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Word-of-mouth is not what it used to be. Just 10 years ago, upset customers or raving fans could spread their opinion about your business only to their family, friends, neighbors and work colleagues. Now, thanks to social networking and the infinite publishing power of the Web, customers can share their rants and raves instantly with a worldwide audience.
In such a connected world, your online image is everything. And if your online image is tarnished, performing the following key business functions will become much more difficult:
- Marketing: Ongoing demand generation is critical for growing your business. If your Google results are soured with negativity when prospects search for your business, you will see your lead generation pipeline dry up.
- Selling: With your marketing and demand generation waning from your negative online image, your sales will start to tank as well. Prospects will not want to do business with you, and customers may get spooked and look for another company to work with.
- Recruiting: You need a great team of employees for your company to be successful. If your online image is tarnished, the rock-star employment candidates may want nothing to do with you.
- Financing: A negative online image may make raising capital more difficult. Investors and creditors have integrated online research into their due diligence processes. If your search results look iffy, those much needed dollars will be harder to come by.
Now that you know why having a positive online image is so important, let's put in place a brand-monitoring strategy to track and enhance your online image.
What should you monitor?
Begin your brand-monitoring strategy by identifying the brand phrases that you want to track. Identify the phrases that represent your company so you can monitor the positive or negative statements about them. Those brand phrases will often include the following:
- Company name
- Brand names
- Product names
- Key executive and employee names
- Taglines and mottos
Keep in mind that you are on the lookout for disgruntled employees or upset customers, so include negative modifiers such as "sucks," "rip off," "scam" and "fraud" with your brand phrases.
You may also want to apply a similar process for competitive intelligence purposes. If so, supplement your list of brand phrases to monitor with the following:
- Competitor company name
- Competitor brand names
- Competitor product names
- Competitor key executive and employee names
- Competitor taglines and mottos
- Important industry keywords
How will you monitor?
Once you know what brand phrases to monitor, put a monitoring process in place. Active brand-monitoring will help identify a communication crisis from its start, providing ample time to react and take action. You can do that manually by performing Google searches on a regular basis to monitor your image. But there are several monitoring tools that can make it easier: Google Alerts, Social Mention, Hootsuite, Klout, Twitter Search, Viralheat and Sprout Social.
Once you have the right monitoring tools in place, set up a reasonable process for managing the tools that are managing your reputation. You can easily go overboard if you check on them all day long, so set aside a realistic block of time each day and stay disciplined.
How will you respond?
The next step is to create a plan for responding to mentions and improving your online image. The following five ideas will help you get started.
1. Publish good content via social media and online public relations. One of the best ways to prevent a negative online image is by actively spreading a positive one. Apply online public relations tactics to publish educational content (e.g., articles, press releases, whitepapers, videos, presentations) on relevant websites and social networking groups that focus on your area of expertise. This "good" content will bubble up as people perform searches.
2. Monitor your mentions and feedback to determine whether they are positive or negative. This step is where the tools mentioned earlier become invaluable. Is a customer complaining about the quality of a product or service? Is a disgruntled employee ranting about working conditions? Is a customer requesting a product or service enhancement? Determine the sentiment of mentions, and prioritize them based on the risk to your reputation.
3. Create a response plan. Create a response plan to deal with each mention that requires your attention. Based on the severity of the mention, determine an acceptable turnaround time. Also, determine the proper channel of communication for your response. Should you communicate via your blog, Twitter account, Facebook page, direct email or all of those channels together?
4. Execute like a professional. Do not get emotional, angry or defensive. If you respond defensively when your feelings are hurt, you may make the situation worse. Involve trustworthy colleagues in the response loop. Run your response by them to make sure it will help your cause rather than hurt it.
5. Listen. You just might learn something. Make sure you listen carefully to each mention and keep track of feedback trends. If customers are continually complaining about the quality of your product or service, you may have a bigger problem on your hands than just a negative online image.
A brand is a terrible thing to waste. Make sure you actively manage your online image to ensure that you effectively compete as more and more business moves online in the future.
Bob DeStefano is a B-to-B online marketing strategist and professional speaker with more than 18 years of experience helping distributors and manufacturers leverage online marketing to produce bottom-line results. DeStefano is the endorsed online marketing consultant for many industrial trade associations and a faculty member of the University of Industrial Distribution.