"A good reputation is more valuable than money," advised Latin maxim writer Publilius Syrus who was writing a few years before the birth of Christ. His words ring even truer today for companies that are operating in an economy where reputation matters more than ever before.
In a socially connected world - where millions of people are sharing their opinions and experiences using channels such as FaceBook and Twitter - news, gossip, complaints and rumours spread like wildfire from one side of the world to the other. In this connected economy, everyone who has an internet connection has a voice that can influence your reputation for good or for ill.
This will include any discussion about your company's brand and products, and perhaps, depending on your profile, your personal brand as well. A malicious rumour from a disgruntled employee can affect your share price in a matter of minutes. A complaint from an angry customer can cost you sales.
While you cannot stop any discussion that you do not like, you can shape it by taking part in this conversation. There are four major steps to managing your online reputation.
Whether you have the budget for a sophisticated online reputation management system like Radian6, or whether you use something as simple as Google Alerts, you must have a formal and consistent process in place to monitor your online reputation. You need to listen to what people are saying about your brand - good or bad.
You need to reach some sort of understanding about the impact that customer conversation is having on your brand as well as the impact your campaigns, service and products are having on customer sentiment. Is sentiment negative or positive? What can you learn from the negative things people are saying about your brand?
Engaging is all about taking part in the conversation and trying to swing people over to your point of view. Once you know what people are saying and where the most important conversations are taking place, you can get involved. If there's an untrue rumour starting on the social web, nip it in the bud. If there is a customer with a valid complaint, engage and apologise publically. Quick action can stop an unhappy whisper from one customer from turning into a loud chorus of complaints.
4. Measure again
It's also important to monitor the impact your interventions have had on the tone of the social conversation so that you can keep fine-tuning your approach for the best results. Many companies understand the importance of the social conversation about their brand, but do not tie their strategies to measureable metrics. Measurement must be tied to clearly defined business objectives such as creating conversation about a new product or combating negative perceptions.
In many ways, the good old-fashioned principles of reputation management still apply, although it is now an audience of thousands or perhaps even millions that you are listening to and trying to influence. Online reputation management is not a cure for poor products or customer service, but it can help you to manage mistakes and misperceptions in an efficient manner.
About the author
As managing director of Acceleration Media, Diane Charton oversees the growth of South Africa's leading digital media strategy, planning and buying company, and helps clients to maximise their use of the Internet.