Online reputation management (ORM) is one of the more misunderstood terms in the world of digital marketing. So don’t worry that you’ve found yourself on this blog post, you’re far from the first person with questions on this subject. ORM has been mistaken to exclusively mean a number of things from social media management to online public relations, or something else entirely.
Many people don’t even understand how critical ORM is to their business’s reputation and, ultimately, sales and revenue. Hopefully this post will clear up an important truth for your business no matter its age or size: Everyone has an online footprint and it can make or break your success.
Yes, “They” are Constantly Talking about You
It was just a few years back that the Internet was a much more passive place for the consumer. Communication was primarily “top down,” where brands created content that was primarily informative with no invitation to interact with customers. Over a few years, though, this landscape changed dramatically.
Websites are no longer just brochures dressed up in HTML and CSS. They are active platforms that often invite users to like, leave comments, and share content within the site. These interactions are critical to business success in society today, which heavily values word of mouth and user testimony. If you think your business can be successful without considering people’s voices, opinions, and reviews – you are sadly mistaken.
Transparency is Worth the Risk
You’ve probably heard it before, “Be Transparent!” It’s one of the most popular business commandments, and successful companies embrace the challenge of transparency. Transparency simply means that your company explains its policies and positions and is open to criticism and feedback. Some of the most popular examples include:
Allowing employees to express their opinions of products and services publicly
- 1-on-1 communication channels
- Soliciting feedback
- Not hiding or deleting criticism, such as posts through social media, and addressing it either publicly or through private messaging offline.
While these are worthy tactics that companies should engage in, most simply do not. Small- and medium-sized companies, which often work with smaller budgets and resources, struggle to consistently perform these actions.
Yes, transparency is risky and it takes time to develop a consistent communications plan for your organization. But, ignoring it altogether can cost you dearly when a crisis, or unplanned consumer feedback, becomes reality.
So, what does the conversation about your brand sound like? If you are doing ORM well, you won’t be concerned about only what people are saying about you, but you’ll also assess if a reaction is warranted at all. Sometimes a reaction isn’t necessary and could actually open up more questions than you have answers for, and other times you may have waited too long to be effective.
Proactive ORM consists of monitoring your public reputation on a regular basis, not just when things begin to go wrong. This is where “social media monitoring” comes into play. Social media monitoring allows companies to gather public online content (blog posts, tweets, review sites, etc.), process it, and determine whether the conversation is positively or negatively affecting their reputation. You can perform social media monitoring by DIY means (such as using Google Alerts or Hootsuite), with large and expensive tools like Radian6, or through professional management for your brand, which we perform at WrightIMC.
In ORM, you’ll deal with two types of negative content, which must be approached in different ways because of their origin and severity.
The first type of content lives on social media and can be handled in a more traditional public relations manner. Any negative consumer-generated content or interaction through social media should obviously be handled immediately, however. And, the best practice is to try to move a conversation out of ‘comments’ and into direct messages, phone calls, or emails. This prevents a tense conversation from attracting the attention of other customers and consumers in the public space of social media.
The second type of negative online content is much more severe and deals with what are sometimes known as “ORM bombs.” ORM bombs are very powerful because they live in search engines and not just social networks. Someone can search for your brand name and find results that are negative, as well as possibly libelous.
ORM bombs come in the following forms:
- Negative Reviews: These include review sites such as Yelp, Yahoo, Google My Business, etc., that allow users to give their opinion of your brand. How do they feel about your service/products? Do they recommend it? Negative content affects sales, and simply responding to these reviews may not be enough. That is especially true if they live on websites such as Ripoff Report and Pissed Consumer, which often produce defamatory content that the site owners refuse to remove.
- Hate Sites: These sites go beyond simple negative reviews and are specially-made websites including opinions that target specific businesses and business leaders. They often contain misleading illegal, libelous content. If you find a website on the first page of the search results for your brand with a headline such as, “The truth about YOURCOMPANYNAMEHERE” or “NAME scam/rip off,” it could be turning away potential customers.
- Negative Media Coverage: “All PR is good PR” is one of the biggest myths around. Unless you’re one of the Kardashians or Jenners, it becomes very hard to spin unfavorable TV, print, and online media coverage into positive attention. Keep track of what the media is saying and writing about you, and decide when to respond appropriately with clarifying information.
Is Legal Action Necessary?
