Corporate Reputation Management

 

Are you aware of what your customers are saying about you? What about your ex-employees?

What about your competitors? Information travels quickly across the internet. Are you listening to

the online conversations about your brand? How are these conversations affecting how people view

your organization?

 

Consumers use the web to make buying decisions. A vast majority buys

offline, but goes online to research, read reviews and get opinions from other consumers.

 

With the growth of consumer-generated media (CGM) such as blogs, forums,

and message boards, information can be quickly generated and indexed by

search engines. For business leaders, it is vitally important to actively listen to

what is being said online, even if messages are negative. Listening creates the

opportunity to take action and resolve internal problems or deal with malicious

information, both of which can negatively influence your brand image and your

corporate reputation.

 

Successful organizations are aware of the importance of reputation. A positive

reputation brings trust, confidence, and sales, which are ultimately reflected in

revenue growth and profitability. A bad reputation can lead to a decrease in

consumer confidence, and, in turn, a reduction in revenue and profits.

In this day and age, erroneous rumors, malicious gossip, unfair opinions and

other bad news spread fast! The internet has compounded the speed and the

geographic distribution of this information. By the time negative news gets out it

is often too late and the damage irrevocable.

 

Before the development of the web, news was slow moving and organizations

could take their time to develop structured responses to problems. Currently, rapid

developments in consumer generated media sites mean that the general public

can quickly air their views. These views can make or break a brand. Consumers

trust these published opinions and base their buying decisions on them. For

example, eBay’s success has been based on their system of feedback ratings,

which provides consumer opinions of sellers. Any information available to your

potential clients affects your reputation and their buying decisions.

 

Similarly, ex-employees, and brand activists can easily get their personal

viewpoints out there. Competitors who can also spread malicious rumors and

lies about your company and brand in the hopes of stealing your market share.

These types of unsubstantiated reporting can affect your corporate image. Sites

containing these kinds of information are being indexed by search engines and

appearing in search results for your brand names. The information can spread to

the traditional media, compounding the damage.

 

Consumers use search engines to gather information. When they undertake a

search for your company name or brand, your hope is that your own website is

high up on the search results list.

 

Undertake a search on your favorite search engine for your company name and

look at the results. Hopefully, your company web site is at the top of the list. But

what about the other results in the top 10? What do they say about your brand?

People searching for your company name will often look at all of these results

– not just those pointing to your homepage. When their eyes skim down the

list, what stands out about your company? Is it all good, relevant, up-to-date

information? Are there any negative listings saying bad things about your brand

or your company? Are there sites with outdated information about your brand

in the list? What are people saying about you on industry forums and blogs?

 

People looking for your company in the search engine results will scan

all this information.

 

People from all walks of life use search engines to research, and gather

information so that they can make informative decisions. If the information they

come across during a search relating to your brand is adverse, it can affect the

decisions they make. Negative information can ultimately lead to problems in

many areas including sales, investor relations, recruitment, financials, image,

and reputation. In other words - damage to your brand.

 

Online Reputation Management combines marketing and public relations with

search engine marketing. Visibility and high rankings for good publicity are the

ultimate goals, which will in turn push bad publicity down the search engine

listings and out of public view. Statistics show that the general public rarely

views more than two pages of search engine results for any search.

 

The goals of Online Reputation Management are high rankings and indexing

in the search engines for all positive associated web sites and corporate

communications. The result is an increase in your overall positive web presence,

which will help you own the top spots of the search engine rankings for your

brand. Online Reputation Management enables you to protect and manage your

reputation by becoming actively involved in the outcome of search engine results

through a three-step process.

 

 

Monitor And Track What Is Being Said Online .

 

You want to know what is being said about your brand. You should be aware

that ordinary people influence how the general public views your brand. It

is very easy for anyone to publish information on CGM sites such as blogs,

podcasts, and opinion forums. You must monitor these online conversations.

However, the size and complexity of the internet, coupled with the speed at

which news travels, means that it is difficult to continuously monitor all that is

being said.

 

To address this problem, you need an early warning system to alert you of

all news relating to your brand, so you may remedy when needed. There are

internet monitoring services available that do the work for you. Such monitoring

systems not only inform you of news and information relating to your brand, but

will also help you to gather market intelligence and assess developing trends.

 

To monitor manually for your brand:

 

Set up Google and Yahoo Alerts to catch the use of your brands

in the news.

Use sites such as Feedster and Technorati to watch your brand in blogs.

