“If I tell my Facebook friends about your brands, it is because I like my friends – not because I like your brand.” – Mike Arauz, Undercurrent.

That is the gist of what people are doing with your brand in online communities. So what are you doing about it?

Why do people complain online?

The two leading reasons people contribute content to social shopping sites are the need to feel a part of a community (31%) and recognition from peers (28%).

Why do people listen to online complaints?

Users put great trust in their social networks. One half of Beresford respondents said they considered information shared on their networks when making a decision – and the proportion was higher among users ages 18 to 24, at 65%. On a broader scale, 90% of consumers online trust recommendations from people they know, and 70% trust opinions of unknown users. This is a powerful percentage, especially if you’re not involved in the conversation.

Does this stuff go viral?

The average consumer mentions specific brands over 90 times per week in conversations with friends, family, and coworkers.

Understanding the Landscape

You need to be where your consumers are. This includes embedding yourself in relevant places such as:

  • Blogs
  • SERPS
  • Review Portals
  • Message Boards
  • Hate Websites (if applicable)
  • Twitter
  • Location Based Sites (foursquare, Gowalla), Social bookmarking sites.

Monitoring the Landscape

Monitoring technology hasn’t completely kept up with consumer generated content. Different tools to monitor different things. Know where you need to be.

  • Twitter
  • Blogs
  • Overall Web
  • Reviews
  • SERPS

No one tool gets it all. We’re betting the next version of Trackur will get there.

Not being proactive?

Doing PR during a crisis is like eating healthy during a heart attack. Sometimes it’s just too late and all you’re doing is trying to mitigate the damage.

Rip-off Reports, Negative Reviews, Bad SERPS, Oh My!

  • Most companies do no reputation management until a crisis hits.
  • If a crisis hits a blank slate the crisis wins
  • Companies with unmanaged reputations will likely lose infinitely more in a crisis than those with managed reputations.

Social Media Policies

  • What can your employees say online and to whom?
  • Most current policies are more about keeping folks off Facebook during working hours – this is misguided
  • Should be created by HR, Legal and Marketing. Preferably someone in marketing with social media savvy.

Employee Education

  • Everyone from the CEO to the Janitor needs to know they influence online reputation.
  • Hold annual seminars for all employees – show them positive and negative reviews
  • Reward employees who are mentioned in positive reviews.

Proactive Review Strategy

  • Your online reviews will not, and should not be perfect
  • Strive for a minimum ration of 70% positive to 30% neutral or negative.
  • Deal with negative reviews offline where possible
  • Reviews must be monitored manually – there is not a tool that monitors reviews effectively.
  • Ask your satisfied customers for reviews: don’t be pushy, but do ask. Think of it as asking for public feedback.
  • Understand your review landscape and try to sculpt reviews to affect SERPS
  • Forward facing employees should go through the review process on relevant sites once a month to help customers understand how to create reviews.

Like most processes involving the online world, reputation management is a ongoing process that requires a strategic plan. Some key takeaways:

  • Invest in your brand’s online presence – not just money but time as well.
  • Do not spam your influencers: Ask permission to send them items.
  • Meet influencers offline whenever possible: Having a beer with an influencer can determine how they will view your brand in the future. Plus you’re making a friend.
  • Be part of the conversation
  • Encourage employees to be subject matter experts in relevant online places.
  • Offer value throughout your entire web presence
  • Watch your resources.

You can follow Tony Wright at @tonynwright on Twitter and read his posts right here on the WrightIMC blog. Don’t miss a session! There are more recaps on Outspoken Media’s blog.