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Online Reputation Management: The New Brand Management?

When you’re considering your marketing goals and strategies for next year, where on the list does Online Reputation Management come into play?

If it didn’t make the list and/or you think it’s something that’s easily handled with some effective offline and online PR, think again!

Preserving your brand’s reputation online has become an immediate and pressing challenge. The explosion of social media (which amplifies the voices of Internet users) has created a forum that has the power to instantly elevate – or crush – a brand or company’s image perception. One negative comment that resonates with your customer base could undo years and years of careful brand management strategies.

It’s a pretty interesting cause and effect: As the amount of user-generated content on the Internet grew, it began to affect Internet search results, so not only is this information being published online, it’s delivered front-and -enter via search results. This, of course, led to the desire to change those results.

When you think about it, eBay was one of the first web companies to “exploit” feedback from consumer-generated media. By incorporating user-generated feedback ratings, buyers and sellers developed reputations that helped other users make purchasing and selling decisions.

A recent study from Pew Research Center confirms that Reputation Management has become a defining feature of online life: 57 percent of adult Internet users have used a search engine to perform a vanity search, and 46 percent of Internet users search online to monitor the digital footprints of others.

The study suggests that search engines and social media sites play a central role in building one’s reputation online, and many users are learning from and refining their approach as they go. They have begun to change profile privacy settings, customize who can see updates and delete unwanted personal information that appears online.

Examples of typical (and actual) reputation-at-risk situations: a pet store targeted by animal rights activists, or a stockbroker linked to decades-old Securities & Exchange Commission violations. It’s almost impossible to get such posts and pages taken down, but placing enough positive references above to push them off the first page or two of Google results is where Reputation Management comes in.

While many Reputation Management firms have emerged in the past few years, there are simple steps you can take to self-monitor your reputation:

  • Set up alerts with the major search engines and follow through to the links as the alerts are delivered.
  • Monitor social media sites, review sites, blogs and online forums using sophisticated monitoring programs and tools, such as Radian6.
  • Develop a corporate policy for responding to negative comments within 24-48 hours.
  • Respond appropriately (read: genuinely) to both positive and negative comments. You do not need to respond to every one but do try to address every negative comment.

Now there’s no excuse not to introduce Online Reputation Management to next year’s marketing plan. It could very well be the least expensive strategy to preserve and enhance your most valuable asset.

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