Customize RSS readers for brand tracking.

Track for all names including brand names, company names,

product names, and key employee names.

Monitor industry-related sites.

 

Once a monitoring system is in place for your brand you should also track other

information such as competing brands and organizations, industry terms, as well

as general industry news.

 

Monitoring gives you immediate heads-up if adverse information is appearing.

Monitoring is an essential and useful tactic for controlling adverse information

within your search engine space. Unfortunately, monitoring by itself is not

enough. By this stage, it is usually too late and damage has been done. The best

outcomes occur if you pro-actively control your space and what people read

about your brand. It is important to analyze your current space in order to take

action to control it.

 

Analyze How The Visible Information Affects .

Your search engine space is dynamic and constantly changing as new sites

are added to the mix and as search engines alter their algorithms. You need

to develop an understanding of your search engine environment and of your

competition.

 

First of all, undertake an analysis of your search engine space. Look at the sites

listed in search results for your brand. List the sites that offer positive information

and those that are negative. Determine what types of sites they are - blog, forum,

consumer review, etc. Assign a value to their quality – Page Rank, number of

links, influence, etc. Determine which results you may want to move up or down

the list. This will help you understand the scale of the work involved.

 

Analyze Your Online Assets:

Your online assets are the sites that you have control over and that you can use

to dominate the search engine rankings. These include:

Corporate Sites .

Sister Sites and Micro-Sites (other sites from your organization).

Product Sites.

Corporate Blogs.

Employee Blogs.

Partner Sites (supplier sites, recruitment sites).

Corporate Communications (press releases, articles).

TIP: Clients come to us after they find negative information

about their brand in search engine results. At this stage, a major

campaign is needed to clean up the results. By monitoring on a

daily basis, this type of campaign can be prevented. Monitoring

is a cost-effective strategy.

 

At this stage of the analysis, document the present position of each of your

sites, including screen-shots of the various search engines results, so you can

monitor future movement and activity. Further developing these assets will be

discussed below.

 

Influence the Results by Participating in the Conversation

and Eliminating Negative Sites .

 

Influence online conversations by being actively involved in them. Your

participation will give you the opportunity to improve the perception of your

brand. Take an active part in your industry conversation by becoming a regular

contributor to blogs and forums within your industry. Lead the conversation

about your brand.

 

Sources of Potential Reputation Problems, Sources of Opportunity :

Blogs, Forums, and Consumer Opinion Sites .

Consumer Complaint Sites.

Social Network Sites.

Competitor Attacks.

Trademark Infringement.

Counterfeit Products.

Counter-intelligence.

Crisis Management Developments.

TIP: Many organizations are unaware of the large number of

sites that they have direct influence over. They often think only in

terms of their corporate site. Explore all opportunities.

 

Blogs are important and consumers use blogs to gather information. Blogs

can quickly develop a following and influence reader’s views. Blogs also make

reputation management challenging because of the speed at which information

gets exchanged.

 

The millions of blogs in existence today have made the blogosphere the

world’s largest and most influential form of interactive media. Small, unknown

blogs can link or syndicate to larger, more influential blogs, which in turn can

supply story leads to traditional media. Those stories, once legitimized by the

mainstream press, are then spun back out into the blogosphere. The blogosphere

dramatically expands the reach of your audience, which means the potential for

more supporters, as well as more detractors.

 

Industry forums exist to exchange information within an industry. Forums are

often organized by categories. Participants can post industry related news,

developments, and issues, thereby encouraging discussion. Forums are used for

information sharing, education, and idea development.

 

Consumer opinion sites are platforms built to solicit feedback from consumers

about products so that others can make informed buying decisions. These sites

provide valuable information for buyers, but should be closely monitored in

order to gain insight into customer’s views and concerns.

 

Engage with contributors to blogs and forums and attempt to build a relationship

with them. Make these two-way conversations and use the comments sections to

get your viewpoint across.

 

One major principle of reputation management is that if you attempt to hide

the truth it will come back to haunt you. Therefore, be honest in your online

conversations. Respond directly to critics. The end result is that speaking the truth

builds trust in your audience — even if the truth is negative.

 

If a blog or forum does include inaccuracies about your brand you should send

them clarifying evidence and ask them to remove the error. Again, this is part of

building a relationship. If you are truthful with authors and offer to continue the

dialogue in the future, possibly by sending them your latest news, a successful

Online Reputation Management.

