One of the hottest topics that transcends the public relations, social media and search engine 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.
There are plenty of CEOs, brand managers and even small business owners specialists who are facing the dilemma of what to do about their company’s brand reputation online. Some have no real idea what customers 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 many companies simply do not know where to start. Judging by the growth rate of the social Web 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 any time soon.
Companies, such as Kryptonite Locks, Comcast, Dell, Walmart and recently Motrin, have experienced what it’s like to feel the negative influence of the social Web and the subsequent effect on how their brands are perceived, both in the search results and within social media channels. Dell is one company that has listened and learned, enabling it to strengthen customer relationships and define for the industry how to engage online reputation issues.
With anything new, there is always a first step. With reputation management, the first step is listening, which allows companies to find those dissenting and evangelizing customers early on before they have a major impact. There are plenty of tools to do this, ranging from free: Google Alerts and tweetbeep.com to paid services like Trackur.com which starts at $18 per month, depending on your needs.
Once a listening effort is under way, companies can begin to better understand what conversations are taking place and identify sources who are credible and those that are not. Understanding what you’re up against goes a long way toward developing an online reputation management plan.