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    QVC - learning the power of online

    Anyone curious about the potential impact of online activity on brand reputation need look no further than the Quality Vacation Club (QVC) saga currently playing itself out in the South African blogosphere.
    QVC - learning the power of online

    Donn Edwards, a blogger who writes mostly on technical security issues, wrote a blog post about his negative experience at the hands of QVC, which reportedly lured him to a timeshare presentation with the hope of a prize. QVC has responded by suing him for libel, for R451 000.

    Both the online and offline community have picked up on the lawsuit, and the online space has been flooded with opinions on the matter. Almost all are weighted positively on the side of Edwards, and negatively on the side of QVC.

    BrandsEye is an online reputation management (ORM) tool, which developers Quirk eMarketing define as “measuring, monitoring and appropriately responding to mentions made by individuals about your brand, on the Internet”. BrandsEye is being used to track the online mentions of QVC and Donn Edwards in all places online; all the stats and graphs for this article have been provided by BrandsEye.

    An aggregation of some of the mentions on the matter may be viewed at http://qvcsaga.pbwiki.com/FrontPage. Also, you can follow real-time updates by BrandsEye with this RSS feed: http://brandseye.quirk.co.za/rss-562-relevant.

    With over 150 relevant online conversations to the case in the first week (3 -10 December 2008), this looks to be a fascinating example of the community (and press) standing up as a unified body.

    This is how the story has played out in the various media:

    Blogosphere

    As of Wednesday 10 December, BrandsEye tells us there were 76 consumer conversations of which 59 voiced their displeasure and 29 wrote in a rebuking (or worse) tone towards QVC. This is in comparison to just three negative mentions for Edwards.

    To get live details about how consumers are discussing the case, subscribe to the above RSS feed or refer back to the gadget below:

    Facebook

    There is a Facebook group in support of Donn Edwards. It has grown to over 421 members in about four days, and will undoubtedly continue to grow as members are virally drawn to it.

    Twitter

    There is a very robust conversation happening on Twitter regarding this matter.

    Newspapers

    A story was run in the print version of the Sunday Independent newspaper.

    Radio

    Talk Radio 702, on the morning show with John Robbie, last week picked up on the story, and continued with it relentlessly from at least 1 -4 December. This included interviews with Edwards, as well as other interested parties (QVC declined to participate). Listen to a podcast here.

    Elsewhere

    There is a presence on African social media aggregator Afrigator that aggregates all QVC mentions. There is also a wiki and an active forum discussion. The “Hello Peter” complaints also outnumber the compliments, although this is not directly related to the lawsuit.

    Search engines

    Despite the fact that it seems someone has tried to influence the Google results for “QVC” by registering domains such as qvcjobs.co.za, qvctravel.co.za and qvcweb.co.za and populating them with little content, there are at least three links to negative content on the first page for a “QVC” search at google.co.za.

    Paul Jacobson, a lawyer specialising in new media, says it is very difficult to remove a negative sentiment from the web: “Google caches content posted on the web so to remove that you'd need to contact Google to remove those items from their cache, otherwise it is going to keep coming up in search results”

    ORM

    In the reputation graph (above), Edwards' reputation is compared to that of QVC, with startling results. Not only is QVC suddenly receiving considerably more conversation about its brand but their reputation is the lowest out of any company which BrandsEye has ever tracked.

    On the other side of the coin, Edwards has received considerable good press and, as a consequence, his reputation has increased considerably.

    This is largely caused by the distribution of both sentiment and the credibility of the authors speaking about the topic:

    An interesting observation from the graph above is that QVC has been receiving considerable negative coverage of a higher credibility than Donn has - this is a clear indication that is no longer just about Donn's scenario but rather about other consumers' similar experiences.

    Repercussions for QVC

    The court papers that QVC filed in its lawsuit alleged that Edwards' single blog post cost the company about R100 000 in profit. Assuming that to be accurate, it is not difficult to realise what a catastrophe this combined negative online and offline exposure can be for QVC. The matter has only picked up heat in the last two weeks and once Google reindexes all the relevant pages, I anticipate more negative impact for QVC. And once that happens, it will be a hard thing to kick.

    Lessons learned

    Web strategists harp on about how powerful the online medium can be to promote a brand or a product. But the converse is also true: bad mismanagement of your online reputation can spin out of control very fast. The results can be impossible to eradicate (Google never forgets) and the effect can be felt immediately, and for an extended period of time.

    The tools of Web 2.0, and the blogosphere specifically, have created an ability for individuals who are united by nothing more than a common cause or a common opinion to join their voices for a very loud shout-out. Keep this in mind, should you ever be tempted to discard the online world as not affecting your reputation significantly.

    This article was written with the collaboration and valuable input of Tim Shier from BrandsEye, who has previously written about ORM and online reputation crisis management (ORCM) (see SAA - an ORM crisis planon Bizcommunity.com.

    About Eve Dmochowska

    Eve Dmochowska is the idea facilitator at IdeaBank (www.ideabank.co.za)and keeps her time busy strategising the Internet space, deciphering the world of Web 2.0, and publishing the Internet Guide magazine (www.internetmagazine.co.za). She can be contacted at eved@ideabank.co.za.
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