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“Once a reputation is ruined, there’s nothing left to lose” is by no means a guiding principle when it comes to good reputation management. This is particularly true when it comes to the internet, with its ability to quickly spread messages: Online reputation management (ORM) aims to make sure that the reputation of a company, person, or product always corresponds to the desired image. To do this, you need to recognise and evaluate current assessments by others in a timely manner and, ideally, influence their own reputation in the long term. The internet provides plenty of strategies for ORM to help you avoid a bad reputation. These allow you to react appropriately before you get involved in a PR nightmare. We elaborate on the technology of reputation management here and give tips about how you can improve your reputation management strategy.
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- What is reputation management?
- Why is reputation management important?
- Where does public opinion show?
- The mechanisms of reputation management
- Tips & Tricks: How reputation management for companies succeeds
- Tools for your reputation management
- Examples of good reputation management
What is reputation management?
Technically speaking, reputation management is just a subcategory of public relations (PR) developed into a slightly different discipline. In PR, the focus is on maintaining contact with the media and providing them with information and news that sheds the best possible light on your company. Typical means of a PR department are press conferences or press releases. But the internet has long been a medium in which one can no longer exactly distinguish between recipients and producers of content. Users on the internet don’t need a good network of news agencies and professionally designed PR texts to influence a company’s image. Using social media, they can quickly draft judgment on an existing message and share it in no time. If the comment finds sufficient resonance, the recipients can spread their own statements more quickly than most PR departments can react. This then becomes the task of social media reputation management.
Opinions of an organisation, person, product, or offer can be spread online in a variety of ways: Via blogs, blogs, social media comments, or evaluations on the respective portals and web stores, every user has the opportunity to comment. Individual comments, of course, don’t influence an entire reputation – but they can trigger an involuntary image change. This is why reputation management strategy should supervise as many channels as possible to be able to quickly react to any negative developments.
Reputation management is therefore about image communication: And since the image can certainly influence the value of a brand, reputation management plays an important role in the PR mix for companies. A good brand image usually has a positive impact on sales as well – so not paying attention to moods on the internet can result in the loss of reputation from one moment to the next.
Why is reputation management important?
Reputation management is used to ensure that a company’s image stays positive in the long term. It’s already intuitively clear that having a positive image is an advantage for companies – but what exactly is the advantage? In what areas is public opinion especially important for operation? From an economic point of view, a positive image or good reputation has the following benefits:
- Building more range: A good reputation gets around, and the best advertising is done by word of mouth. With a positive reputation, you can make your customers into brand ambassadors and attract more users to your online channels.
- Increasing sales: Range alone isn’t enough if it doesn’t lead to sales. A good reputation makes a boost in sales more likely, as customers will build trust in you and your brand. Good customer reviews for your products or services generate further interest.
- Recruiting: Drawing in new customers isn’t the only way that a good reputation helps: Reputation is a deciding factor in the competition for skilled workers. Positive comments about your company on the internet can also attract potential applicants to your vacancies.
- Market value: The reputation of a brand also influences its value. Investors are ultimately interested in how a company or a brand is received by the public.
Where does public opinion show?
Online, every user becomes a potential critic. Whether about a product, a service, or a brand: The probability that somebody has an opinion and is proclaiming it on the internet is pretty high. There are various possibilities online for this:
- Social media: The founding principle of sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr is that users can distribute their opinions and comments. The various social media platforms are consistently the trigger for viral movements, which can also be directed against companies.
- Forums: Although classic forums don’t usually have as much range as well-known social media channels, they still have a big influence on the online reputation of companies: Specialised forums often are full of like-minded people as well as experts on a specific topic. These users have a huge influence on each other and on the target group of the company in question. One such case is Reddit: On this website, which is a mix of forums and social media, enthusiastic fans and motivated experts meet. At the same time, the platform also has influence on the reporting of classic media.
- Evaluation portals: Yelp, TripAdvisor, or Trustpilot are all platforms created solely for the evaluation of companies and their offers. On these platforms, users give out rating points (or stars) and leave complimentary or critical comments. The ratings appear prominently in the Google search results, so they’re extremely important for reputation management.
- Shopping sites: If your company sells its own products online, then you also need to keep an eye on reviews from merchants like Amazon. Comments collected there can have a big influence on sales.
