"Today, one bad experience might cost you a hundred, maybe a thousand customers. Because of this, social media has irrevocably shifted the role of customer service from an easily outsourced, back-office function to one of an organization's most important tactical assets.
~Oliver Blanchard, Author of Social Media ROI
Your brand has never been at greater risk than it is at this moment. And, that risk grows not by the day, but by the minute. That's not hyperbole.
You invest thousands of dollars, perhaps millions-and untold hours-building precious brand equity, that can be literally unraveled in minutes. A single negative Tweet, Facebook post or YouTube Video can race across humanity and burn down a brand with blinding speed. We've seen it time and again with vaunted brands from Amazon to Zappos. They have all the resources in the world to put out fires, and they could not even begin to contain the tsunami-like brand revolts against them. Consider this video that has garnered over 10 million views and will continue to damage the United brand, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year...for the rest of time.
And, don't think the risk to your brand exists only from the outside. Someone who works for your company can post what they believe to be an innocuous comment that can inflict terrible damage on your brand.
That is why brand monitoring and online reputation management has become such an important component of social media. A few bad posts on Yelp, Amazon, Facebook or a mom blog-without your engaging in the conversation-could seriously hurt your bottom line. People simply won't do business with you. Virtually every study shows that people trust peer recommendations orders-of-magnitude more than they trust corporate marketing. In other words, the consumer now holds the cards.
The ability to hear what everyone is saying about your brand online is unprecedented-and a dream scenario for any company.
It is said that every dissatisfied customer will tell ten friends about you, and every satisfied customer: maybe two. As review sites and "complaints boards" become more pervasive, an unhappy customer's comments can reach hundreds, even thousands. These websites elevate everyone's influence-and reach. People will never give back that power, which is social media is never "going away."
Online reputation management is critically important, but relatively simple to develop. It requires three things: planning, proactive listening-and a clear and well-defined response mechanism.
Here are five actionable insights that can help you build a cohesive, effective brand management strategy:
You may have spent millions on branding, website design and corporate communications, but these efforts pale next to the hundreds of millions of people sharing ideas and opinions in social media. They are talking in public about companies-and in doing so, they are defining brands.
Put your ear to the ground and start listening to what people are saying. Not doing this because you are "afraid of what you'll find" could be the death knell of your business. To move from good to great, you must face brutal facts and improve that which needs improving. Be unwavering on this. Perform searches for your company on the main social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIN. What are people saying? Is it accurate? Don't get defensive if you find something negative. In fact, those can be valuable business insights. If a blogger laments the poor workmanship or customer service of your irregular pants business, don't ask: "How can we get rid of this post? Ask: "Are they right? What can we do to fix it?" Then fix it and let them know you're fixing it. I also advise against leaning too heavily on technologies for online reputation defense and "sentiment analysis." I speak from personal experience: At the time of this writing, even the very best technologies miss critical posts, misjudge "sentiment"-and lack the "human element" so important to effective brand management. Your brand is too important to leave to chance. Put human eyes on this stuff.
You cannot control the conversation, but you can be part of it. If someone posts something negative about your brand, even if it's not accurate, others will pile on in a mob-like fashion. For every moment you allow that to continue, you risk permanent damage to your brand.
Gone are the days when you can issue a press release to respond to crises-and be done with it. "Corporate statements" are now not only largely ineffective, they can be counterproductive. If I were advising Tiger Woods during his fall from grace, I would have silenced his attorneys and PR firm people, who made things worse. I would have sat Tiger down, showed him how Twitter works and instructed him to to be honest, admit his mistakes and tell people what he was doing to make things right. From a communication standpoint, it would be a win. Tiger's Twitter page would likely have trumped the media coverage, and Tiger would have been able to influence the conversation. It might have salvaged a few of his sponsors. More than that, it would have salvaged his reputation.
You can turn your most vitriolic critic into your most vocal evangelist if you have humility and listen. Remember: social media is not a media. It's not marketing. It's not PR. It's a human relationship. Treat it as such, and your brand management strategy will be more effective than most.
As Oliver Blanchard says in Social Media ROI: "Never get defensive, never take attacks personally, and never allow yourself to be drawn into an argument. Present the facts calmly and professionally, monitor the impact of your activities on topics relating to your brand and overall sentiment, and either press on with your response or move on."
Do the Right Thing
When you engage in social media, be honest and have compassion. You may be managing social media for a major corporation, but you're a person-and the person on the other end of that problematic post is a person. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it. Offer to fix it-and then, do it. It's not good for business; it's great for business. Bring "old school" to "new media."
Shakespeare aptly summed up effective brand monitoring and reputation management: "Mind your speech a little lest you should mar your fortunes."
An effective online reputation management strategy is not something you can put off until tomorrow, because consumers are defining your brand online-today.