Six steps towards a better online reputation
Most companies know their online customers are talking about them using social media, from blogs and forums through to Facebook, Twitter and consumer activist sites such as HelloPeter.com. What most of them can't say for sure is what sort of impact these online conversations are having on their brands and reputations, nor do they know how to get involved in the conversation.
This is where the new discipline of online reputation management (ORM) comes into play. Online reputation management (ORM) is a process that starts with listening to what your customers are saying about you online, monitoring and analysing these conservations, and then engaging with customers by taking part in the conversation.
ORM is the practice of consistent research and analysis of one's personal or professional, business or industry reputation as represented by the content across all types of online media. Here are a few tips to get any organisation started with ORM.
1. Create an ORM strategy that is aligned with your business and marketing plan
It's tempting to start off by setting up a Twitter account or Facebook account to disperse info to your clients and monitor what they're saying about you online. Though this is a good way to get a feel for how social media works, you really need to align your ORM strategy with the goals of your business and with your marketing plan to get the best results.
Think about which issues you're going to engage with online, and then be consistent about how you engage with them. It's a good idea to set out business rules that detail your rules of engagement - which conversations you will enter into, how you will manage these conversations, and how you will measure your success in the ORM space.
ORM should be consistent with the way you manage your brand reputation offline. It should also take into account that online and offline reputation feed each other - a bad experience in one of your stores can become an angry blog post, which goes viral or even reaches the mainstream media.
2. Think about the resources you will need
Many South African companies simply append managing social media onto the job description of someone in the customer service or marketing department without realising how time consuming this can be.
But you can't treat ORM as a single silo business function - it will affect different divisions and departments in your organisation. For example, logistics, customer service or marketing issues might all come to the fore in your ORM efforts - make sure that you can marshal the correct resources to address online reputation issues when they arise.
You should think about the following questions as you embark on an ORM strategy:
If you're in a medium sized to large company, you'll have thousands (even hundreds of thousands) of customers talking about your brand, products and services across a huge range of social channels including forums, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and more. They'll be generating so much content about your company that you'll struggle to keep up without introducing some automated toolset in your ORM strategy, unless you hire a huge workforce just to manage ORM.
A good ORM toolset will provide a real-time platform for monitoring, measuring and engaging in conversations online. Data could be displayed in a dashboard that is updated in real-time. The tool will also allow you to engage directly with influencers, manage workflow and tag conversations.
4. Keep your ear to the ground
ORM starts by listening to what your customers are saying about your brand and organisation, and possibly what they're saying about your peers and competitors. You'll need to monitor mentions of your company, product, issues and competitors in real-time with the ability to quickly find the most important relevant conversations.
In some cases, it can take only a few hours for an angry client's blog post about your company to go viral. By keeping your ear to the ground, you can stop a complaint from turning into a crisis.
5. If you don't measure it, you can't manage it
ORM should be tied to specific business and marketing goals that can be measured. Do you want to nip customer issues in the bud by identifying them early? Do you want to improve buzz and sentiment about your brand?
You need to consider how you will measure mentions of your company online, as well as how you will benchmark the tone and sentiment (positive? negative? neutral?) of conversations about your brand in social media.
You should build an ability to analyse buzz about your company, products, issues, competitors, and the outcomes of specific marketing campaigns and social media investments.
6. Use your insights and information to take action
By just monitoring and measuring conversations about your brand using ORM, you'll gather a wealth of information that will help you to improve your products and service to meet the expectations of your customers. But there are also opportunities to engage with customers online with the goal of enhancing your reputation.
You'll need to assign tasks to people, manage task lists, categorise posts based on priority and type of post (product inquiry? customer service experience?). That will equip your staff to proactively address any customer issues you identify.
ORM will form an important part of the reputation and brand management mix in nearly every company. If your customers are online, you should be watching what they're saying and responding to the conversation in a way that enhances your reputation and your brand.
There is no rocket science to it: it's about extending many of the best practices you take for granted into the online world so that you can enhance and manage your reputation with your customers and other stakeholders.
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.
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