- Video portals: On YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion, or other alternatives, users can share their opinions on and experiences with brands and products. Videos enable a completely different approach to the subject of the discussion than a text: They freely tell of experiences – things that went wrong can be shown directly (for example, the design or functions of products). Many of these videos are staged in a humorous way – but also often have a critical, mocking tone.
- Blogs: Blogs are the place where people can extensively discuss or deal with a topic. In many cases, it’s just a discussion of their own state of mind. But the attentions of bloggers can also focus on brands, products, and services – especially if the bloggers in question are unsatisfied. Monitor the blogosphere and step in if there’s an emergency, as a single blog post can bring in an avalanche of criticism.
- Company websites: Under certain circumstances, your own company website, for example a company blog, may invite users to give their feedback. In principle, this is good! But consider as well that quick intervention for harsh or unsophisticated criticism is also required here. Customers that search for information on your website shouldn’t be directly confronted with a flood of negative reviews.
The mechanisms of reputation management
Reputation management has two major workspaces – one that is more passive, and the other active. A basic prerequisite for a good reputation is the tracking of user reviews – and in as many places as possible. On which portals of which websites are users giving their opinions on your company, brand, or products? The answer to this question, as well as the interests and wishes of customers, play a big role. It’s important to find out what the target group hopes of the company.
This shows how strongly ORM as well as PR or marketing strategies are linked. In all three areas, it’s essential that you know your target group. While the one part of reputation management has a lot to do with observation and analysis, the active part is dedicated to the construction of reputation. One way to do that, for example, could be through strong storytelling: An (emotional) brand story that can be distributed on all channels can help build a reputation or consolidate an existing one.
Both sides of reputation management work reciprocally and cannot be clearly distinguished from one another.
Social media optimisation
Before you start to monitor your reputation online, you should make sure that you’re present on the most important platforms. Two reasons speak for this approach: First, you’re only able to effectively track and react if you use the same portals as your target group. Second, to protect your brand name you need to assign accounts to your name before someone else does (the same goes for domains) You should choose account names that are as clear and simple as possible. If you appear on each platform with a different name, this confuses potential customers and decreases the recognition value of your company or brand.
What you definitely shouldn’t forget – and this goes for all social media marketing – is activity: A social media account is only worthwhile if it’s actively tended to. A neglected account throws a bad image on your entire business and provides an easy point of attack for critics. On the other hand, channels that are consistently maintained with active community management increase the chances that customers speak with you instead of about you. Contact with users is one of the most important pillars of social media reputation management. Another is finding the right amount: How many channels can you maintain well, taking into consideration the available time and resources?
The term “brand monitoring” refers to the observation of comments made about the brand, the products, or the company itself. With this, relevant sources are regularly checked. One side effect of this method is that you can also use it to detect trademark infringement: If somebody uses your protected terms or images in illegal ways, good brand monitoring will lead you to notice right away, so that you can take legal steps. But the actual goal of brand monitoring (in the sense of reputation management) is to gather information on how to talk about your company and its offers.
On social media, forums, blogs, and online news sites: If you’re marketing, the likelihood that people are talking about you is relatively high – and that is usually in your favor. Using brand monitoring, you can find out who makes what kinds of comments about your business. As part of social media optimisation and community management, you’re usually already on the network without it and can get a good overview of customers’ opinions that way. If you also want to set up social media monitoring, you can find out even more quickly when you’re mentioned on social media. Google Alerts can also be helpful: This service from Google shares with you when your defined terms (for example, your brand name) appear on the internet in a new form.
The so-called issue monitoring should yield essential information on how you can improve your reputation as part of online reputation management. With this type of monitoring, you observe the overall mood of the target group. But smaller opinions about brands and companies also play a role with issue monitoring – they can illuminate an overall image of community opinion. For example, you can determine how your customers stand on social and environmental issues. For this, observe mass media and influencers. A survey of your customers can also provide relevant insights.
The results of the monitoring can be used in two different ways for your reputation management: If you know what your customers really care about, then you can adjust your marketing to achieve an improved reputation. But the monitoring needs to continue consistently, because opinions and moods of customers can change. Further monitoring also serves to secure your reputation. Consistent observation allows you to register changes in public opinion quickly enough to respond.
