When I started tinkering with the interwebs 10 years or so ago I, along with most others, dealt with Network Solutions for domain names. Over the years, the individual user like me never really heard much more from them. The company continued to grow and expand its offerings. When I began to approach the technology sector more regularly in my work life, I ran into them again. Instead of learning they were still the top-dog in the domain business and had done wonders to grow as a company, though, all I heard was they were front-running domains and pushing the bounds of what was accepted as ethical on the web.

They had a reputation issue.

Enter Shashi Bellamkonda, who has been a positive, vocal touch point for Network Solutions for much of the past two years, cheerfully engaging people at conferences, on Twitter and the like. I asked Shashi, point-blank about the front-running issue. (Network Solutions reserved domains that are searched for over a four-day period if they aren’t purchased right away, preventing you from registering them elsewhere unless you call customer service to have them released. The policy was sticky because it seems to force people into buying from Network Solutions an not other registrars.) He explained it to me, told me about the automatic release when asked, that it was there way of preventing front running from others and while still don’t like the practice overall, it was their policy and I got it. They’ve since changed the policy. See below.

But Network Solutions needed more than just an explanation to win back brand enthusiasts and prove it is providing great value to its customers and others online. It needed to reconnect with the net-savvy audience and flex its muscles a bit to reinvigorate a positive reputation for the company.

Bellamkonda and crew hired Livingston Communications to develop a strategy to do just that.

(Before we go further, please know that Geoff Livingston, Livingston Communications’ consultant Kami Huyse and Bellamkonda are all people I consider friends. While that certainly might slant this review a tad, it is a nice case study of how to accomplish the said goal. But I also have some criticisms you’ll see below I think are fair as well.)

After diving into the problem, Livingston recommended reaching web-savvy developers and designers who primarily serve small businesses (a prime target for Network Solutions) who are not only instrumental in purchase recommendations, but the most likely critics of Network Solutions in the past. In order to turn these people into vocal evangelists for the company, the strategy set forth included three very simple strategies:

  • Listening – Using crisis public relations engagement through monitoring on-line conversations, then addressing issues either on the site in question or on the SolutionsArePower.com blog.
  • Providing Value – Using SolutionsArePower.com to address recurrent issues or provide valuable information to the online community from the company perspective.
  • Community Participation – Led by Bellamkonda, Network Solutions’ team would charge forth as vocal representatives of the company, answering questions and participating in greater conversations on the Internet, pushing Network Solutions’ name to the top-of-mind of other participants.

And the measure of success? Tonality. Positive mentions versus negative mentions. This was the important outcome for Network Solutions and this was the return they would measure the investment against.

Before I share the results, allow me to comment on the simplicity of the stated strategy and measures. While “Listening, Providing Value and Participating,” and then measuring tonality are very simple strategies to develop (No offense, Geoff), they are very difficult strategies for companies to embrace and the manpower it can take to do each of them effectively is challenging as well. But your social media strategies don’t have to be complex, 100-page marketing plans. Sometimes just rolling up your sleeves and doing the little things accomplish your goals.

So did they?

Even a “math sucks” guy like me can look at the chart and see the results. The negatives are dropping, positives are rising and other analysis Livingston Communications has conducted concludes that negatives are moving toward neutrality. They’ve moved the dial.

One key tactic in the effort, which falls into the providing value bucket, was the Solutions Stars Video Conference (disclosure: I was a participant and interviewed for the program), a live event that continues to live online with video and archive content well worth seeing if you haven’t already. This program alone led to 55 percent of the positive mentions measured. Over 700 tweets (messages on Twitter) included the Solution Stars hashtag (#solutionstars) and over 60 blogs mentioned, wrote about and linked to the event.

Based on the measures of success, this reputation management effort was a success. It’s still ongoing and not finished by any means, nor is any social media effort. These are not episodic, quarterly defined campaigns. These are ongoing conversations and relationships with your customers. But as Livingston Communications and Network Solutions have proven, even those can be quantified and measured.

But what are our questions? Has six to eight months or more of hours spent engaging in the community, consulting with Livingston Communications, producing the Solution Stars Video Conference — all that time, energy and money — has it returned a measure of success that satisfies the measure of worth? Was this program worth it?

Network Solutions may say, “yes,” because the end result measures are good. Livingston Communications will back them up because they want to continue making money from them and have also done a good job of moving the metrics in favor of the client.

But do people still think of them as the front-running and subdomain hijacking company pushing the bounds of what’s acceptable?

Network Solutions vocally supported the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) budget provision that, in effect, curbing front-running by other registrars. Once that budget provision was approved by ICANN, Network Solutions ended their four-day protection policy. While this went miles to help rectify the company reputation in light of the front-running issue, the fact the company didn’t change the policy immediately will always hold a negative connotation. Only time will change that. Changing the policy would have been cheaper and probably more effective in reversing the negative mentions.

