Top Secret: 3-Part Online Reputation Management Action Plan September 19, 2013
Before the internet, an unfortunately large number of companies built their businesses on exploiting consumers’ lack of information in order to make sales. Because corporations were the ones with the power and the resources, and there were only a limited number of media outlets distributing information to the public, they could control the flow of information so that their prospects only knew what the company wanted them to know in order to make a sale.
Fortunately for consumers, those days over.
Thanks to connections enabled by the Internet, now anyone with a data plan can access volumes of information about anything they’re planning to spend time or money on before they make a decision. Using everything from review sites like Yelp and Rate My Professor, to pages that share coupon codes for online sales like Retail Me Not, to everyday social networks like Facebook and Twitter, consumers have been empowered to always make educated choices about who they choose to do business with.
The business model of exploiting uninformed prospects for sales has been permanently broken by the internet, and the companies that relied upon it for making a sale now have two choices: adapt or die. Even businesses that weren’t deliberately taking advantage of uninformed customers have needed to adapt to the new behaviors consumers have in the post-internet era of social media. Because prospects now turn to their computers and smart phones before making all but the smallest purchases and decisions, it’s become more important than ever for companies to manage their online reputation.
Here is a three-part action plan that we developed for you to use as a blueprint for developing your own company’s basic online reputation management strategy. And when you’re ready move from the minor team to the big leagues shoot us an email, because as you’ll see from our testimonials there’s no one better than The Link Builders when it comes to online reputation management for companies who value their brand and understand how important it is to invest in protecting and expanding its reputation.
The first step in developing an online reputation management plan is setting up a system to monitor conversations that mention your company and topics related to your field. If you don’t know what people are saying about you, and where these conversations are happening, you won’t have the first clue about where the opportunities are for optimizing your company’s online reputation.
Not having a monitoring system is like a military general trying to prepare for war without a map of the battlefield — good luck with that.
You need to think of your online reputation management plan like a military campaign. As you’ll see in the next two steps, part of your plan will be about taking the offensive, and part of it will be about defending yourself — just like in a military encounter. But without first having an accurate map of the terrain you wouldn’t have a chance at developing an effective strategy.
There are plenty of ways to monitor your company’s online reputation. Google Alerts used to be the handiest free tool for keeping track of what people were saying about your brand online. But since it doesn’t perform nearly as well as other tools on the market, you’ll have to find a replacement. Venture Beat has a list of 7 options that range from free tools to expensive high-end services. Depending on the size of your company you can pick the one that’s right for you. You can also use tools like HootSuite to monitor and manage your reputation on social media.
However you decide to set up your tracking system, you want to make sure that you are getting information from across the web. You want to know about reviews on sites like Yelp and Amazon if your product is there. You want to know about forum posts and blog mentions. You want to know about coverage in the press. You want to know about videos or podcasts that are published. You want to know about your search results and rankings for your top keywords. You want to know about social media.
That may seem like a lot of places to check, and for a small company with limited resources it definitely is a lot of work, so you also want to be smart about it. There is so much information on the internet that you’ll never be able to monitor everything. If you can’t be everywhere, you need to prioritize the most important places that drive consumer opinion for your industry and focus on those first. Once you’ve got your primary sources of information under control you can expand to monitoring your secondary ones.
So now that you have your map of the battlefield in place, the first thing you need to do is set up your defensive perimeter. If you can’t protect your brand from the spread of negative information, it will be difficult if not impossible for your company to survive. It’s a law of marketing that it’s always cheaper to sell more to an existing customer than to acquire a new one, so if your reputation is vulnerable to attack not only will you begin hemorrhaging existing customers to competitors, that negative sentiment will also prevent you from attracting new ones as well.
The first way you can defend yourself is by working to reduce the encounters that cause customers and prospects to react negatively towards your brand. You want to have a feedback loop between the people who manage your online presence and the team that runs your company’s operations. If there are any trends in the complaints about your brand, the reputation management team should pass that information along to the operations team so they can fix the source of the problem to make those complaints go away.