In a society where we value freedom of speech, opinion, and expression, it’s important that we respect everyone’s right to express their thoughts about our brand. Most of the time feedback whether positive or negative, warranted or unwarranted, can be addressed in a professional and productive manner. In fact, some studies show that consumers expect a little bit of negative news for any company and are skeptical of companies with perfect ratings and reviews.
There are, however, cases where legal boundaries will be crossed and online content regarding your brand is illegal. If the content contains defamatory language, false information, or language aimed at damaging you brand’s reputation – language that is not factual – it requires more aggressive efforts from your marketing/PR department and even legal action.
The following are a few of your options to handle such cases:
- Review Removal: Have you found reviews that make false claims about your company? Are the reviews libelous and aimed at defaming your brand as opposed to providing feedback? Is the language threatening? Proper legal consultation and swift reaction makes it possible to have these reviews removed.
- Online Investigations: In the case of a serious attack to your brand image, you may have to consult with skilled online analysts who can trace threats and attackers through email tracing, data cross-indexing, and other information collection techniques. A cyber investigation is often your last line of defense in ORM, but it has a proven track record for the most complex reputation management cases.
- Aggressive SEO: It doesn’t matter how great your business cards or your website look. If negative content appears on page 1 of search engine results, this speaks louder than anything else in our digitally connected society. If you find false or misleading information on sites that won’t remove the content, you or your ORM company should begin creating a content strategy that increases the number of positive results for your brand in search engines in order to push negative information down. While legal strategies may work, creating content is an aggressive way to both promote your company and diminish negative results.
The Ten Commandments Of ORM
Your online reputation is simply your reputation, now. You are never protected from criticism in today’s digital era with access to social networks, blogs, review sites, and personal websites at the touch of phone screen. This is great for the consumer in an era of constantly expanding free speech, but bad if your company has faced an attack and even defamation.
There are 10 commandments every digital marketer should follow when managing their brand’s reputation. Yes, changes should be expected as the search and social media landscapes are always evolving, but these are 10 fundamentals that seem to stand the test of time.
- Become Well Respected: Business experts say that respect is perishable and hard to achieve. All of your publicity work (and business practices) should center on maintaining a respectable image above all else.
- Allow Radical Transparency: Don’t hide what your critics are saying. Your marketing strategy should take into consideration all criticism that could come from any product or message released to the public, and your responses to criticism can extol additional value in your products.
- Monitor What Others are Saying about You: Aside from general reputation management, social media has become a popular place for potential customers to inquire about your business. Keep an eye on your Facebook and Twitter pages for questions that show possible intent to purchase. Likewise, respond quickly to complaints so they don’t expand out of control.
- Swift and Polite Reaction is Key: Even if an issue arises and you don’t have an immediate answer to someone’s question, simply replying with, “We are aware of the problem. We are working on it and will get back to you as soon as possible,” and giving periodic updates as available, is better than a late and lengthy response.
- Address Criticism, and Even Embrace it: Whole Foods CEO John Mackey published an op-ed on President Obama’s Affordable Care Act in 2009, causing displeasure with numerous Whole Foods customers. Two days later, the company released a statement recognizing “…many opinions on this issue, including inside our own company.” The company then invited customers to share their opinions on the matter.
- Page 1 on a Google Search is Your Business Card: First impressions are critical. If “scam” or “rip off” are associated with any of the results on page 1 of your Google brand search, you have a problem on your hands.
- Your Critics May Have a Point: Criticism is not always from competitors or illegitimate attackers, but often legitimate feedback that can be embraced to make your company better. If the latter is the case, use it as a learning experience on how to craft a message that creates less offense or conflict for your audience.
- Fight Illegal Behavior: Sometimes you just have to fight illegal behavior. This can range everywhere from employees within your own company creating negative publicity to people who author content on the Internet containing false information about your brand. If you don’t remove them from your company or sue to stop the defamation, they might continue to besmirch you.
- Learn from Mistakes: This is self-explanatory. Any proactive actions that you have taken for your brand’s reputation, and any successful reactions that helped restore your reputation in a crisis, should be applied to your communications plan for the future.
- Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help: We are working on several ORM projects with current clients at WrightIMC and have completed successful campaigns before. Don’t hesitate to send us an email or call if your brand needs help.
Warren Buffett was absolutely right when he said reputation can be built in 20 years and brought down in only 5 minutes. The Internet is a more powerful force affecting reputation and perception – for businesses and individuals – than any that existed before. Don’t let a lack of attention to your online presence bring down what you’ve worked so hard to build.