Even if the buzzword is used too often now in the marketing industry, storytelling is an important instrument for building an image and sustainably influencing a reputation.
In principle, storytelling – as the name suggests – is nothing other than telling a story. But not telling a made-up story, fairy tale, or fable: Instead, you embed company culture, values, or future plans into an interesting story. Through storytelling you can even reach those users who don’t pay much attention to hard facts, but instead prefer the emotional form of communication. Give the information a context that excites, touches, or inspires your target audience. The use of images contributes to your storytelling’s emotional effect – ideally, you use a multimedia concept.
For reputation management, either pick up on an existing story or create a new one. It’s important, though, that you don’t run multiple different stories at the same time that dissent from one another or are markedly different in style. In the course of storytelling, you should develop a distinctive style and entirely unique type of storytelling, which you can build up as part of the ORM. The style and tonality of this story also needs to fit the style and manner with which you address your target group. This includes, for example, whether they deal with criticism rather humorously or seriously. Choose a style and approach to use with customers, and reach your target group through exciting stories.
A large part of online reputation management is working with the community. Since a reputation is built by the community, it only makes sense that you must take care of the community to maintain good reputation management. In some cases, reputation management overlaps with customer relationship management/complaint management and customer support.
You can proactively build a reputation in the community through convincing storytelling. But you also need to react appropriately when a customer from within the community approaches you with criticism. Develop a strategy on how to react to complaints that appear in a (semi)-public area such as a social media community. As many negative examples show, there are two approaches which are fundamentally wrong, and some of the responsible companies had to learn about painfully: Ignoring or firing back. Both will almost certainly annoy the community even more.
If criticism appears on social media – for example, as a post on your Facebook page – it’s best to react as quickly as possible and with the necessary seriousness. Many companies (for example, Disney) use the H.E.A.R.D. system for dealing with criticism:
- Hear: Listen to the customers when you have complaints. Show interest in your customers and convert a bad experience into a good one.
- Empathise: Show your critics that you can empathise with them and understand where their anger is coming from. Focus on the feelings of the customers rather than downplaying them.
- Apologise: Apologise – but obviously not just in general. Your apology should address the concrete point of the criticism, even if the error didn’t lie directly with you. After all, the anger is indirectly related to you.
- Resolve: Together with the customer, find a way to solve the problem. This doesn’t have to be done publically anymore: Move the communication to a private channel.
- Diagnose: Analyse the problem that caused the complaint and develop a strategy so that it doesn’t happen again.
Unfortunately, you can’t always do everything right. On the internet, everybody has an opinion: And it doesn’t matter whether it’s justified or not, as some kind of bad review will probably always show up somewhere.
In the first step, you responded to the negative comment or review, presented your view of the issue, and presented a solution or apologised if the user was angered by an error made by your company. Should the user continue to complain, in the rarest cases deleting the criticism can actually help: But normally, the internet community reacts allergically to censorship by an economic company. Trying to make negative comments disappear will almost certainly result in a flood of new complaints. But you can ensure that good content is found in the surrounding search results, and the negative reviews will be perceived less by users.
Users shouldn’t find such negative entries before they have read good reviews and positive feedback about your company. A bad review at a higher position in the Google search results is a reputational disaster, and indicates a flawed SEO strategy. Your own website and social media channels should always be displayed in the top positions when somebody searches for your brand. Positioning in the search engine results also influences your reputation: The first page of the Google results serves as a reflection of public opinion. So, with skilled search engine optimisation, you can make sure that positive reviews from Google are ranked higher than your web pages where negative reviews are found.
You haven’t done much with SEO before? There’s still time: Learn the basics of search engine optimisation.
Tips & Tricks: How reputation management for companies succeeds
There’s not one right way to obtain a good reputation online and on social media. Every company is different, and no situation is just like any other. But there are some fundamental tips that you should pay attention to for your online reputation management:
- Build up your online presence: If you already have channels on the internet (website, blog, or social media), then you can build your reputation using these as well as react quickly to criticism that shows up online.
- Set up monitoring: Listen when your target group converses. It doesn’t matter whether they’re talking about your company or discussing other topics: In this way, you can gather useful information.