The subdomain hijacking issue popped up in April when TechCrunch reported that NetSol was using unclaimed or parked subdomains on customer’s accounts (for instance, news.socialmediaexplorer.com rather than the root of the domain) and filling these pages with paid links to drive more revenue. While Bellamkonda responded, elevated the issue to executive management and, according to a comment he posted on the TechCrunch article, the practice is no longer being employed, there is no other statement from the company about the policy after a search of both the blog or the website. If they’ve changed their behavior and the reputation tarnish still lingers, why not make these responses easily found on your website for those looking for them?

Network Solutions has done a good job of addressing front-running, but may not have adequately addressed the subdomain hijacking yet (though in their defense, the issue has died off as they’ve changed the practice). While the reputation management program has done a good job of delivering on said metrics, I may have recommended starting with clearly visible, easily found statements on the top issues that spark negativity in the marketplace.

That said, reversing negative trends in reputation isn’t as simple as throwing up a statement and moving on. Network Solutions knows that. Livingston Communications knows that. What you have do to is prove that you’re willing to listen, participate in the conversations about your company and provide value to prove you’re in the game to play fair and be respected.

And I don’t need Radian6 analysis (what they used) to prove to me that Network Solutions has done and is doing all of that consistently.

What are your thoughts? Has this program turned the tide for NetSol? Are their other issues they need to be addressing? It’s a pretty safe bet they’ll be watching the comments here, so let them know, good or bad. Please be fair and polite, but know they are listening.

The comments, as always, are yours.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

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  • Mazms

    Hi,
    Nice case study and a good review. Good work Jason!!
    ORM has been a serious issue for the online marketers. I have used a tool called AirCheese. Its beta version is available for free download. Informs you immediately when negative content is posted about your brand, product, or website. Its worth checking.

  • Mazms

    Hi,
    Nice case study and a good review. Good work Jason!!
    ORM has been a serious issue for the online marketers. I have used a tool called AirCheese. Its beta version is available for free download. Informs you immediately when negative content is posted about your brand, product, or website. Its worth checking.

  • Mazms

    Hi,
    Nice case study and a good review. Good work Jason!!
    ORM has been a serious issue for the online marketers. I have used a tool called AirCheese. Its beta version is available for free download. Informs you immediately when negative content is posted about your brand, product, or website. Its worth checking.

  • Mazms

    Hi,
    Nice case study and a good review. Good work Jason!!
    ORM has been a serious issue for the online marketers. I have used a tool called AirCheese. Its beta version is available for free download. Informs you immediately when negative content is posted about your brand, product, or website. Its worth checking.

  • Mazms

    Hi,
    Nice case study and a good review. Good work Jason!!
    ORM has been a serious issue for the online marketers. I have used a tool called AirCheese. Its beta version is available for free download. Informs you immediately when negative content is posted about your brand, product, or website. Its worth checking.

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  • jobypollard

    reputation management

    ’d love to see how this effects sales. I’d guess there’s a certain boost from the “I want to go to the place I saw on TV – despite what I think of the owner” crowd, but that would certainly subside. The long term outlook, however is likely much more grim due to the negative reviews and down-votes.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks Joby. I'm sure Shashi Bellamkonda can provide some insight as to
      NetSol's sales after their social media efforts. Hopefully, he'll swing by.

  • http://www.shashi.name/ Shashib

    Hi Joby,

    Thanks for your question. Our social media strategy did not begin as a result of any loss of sales but more as a extension of taking care of customers in channels beyond traditional methods. When we started what surprised us was that the ratio of negative to positive was so high online even though we won several customer service awards and had good customer satisfaction scores.
    Now after putting a social media program in place we find more customer evangelists on places like Twitter, Facebook etc recommending us. We are stlll maintaining a great positive to negative ratio . See an update to our program http://bit.ly/6DY8dE and we hope to persuade Jason to have maybe a year later post :) We have conversations everyday with customers using @netsolcares and we started a channel for coupons and offers @nsoffers. We are not in the scale of Dell but we have made a beginning in social channels.

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    I’d love to see how this effects sales. I’d guess there’s a certain boost from the “I want to go to the place I saw on TV – despite what I think of the owner” crowd, but that would certainly subside. The long term outlook, however is likely much more grim due to the negative reviews and down-votes.

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    ORM has been a serious issue for the online marketers. Technology

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    Thank you for the advice! Very useful article!

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    Very useful! Thank you!

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    Networks solutions have been around since I first started browsing online. I can say I grew with them. I'm happy to see that some things have still survived over the time considering how fast the internet changes.
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  • Sam Balayan

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    Reputation management can be divided effectively into categories of three, which will be explained herewith. It is obviously managing the reputation of a specific company, the three different categories is the Building, management and recovery of a company’s reputation. Different companies has different needs in regards to reputation management and as all good plans, it will take time to come to effect.Reputation Management