However, even if you work hard to eliminate common sources of displeasure, there will still be issues that arise with customers who encounter those problems before they are fixed or customers who have other isolated issues.
Fixing common problems helps you prevent future negative sentiment, but you still have to deal with the customers who already had the negative experience.
To address these situations, you need to empower your reputation management team to be able to somehow compensate customers who have a problem. For example, you can create tiers of “make good” packages that your reputation management team can use in various circumstances.
Let’s say your business is an online service. For people who encounter a minor bug or problem, your lowest tier of a “make good” response could simply be an email from the development team that shows the problem has been logged and is in the queue to be fixed. This shows the customer you care about their experience, and even though the issue is small you’re working to fix it for them. For intermediate problems you could give the customer with the complaint credit for a free month of whatever level of service they currently purchase. And for catastrophes you could give them six months or a year of your premium service for free.
It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it changes the customer’s opinion from something negative, like “this company has a terrible product and doesn’t care about me as a user,” to something positive that expresses loyalty to your brand, like “sometimes things go wrong, but this company cares about me and is willing to make up for it so I want to continue doing business with them.”
The opinions of individual customers matter because they are what influence review sites and social media posts about your company. One unhappy customer probably won’t destroy your brand, but if you continually upset people then those feelings will eventually make their way onto sites that collect consumer opinion and it won’t be good for your business. This is why it’s also important to monitor these repositories of consumer information and defend yourself from any with a negative position on your company.
One of the most important places to monitor is search results, since search engines are usually the first place someone will go to gather information about a company.
You need to defend your company from negative opinions on the first few Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) at all costs. Do everything you can to raise the status of positive mentions about your company, and bury anything negative. This requires fairly advanced Search Engine Optimization tactics, which is another expertise we have here at The Link Builders, and it’s part of why our online reputation management services are so effective. If you can do this well, then customers searching for your company will see plenty of positive posts about your brand and will have to dig to find anything negative.
More than 2,500 years ago Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War “The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.” The same principle holds true in managing your online reputation. If you implement the second step of this action plan, your brand will be in a good position to at the very least maintain its current level of success. Once you’ve done that, then you look for opportunities to win over new prospects and grow your customer base without jeopardizing the security you worked so hard to create.
One of the best ways to do this is simply looking for customers unhappy with your competitors and providing them with a compelling offer to switch to your company. You can set up the monitoring system you created in step one to look for negative comments about your competition, and then have your reputation management team reach out to those people to persuade them to switch.
Let’s look at compelling example of this strategy in action.
One of my friends travels a lot for work. She easily spends five figures on flights each year. She’s the kind of frequent flyer that airlines build their businesses on.
For a long time she flew on Continental, and then they were bought out by United. She continued to use United, but the negative experiences she had continued to mount until one day she finally reached the limit for what she could tolerate.
That’s when following exchange occurred on Twitter:
Look what happened here:
First my friend (whose first name you can tell is Krista from her user name) wrote to United about her terrible experience. Their monitoring team failed to register this problem, and they didn’t fortify their defenses, otherwise they could have responded to her complaint and tried to save the relationship. Then Krista posted to two competitors and said her business was up for grabs. American Airlines saw an opportunity to go on the offensive and pounced, even mentioning her by name in their tweet to her. Their proactive response got my friend’s attention, and got American the lion’s share of her huge airfare budget from that point on.
Now that you have the basic steps for creating an action plan to manage your online reputation, it’s time for you to execute on it. And remember, we’ll be here for when you decide it’s time to invest in your brand’s reputation by hiring a professional team to manage your company’s presence online, protect it from negative attacks, and pounce on opportunities to convert new business. Just shoot us an email and we’ll show you how we can help you graduate from beating your friends at Risk to winning a war against Napoleon.0