murphy of IZEA, Jessica Berlin of Cirque du Soleil and myself will be presenting on a panel called "Reputation Monitoring and Management". There we'll deal with the SEO aspects of reputation management along with monitoring and how SEO and PR can be used as a proactive measure in dealing with reputation issues within search.
The second opportunity to learn more about online reputation management comes in the form of a workshop called, "Social Media Smarts" in New York December 4th & 5th. The DMA has partnered with TopRank Online Marketing to offer an intensive introduction to the world of social media from a marketing perspective including advice and case studies dealing with online reputation management issues. Visit the DMA social media seminar site for more information on the workshop.
I hope to see you at one of these two events and for those that have urgent questions please comment or email and I'll connect with you. Also, I'm always looking for good social media case studies. If you have a great story with references I can point to online, please share in the comments.
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