True story: In 2006, as the keynote speaker was delivering their high powered speech at a tech conference in Japan, a Dell laptop suddenly burst into flames. Pictures and video footage of the burning computer became viral overnight and spread like wildfire across the internet. Thousands of bloggers started bashing the company and demanding they apologize. In a matter of days, the company’s hard earned reputation and goodwill in the marketplace was in jeopardy as Dell issued the biggest product recall in computer history.
Michael Dell started his computer company in his dorm room and transformed it into a multi-billion dollar company. He spent years building his legendary empire and suddenly, the company’s reputation was at stake thanks to the power of Social Media.
Bad things Happen to Good Companies
The internet is filled with stories of companies and individuals whose reputations have been in ruins overnight. Honest businesses fall prey to manipulating competitors out to ruin them and steal market share in return. Many businesses have experienced, through no fault of their own, scheming competitors bad mouthing and spreading false rumors about them through social media. These days, the means to spread rumors about a business are many and as a result, it is imperative for businesses to proactively manage their online reputation.
In a recent client survey by Bazaarvoice, it was reported that the number one way consumers make a decision to buy a product or service is through online reviews and ratings. Online reviews are not just for sites like Amazon or Yelp. Today, a customer can research a product or service just about anywhere including blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and of course, within the dreaded search engine result pages. As such, business owners need to ensure that their company reviews are clean. By clean, I mean over 90% of reviews for your products and services should be positive. Of course, every now and then you will have that rogue customer who is not satisfied with your product or service and even though you may have gone the extra mile to satisfy him or her, it just didn’t cut it for them. But that’s the cost of doing business.
Reputation Management online is not as tough as one would imagine and can be broken down into four solid pieces. Monitor, Listen, Respond and Amplify. Let’s look at each one of them:
Monitoring your Reputation:
The starting point of online reputation management requires businesses to begin proactively monitoring conversations happening about their brand. Automated keyword searches can quickly reveal the topics and themes that customers (and competitors) are talking about. Companies often feel overwhelmed in the beginning due to the large volume of content on the internet. But proper configuration and tweaking of keywords can help tremendously. Let me give you an example. Discover Financial Services, simply known in the market as Discover, should not set up a keyword search like “Discover.” I’m sure you can you imagine the amount of content that would be delivered against this word Discover! Reputation monitoring can overwhelm a company if not done right.
Listening to your Customers:
In this critical piece of online reputation management, a business needs to separate the noise from the real conversations taking place on social media about their products or services. The real conversations can be separated into two distinct categories; those that are actively talking about your business, and those that may warn of a storm on the horizon. The latter category requires you to listen carefully and diffuse the storm before it gains strength. Most social media managers categorize and separate these conversations into those that need “immediate attention” and those that require “active listening.” This allows them to be prepared and to strategize ways to diffuse the situation before the conversation turns into an ugly rant against their brand. Listening requires a careful plan of action with a fine balance between coming across as over protective and defensive and simply monitoring your reputation.
Responding is an Art:
Effectively responding and diverging crises is an art. You don’t want your communication to sound like a well honed PR message. People complain on social media channels because they are not satisfied, and they are usually hoping for a resolution. Always be sympathetic, and put yourself in the customer’s position. This does not mean that you should allow a customer to take your brand hostage while they are ranting against your company. However, responding means first analyzing what went wrong and how you can make it right. Most large companies follow a certain set of processes to ensure that they are responding to customer complaints on social media in a fair manner. These set processes can be setting up special email groups, hiring additional employees in the customer resolution area, and coming up with special offers to win these customers back.
Amplify your Wins:
I have seen many companies go to great lengths to satisfy an angry customer on a social media platform. It is not uncommon for complaining customers to receive complimentary gift certificates, free services, heavy discounts, you name it, in response to their public complaints. At the end, both the customer and company are happy and all is forgotten.
A very critical piece that companies often neglect is to amplify the positive actions the company took to satisfy the angry customer. Traditional customer service folks are not trained on how to amplify positive remarks. This onus typically falls on the social media managers to let the world know that your company goes great lengths to satisfy their customers. Amplification of positive experiences with your brand or services goes a long way in the social media world. This amplification is not just leaving a comment behind but finding strategic, meaningful ways to communicate to the rest of the world. This is the art of social media.
These are just some of the high level strategy pieces that a company can employ to manage their online reputation.