By: Kimberly McCormick – Bayshore Solutions Corporate Marketing

Tips for Online Reputation Management

In the classic Western, an angry mob marches a hapless chap up to the “hanging tree”, shouting insults, shaking their fists and pitchforks, etc. Then a lone (cowboy/deputy/town librarian, whatever) gets the crowd’s attention, and passionately pleas for them to stop, be logical, or remember their humanity before they go through with it…So what does a good old-fashioned lynching have to do with Interactive marketing?

Customers are engaging online sources, especially social media, to help them form an opinion of your company/brand and often to help them decide on a “Buy” decision for your product or service.  And if you are not on top of your online reputation, then literally your brand reputation is subject to “mob rule”.

Unfortunately, the anonymity that many Internet venues afford becomes a great shield to fling anger and stories from – then hide behind.  ABCCompanysucks.com and other rant sites definitely exist online, as well as less-than-positive comments (and outright attacks) about your company /products/services.  So what do you do to quell these?  Ignore them? No.  Fight Fire with Fire? Not always a good choice.  Then what can you do?

Here are a few pointers on how to keep your online brand conversations on a positive note.

1) Join the crowd in order to influence them – Participate in Relevant Social Communities.

Google your company name/products and find out where the conversations about you are taking place – then become a part of that social media community. This approach takes a little investment of time, but you need to become a contributing member of a group (not just spreading “marketing messages”) to be given credence when you speak (or write in this case).

As a conversation occurs about your product/service or brand you are in a great position to step forward, introduce yourself and offer to speak in person with someone to genuinely address their issues; and to offer facts, insights and expertise when there are questions.  By being a resource genuinely interested in assisting your fellow community members, you can be a great brand advocate.

2) Don’t add fuel to a fire.

If you find you are dealing with a rant-site that is on the attack, you may naturally want to add positive comments to countermand the negative ones. However this only adds more content weight to that site for the Search engines. Put your efforts into a social media strategy of contributions in legitimate social media communities and into content development such as case studies, customer success stories, and optimized media releases that boost the positive about your brand, and catch placement attention on the Search Engine Return Pages (SERPs).

Here’s another tip when faced with these rant-sites – Follow the money.  Look and see if that site offers banner or text Ads (many do).  This shows that some astute, though questionably scrupled, businessperson has discovered a way to get a number of people who are disgruntled about something (and typically protected by anonymity) together with online advertising offered to those people (a nice little revenue stream).  The purpose of the site is obviously not to address issues and create solutions.  If you are not able to identify or communicate directly with someone who has a complaint, then how much desire do they really have to arrive at a solution?  Engaging on that “turf” is rarely going to heal your brand, but it will add content and fodder for the advertisers and owners of that site to benefit from. You energies are better spent engaging in other relevant communities and developing the content to feed the search engines as mentioned above.

3) Swallow the Crow, Smile and Move Forward.

Human nature naturally slams up our defenses when we feel attacked.  Though difficult and not very tasty, it is eminently much better to really listen to a customer’s complaint, see the situation from inside their moccasins, admit your mistake, and start a dialogue toward solution. If this happens out in the open, for example through the comments area to your company blog, or a social community forum, it showcases your company and brand’s sincerity – and hopefully the win-win solution.

4) Connect to 3rd Party Credentials

Accrediting organizations that vouch for your brand are handy and weighty in reputation management.  For example, the Better Business Bureau offers accreditation (that does include passing an ethics and best business practices inspection) that will allow you to display credentials on your website, as well as hot-link to your “report card” on theirs. (Such organizations are usually quite credible and trustworthy – thus, links with these add great relevant weight to your company with the search engines) Participation with organizations like this shows that you are open to discussing and resolving issues when they arise, and that you’re not afraid to open up your track record to inspection.

Maintaining a positive brand reputation online is a participative, iterative process that takes time and commitment.  These are just a few of the actions that can be taken, specific to your situation toward this end.  In this age of social media it is essential that your company be engaged and represented genuinely – and actively.

What are some Brand Positivity measures that have worked for you?

Kimberly McCormick is the Corporate Marketing Director for  Bayshore Solutions.

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