Online Reputation Management
The growth of the Internet has spawned many different types of businesses over the last 20 years. We now have a proliferation of digital marketing agencies, SEO companies, social media agencies and organisations that specialise in online reputation management. First we must ask the following question:
Q. ‘What is online reputation management?’
A. Online reputation management is the understanding or influencing of an individual’s or business’s reputation on the Internet.
The last few months in the UK have witnessed the fall from grace of several high profile individuals. We have seen the fall from grace of the once king of Public Relations (PR) on Fleet Street – Max Clifford, and now in the following week a certain pop star has gone from National icon to instigating a major reputation damage limitation exercise over tax fraud allegations.
Online reputation management applies to both individuals and business, both large and small. All businesses are aware of the power of the Internet, Google, Facebook, Twitter et al to enhance or cause serious, lasting damage to a reputation that has probably taken many years to establish.
In years gone by damage limitation exercises on behalf of many larger organisations were undertaken by what were commonly known as PR companies. Contingency plans swung into action and the print; television and radio media were suitably briefed to limit the collateral damage of bad publicity or misdemeanour’s that had found there way into the public domain.
Often the damage will be caused by quite blatant greed or wrongdoing by an individual or company, however sometimes fate can deal a severe blow and a bad hand as well, resulting in a PR nightmare where the only crimes are bad luck and terrible timing. Regardless of the reasons for bad publicity, the skill has always been to expertly manage the crisis and seek to possibly turn a setback or bad situation into an opportunity.
It is clear that larger corporations can call upon a greater amount of resource, both human and financial, to counter and overcome a bad story or limit damage to a reputation. Where the Internet is concerned however it is often the smaller business who struggles to come to terms and effectively deal with the spiralling prevalence of online reviews and customer feedback, both negative and positive.
There is no doubt that the Internet space has delivered a fantastic boost to Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SME’s) across the globe. The opportunities to reach a much wider geographical audience; sell more; reduce cost base; and compete with the BIG boys on a level playing field has driven exponential turnover and profit growth for many.
Whilst the above all bodes well and is welcome, the online space delivers another set of circumstances which can send a company’s reputation and brand image spiralling in the wrong direction. The Internet is awash with general and niche websites and directories where consumers can leave feedback and reviews on a business detailing their experiences. We have (among many) Google Places; Foursquare; TripAdvisor; and Yelp. Without question the widespread use of social media and online review sites has radically changed the rules of the game.
We know that the income of a business is directly proportional to the quality of its brand. It is much easier for a brand to be diminished, than to be improved. People believe negative items and reviews much more than they are influenced by advertising. Negative reviews and adverse comments can be read hundreds and thousands of times across the web. These comments and opinions can then be shared across social media, and from what started off as a minor issue you are looking at an all-consuming wave of negativity which has the potential to engulf the entire company or brand.
The strategy of online reputation management is about promoting positive Internet content about you or your company and challenging and removing negative content. The first place many will turn to check out a business or an individual is Google search. When you make a search for a company by name it is the results that name your business and are shown in Google Places and the Google index which will form the basis for much of your online reputation.
Business owners need to recognise that in the twenty first century your reputation has no borders. The real and the virtual, the written press; the search engine; social media: they are all influenced and fed by one another. In addition, National borders have virtually no impact.
It is vital that you are in a position to quickly understand and respond to the most important conversations about your brand. This entails planning how to best use every online platform your brand is on, and ensuring there is a constant monitoring of Internet brand mentions and sentiment, and strong threat detection and protection. You should never underestimate the cost of a poor reputation.
Paul Brewster, May 2014