 

If there is a negative posting in a forum, try to contact the source directly in

order to resolve the issue. This personal offline contact will give you the

opportunity to create a potential evangelist for your brand.

Identify the most influential sites for your industry and participate in them. You

may want to empower a member of your organization to participate in these

industry blogs and forums. Along with participation, you may want to consider

sponsorship opportunities. This will help to build relationships and alliances

with these outlets.

 

Consumer Complaint Sites :

Consumer complaint sites (also called ‘attack’ ‘boycott’ or ‘flame’ sites)

are devoted to attacking individual organizations or brands. These sites are

often well-organized attacks and should be handled carefully. If there is a

whole website devoted to attacking your brand what should you do?

Consider the following questions:

Are the complaints valid?

If so, Can you integrate organizational changes to eliminate the complaints?

Are competitors involved?

Copyright infringement may be an issue.

What is the best way to counteract the attack?

A counter-attack site .

A Pay-per-Click campaign.

Participation.

Litigation.

TIP: With regards to industry conversation – become a leader

and influence the conversation.

 

 

Generally speaking, litigation against consumer complaint sites is not the

answer as it can increase the amount of adverse publicity against your site.

Direct communication is an option, but bear in mind that anyone who goes to

the trouble of building a website dedicated to the destruction of your brand may

not give you the time of day. However, listening to their point of view is essential

and a well-formed response should be produced. A counter-attack site giving

your point of view is a possible platform for your response. This can be given

immediate placement in search engine results if a paid advertising campaign

is activated.

 

Research negative term domain name availability (e.g. yourbrandsucks.com).

You should consider purchasing these domains to avoid someone else buying

them and redirecting them to your corporate site.

 

Social networks include participation driven sites such as My Space and

Wikipedia. They have enormous amounts of traffic. Participants share common

interests and information. As a result, brand endorsements are visible and

shared amongst members. Chains of endorsements evolve from this sharing,

making social networking incredibly powerful and influential upon the

corporate brand. Social network sites should be monitored for your brand.

 

Your competitors are desperate to take business away from you. They may go

as far as participating in undercover smear campaigns against your brand. This

can take the form of negative CGM conversations that may directly infringe

upon your trademark.

Ruthless competitors posing as customers on so-called consumer watchdog sites

such as scam.com or ripoffreport.com can and often do post any form of libelous

content with impunity. In this situation, swift legal action may be necessary to

limit damage.

Another technique used by unscrupulous competitors is known as ‘Google

Bombing’ or ‘Link Smearing’. This involves the use of software to add hundreds

of links per instant to link farm sites and directories where offensive information

can be instantaneously linked to your website.

Trademark infringement issues are of great concern to Pay-per-Click (PPC)

advertisers. Twenty percent (20%) of all searches online are trademark searches.

Businesses around the world are losing millions of dollars because of trademark

infringements. It also drives the price of PPC ads upwards.

Companies often bid on the brand names of their competitors. This means

that when a searcher types in your brand name the ads for your competitors

appear. They click on your competitor’s site thinking it is related to your site.

This is basically a form of bait and switch fraud, which offers your customers an

alternative brand to your product.

Defending Your Brand Against Trademark Violations .

Conduct search audits at least once every month.

Organic Search Results.

Paid Search Results.

PPC Contextual Ads .

Look at both the questionable result and the site displayed in the result. When

looking over the possible violator’s site, don’t just look over the visible content on

the site; look over the code as well to uncover hidden text, image alt tags, and

keyword meta tags that may include your trademarked names.

There is also the possibility that they may be using a cloaked page, which

includes your trademark. To check this out, you will need to view the search

engine’s cached page on file.

TIP: Stop all advertisers from bidding on the terms within Yahoo

and MSN. At this time, Google is the only one of the top three

search engines that still maintains a strong stance in allowing

advertisers to bid on trademarked search terms -as long as the

trademarked term is not used within the advertiser’s ad-copy.

 

Document all of your findings by dating the violation as well as the site owner’s

complete contact information. Obtain Whois information for the site. Once

you have all of this documented, you will need to send your findings to the

appropriate search engine. For both organic and paid results, use a “screen

capture” of the page displaying the mark infringement. For mark infringements

that are visible on a website, save the entire page’s code as an .htm file.

You also have the option to take legal action in which case you should present

your records to your legal counsel. You may want to gather evidence by hiring

a third party to collect evidence against the infringer of your trademark or

copyrighted material.

 

Confidential corporate information can be exposed on the internet. Leaks may

be the result of employee error or intentional and malicious. Monitoring for this

type of leak is essential.