- React quickly: Don’t ever hope that complaints about your company will just disappear on their own. React as quickly as possible before the negative mood develops its own dynamic.
- Take criticism seriously: Never give your critics online the feeling that their expressed opinions are wrong or unimportant. This only fuels their (possibly even irrational) anger.
- Don’t engage in discussions: Don’t fall into the trap and start a discussion. Even if you’re in the right, you will lose. Your goal is to convert negative moods as quickly as possible. A public dispute only adds fire to the unpleasant situation.
- Behave personally:Discussions between people is different than with a faceless organisation. Personalise your communication so that the critic also tries to practice more understanding.
- Learn from your mistakes: If you are constantly being criticised for the same thing, then good reputation management won’t help anymore. Instead, get in contact with your target group and explain that improvements are planned (of course, only if that’s the case), or at least explain why known issues aren’t being changed.
Tools for your reputation management
You won’t find any dedicated online reputation management tools on the internet – the scope of work in this area is simply too wide. But there are some tools that come from other areas (for example, social media marketing) and are great for use in ORM:
- Hootsuite: The classic tool for managing many profiles on different social media platforms all at once.
- Sysomos: With this fee-based platform, very effective social media monitoring can be run including numerous statistics.
- Klout: This service measures the (quantitative) impact of social media users and calculates the Klout score. This tool is therefore very helpful for identifying opinion-driven influencers.
- SocialMention: This search engine helps you find keywords (for example, your brand name) on social media and indicates the ratio of positive to negative entries.
- Google Alerts: This service from Google notifies you by mail each time your specified search terms show up in the Google search results.
Examples of good reputation management
The internet is full of so-called PR fails: Cases in which the PR department fails or falls short. Many of these situations could have been resolved without any problems with good reputation management. But in the following examples, the organisations handled everything well and reacted quickly and appropriately.
US Census Bureau
In 2010, the Census Bureau was exposed to massive accusations, but thanks to good reputation management they did not lead to any long-term reputation damage: The Bureau’s job is to take regular census counts and conduct surveys. To promote the work of the Bureau and increase the population’s willingness to participate in surveys, a 30-second commercial was shown during the Super Bowl. The advertising spaces during this transmission are known to be among the most expensive in the world. In this case, the cost was around 2.5 million US dollars. This led to a great outrage, as many saw the commercial to be a waste of taxpayers’ money. This negative view was supported by a tweet from Senator John McCain that reached his 1.7 million followers.
The US Census Bureau had a good monitoring system in place, though: The responsible staff members noticed the negative feedback right away and worked on a speedy response. Just a day later, a spokesman for the company was able to publish an answer on the company blog: In fact, it’s assumed that the advertising even saved money. The Bureau expected that because of the advertising clip, more US citizens would send back the questionnaires and so less staff would be required to collect them. Another day later, the director himself spoke out on his own blog. The Census Bureau also activated their own social media channels to distribute this message. This could return public opinion back in its favor.
This example is a way to see how important good monitoring and quick reactions are. The agency had already introduced all necessary mechanisms. Digital and traditional media were under constant supervision, accounts for the important social media platforms had been created, and there were additional blogs available for more detailed explanations. The US Census Bureau could react using these before negative voices took over.
The brand Loft, which offers clothing for women, was subjected to great criticism in 2010 on their Facebook page. To advertise a pair of their pants, the company posted pictures of a model in the pants on the firm’s own social media channel. Shortly afterward, numerous complaints came in from customers about the commentary function: The pants presented would only look good on tall and slim women (i.e., those with model dimensions). All other women wouldn’t look good in them: A complaint that many fashion brands surely get. But instead of ignoring the criticism or merely appeasing it, the company (Ann Inc. is behind the Loft brand) understood the complaint as an opportunity for good reputation management.
In the following days, Loft posted photos on their company profile of their own employees wearing the pants at the center of the controversy. These women had various body types and the photos weren’t professionally taken or edited. This quick and personal reaction reached customers so well that many of them commented favorably, even though they still didn’t find the pants to be well suited for the women’s figures. In the new comments, the users reacted positively to the fact that the company had taken their criticism seriously. Loft used reputation management to turn a potentially negative situation around and position itself as a company that reacts to the customers and their complaints humorously but appropriately.