Even though we’ve had more than enough time to get used to it and develop a mature attitude about it, in some sense, the internet is still a giant playground.
Businesses of all sizes and profiles can work on their reputation for years in all the right ways – through transparent operations; dedication to customer satisfaction; integrity and respect for their peers and even competitors, etc. however, all of the good will they laboriously earned can be destroyed, or at least completely obscured, by a single stupid joke, unfounded rumor that gains traction or a simple mistake. Of course, volatility of the internet can occasionally work in your favor. A piece of content you created can go viral and expose you to huge new audiences, at least temporarily. However, aside from providing a sizeable boost to your brand awareness, this doesn’t have to do much for you in terms of lasting and tangible improvement to how your brand is received.
In other words, even though more people will know about you because of your viral content, their opinion of your brand won’t necessarily be improved. On the other hand, a highly visible negative review of your brand could easily make a lasting impact on your reputation, with no actual fault on your part. The purpose of online reputation management (ORM) is to negate, or at least alleviate the effects of smear campaigns, negative PR, or unintentional, but still harmful misinformation. However, there is much more to it than just prevention or crisis management.
Finding your place
Online reputation management is not something that you should start thinking about when a problem arises. Not only because those problems are much easier to handle if you already have a plan and an infrastructure in place, but also because, like we mentioned, online reputation management is not a purely reactionary discipline. To put it simply, you shouldn’t only be working on your reputation when it’s under attack, it needs constant nurturing and guidance.
Whether you like it or not, the moment you create a brand and start promoting it, you started working on your online reputation. Actually, the entire process might start even sooner, i.e. from the moment you start defining your brand’s values and mission; identifying the audience you will be targeting etc.
This is why the initial step in the process of ORM is taking stock of your online assets and figuring out where you stand with respect to your audience, competitors and the market in general. It doesn’t matter how meticulously you may have planned out your promotional strategy, you can’t be sure how people will react to it. That’s why one of the main aspects of ORM is ensuring that you are as informed about the audience’s perception of your brand as you can possibly be, i.e. if someone is talking about you, you want to know what they are saying.
Brands with smaller audiences can keep up for a while by creating Google alerts for their name or running occasional backlink checks, but the more chatter about you there is, the trickier managing it gets. That’s when you start to realize the value of social mention monitoring platforms; dashboard solutions offering a comprehensive overview of the performance of your existing online assets online; CRM solutions which allow you to get indispensable direct feedback form your audience, and so on. In short, the first step in this process is ensuring that you’ll be the first to hear any chatter about your brand, and have systems in place to respond to it adequately. Naturally, this information is not only there to alert you of problems, but also helps you tailor your message and build your brand according to your audience’s values, preferences and expectations.
Standing your ground
Investing in brand monitoring processes means you’ll sometimes be able to identify potential issues before they get to escalate. However, the most critical blows to a brand’s reputation are rarely something that you would miss even if you were less than vigilant. For instance, a common example of this kind of urgent need for reactive online reputation management is when a small business with modest online presence gets coverage on a much more popular platform. This often happens with well-known business directories or review websites.
A local, small business cannot hope to have the clout of a site like Yelp, for instance, so even if they’ve provided nothing but impeccable service to their customers for years on end; if they get a bad score in this directory, they might just find themselves in a situation where that bad rating is the first thing that someone will see when looking up the business online.
It is in such cases that having a crisis plan is invaluable. Here are some of the things that a business in this position could do:
- Create links to their website with branded anchors to ensure better rankings
- Boost the visibility of their existing online assets whether owned (their blog posts, social media profiles, listings in other directories, etc.) or earned (favorable coverage of their brand by reputable publications)
- Directly approach the publication disseminating the false information and negotiate a more honest appraisal
- Appeal to legal authorities, in the most extreme cases of libel or defamation
The sum total
If you want to be the architect of your brand’s reputation, you need to listen to what people are talking about you, and have a structure that allows you to actually control the narrative.
While the benefits of this activity are most evident in times of crisis, online reputation management is a constant process, not just an interventionary measure, and it’s essential for the success of your brand for you to treat it that way.