 

Counterfeit products that masquerading as your brand can cause serious

damage to your business. Not only do you lose revenue from lost sales; you also

lose control of quality and safety. This can result in severe reputation damage.

The US Department of Commerce estimates that counterfeit products account for

the loss of $200 billion per year for US businesses.

 

A crisis management plan is essential in order to react quickly and communicate

effectively when a corporate crisis occurs. It is possible to handle these types of

situations well, by communicating effectively, and to actually come out ahead.

However, in the majority of incidences this is not the end result and reputations

are tarnished because trust in your brand has been violated.

 

Crisis can come in many different forms ranging from product recalls and

lawsuits to natural disasters. Relatively few organizations have a specific crisis

management strategy in place. Those that do, such as airlines, tend to be in

industries in which disasters are an unfortunate but unavoidable occurrence.

The speed at which news travels and the development of real-time technologies

requires that every organization should have a crisis management plan in place.

You must make sure that your corporate site is fully search engine optimized

and appears at the top of results lists for your name and your brand. If your

organization has more than one brand site, the same attention should be given

to all of your sites.

Sister Sites and Micro Sites :

If there are other sites within your organization, such as micro sites and

individual product sites, they should include an optimized page about the

corporate site.

Corporate Blogs .

Consider the benefits of developing corporate blogs if you do not already have

them. Blogs can be aimed at supporting specific business functions such as

marketing or customer service. Being a forward thinker within your industry will

help your reputation to grow.

Employee Blogs .

Look for 3rd party opportunities to include information about your company.

These could include the websites of your product retailers, parts suppliers,

distributors, etc. Develop relationships with the various types of partner

organizations and set a goal of getting information about your business

on their site.

Communicate with your business partners and ask them to optimize a page

about your brand. Make sure that all content relating to your company on other

highly ranked sites is accurate and current. Communicate with these partners

regularly and provide them with site updates.

Corporate Communications :

Publish all your corporate communications on your website including press

releases, articles, testimonials, case studies, white papers, etc., and be sure

these pages are optimized. If this information is not published or optimized in a

search friendly way—it is not indexed or listed by the search engines. Release

regular newspress releases and submit them to online wire services. Optimize

these press releases for your name or brand. Submit articles about your business

to online industry publications. Optimize these articles for your name or brand.

 

Consider a paid search engine listing for your company name or brand.

Although this does not affect the ‘natural’ listings, it contributes to add to

the total domination of your search engine space. Dominating your space

in this manner also counters the efforts of competitors who divert traffic by

using your trademark.

 

The above ideas are all directed at dealing with potential problems and getting

as many listings as possible related to your company or brand at the top of the

search engine results pages. This is, of course, not an overnight task, but should

rather be viewed as a sustained campaign. However, once you begin to see

results, you are effectively managing your search engine space. This gives you

the control over how people perceive your company or brand. From a public

relations viewpoint, this helps develop favorable publicity for your company.

From a business viewpoint, it helps give consumers confidence in your company

and brand. The end result is an increase in the overall web presence for your

company and its products and services.

Maintaining and Monitoring Results :

Once you have put your Online Reputation Management plan into operation

you need to maintain your work and continue to monitor results.

Areas that should be monitored include:

Organic positions .

Pay-Per-Click tracking on your branded terms .

Snapshots of the top 10 search engine results .

News about your brand .

News about your competitor’s brands .

Consumer generated media .

Take Action Immediately On New Results :

Your overall online reputation management strategy also requires regular review.

What are you doing to maintain or improve results on a monthly basis?

The key to successful Online Reputation Management is – if at first you do

not succeed try, try, and try again! Reputation management is not only about

monitoring – it’s about taking action. Action is not always easy. It requires

persistence and a dogged determination to succeed.

Online Reputation Management is rapidly becoming an important strategy

for organizations. The American Marketing Association states that in 2006

companies will attach more importance to online sources of news, increasingly

monitor these sources, and then take action on the findings.

Online Reputation Management is critical for organizations as they observe the

fiscal implications. A bad reputation can cost an organization millions of dollars

in lost sales each year. Pro-active communication is the key to maintaining and

improving reputations. Currently, many reputations are being damaged by the

wrong response or by no response at all. Do not allow your organization to be

part of this trend.

Online Reputation Management through monitoring, analyzing and influencing

online communications, can help prevent the loss of business and ensure the

ongoing success of your organization.