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  • Bil Jac

    This is garbage and propeganda. How much did they pay you for this article? $1000? $5000? Did you loose a golf match or make a deal while drunk? NOTWORK solutions still “not work”. Every webdeveloper out there knows this very well. Do you build websites? Do you have to deal with what this evil cancer of a company does to people on a daily basis? They are just as bad as web.com, total scam. On an average of 3 times per month degraded, manipulated, and pissed off customers come to me to save them from this monster of a company and their outrageous fee’s and non-existent support. As for the social media. Radian6 SMH, you have got to be kidding me, in the last 3 years I have seen offers over and over and over to assist companies in faking their social data, its all smoke and mirrors. The REAL social media proof comes from ROI, nothing else. Its the same as trying to gauge success based on CTR with a brad phrase: thats BS and you know it. Stop lying to people, this company is bad news and you know it.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      You need to take customer service issues with Network Solutions up with them, not us. This article is over five years old and is case study of how the company solved a reputation problem in 2008. We don’t appreciate the insinuation we were paid to write this, which we were not. After this article was written, I was asked to serve on a social media advisory board for NetSol, but was never paid to do so. If you have a problem with NetSol, take it up with them. If you want to accuse us of wrongdoing, back it up with proof. You can’t, so please stop. We have no room for that kind of behavior in our comments. Thank you.

      • Bil Jac

        Sure, burden of proof is on the accuser. I get it and I’ve got nuthen jack, nothing that will stick, I call it like I see it and it takes one to know one ;) you dig?

        …as for “solved a reputation problem in 2008″ smh. No, I beg to differ. That reputation is just as terrible as @home was back in the day. Like I said, “On an average of 3 times per month degraded, manipulated, and pissed off customers come to me to save them from this monster of a company and their outrageous fee’s and non-existent support.” The first words out my mouth when a customer begs me to fix their website or solve a web based multimedia issue is “who do you host with”, and if its Netsol, I add 10% to the usual quote because I know what I am about to deal with is going to be absurd.

        I prefer to think that one does not “solve” a reputation problem by throwing social media at it, you fix the problem by fixing the service. Its as simple as plumbing, you can put all the gold trim on a leaky pipe you want, and you can paint the exterior of the home till kingdom come, but I tell you truly my friend it does not solve the problem.

        Tell me, honestly and I will YIELD good sir, I will shut up and go away; after serving on the “social media advisory board” for NetSol did you see them make any attempt to:

        1- fix the real problem from an IT perspective such as moving to CPANEL and WHM instead of the not-work proprietary software barely running their systems?

        2- make actual adjustments to their DNS and hosting services that developers would agree were in the best interest of website security and functionality?

        3- get rid of the ‘slightly shady’ monthly billings?

        4- actually provide real value SEO and support services instead of web[dot]com’s less than admirable business model?

        5- provide legitimate phone support which actually rectifies problems instead of the collocated foreign call centers and “ticket” systems that take 24 hours to receive a working solution?

        6- really hear (as in DO something) what they were “listening to” in social media from the customers and more importantly, the web developers who maintain those accounts?

        7- truly stop squatting the sub-domains to pass rank?

        8- and for the grand finally, can you honestly say that every like button click, every +1, every retweet, and every piece of positive material that you saw fly through the “social analitics” was indeed organic, natural, legitimate, and not paid for by NetSol’s marketing budget?

        If you can ace all 8 above, I agree, then they DID indeed “solve a reputation problem in 2008″…

        • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

          Sounds to me like you have a customer support issue with NetSol. I’m not sure how Social Media Explorer can help. But thanks for chiming in.

          • Bil Jac

            I guess I am not really looking for help or support, this is for you bro, all you. Please read this, I promise you will enjoy it. First let me offer up some apologetic’s: based on your dodge-ball responses I suspect that you feel this is some sort of epic trolling, which is indeed 50% correct, but I am not posting simply to evoke an emotional response, no indeed. I am operating in the mode of Chapter 2 of your book “NO BULLSHIT SOCIAL MEDIA”. (Specifically the point “Today’s consumer is is different” and I am letting you know you were right, as a webmaster I deal with that front line and articles like this up here are “that same old dinosaur”. )

            Let me tell you a story. Here is how I ended up here on Monday Dec 23rd, around 6 am. After a full week of researching a long list of problems, (mostly caused directly and I admit “indirectly” by netsol and webDOTcom), for a client I had a call with them on Friday, the 20th where they suggested I read your book, so, I did, read the whole thing over the weekend, not too shabby and on point.

            Monday before my call with them to explain the simple concept of “your website and server have to really work before we can do any social media campaigns” I decided to see what the author of that book had to say about the company that is indeed causing all their problems, which, lead me here. To my dismay I find this gem (above) and I decided to post my un-caffinated early morning response with a dash of salt.

            From there I decided to add a very odd supplement in my vendor response to their RFP. Basically I showed how NetSol as an example of what NOT to do directly quoting chapters 6-10 and 13/14 of your book “NO BULLSHIT SOCIAL MEDIA”.

            Thought you might get a kick out of that and I am totally impressed that you responded to my post and did not censor it, GOOD JOB.

            Here is an interesting exercise I prefer to think a guy who writes a book like that might like to try:
            1- note the chapters listed above from your book, since you wrote it I suspect the titles will do.
            2- go get a domain and an e-commerce website from NetSol and WebDOTcom
            3- try to market your book using those tools and their customer support…

            (its just business, and a little fluff, don’t take this personal, clearly I am using a ‘discrete profile’ so I can say what I want without anyone know who I am, and trust me, I am not really all that important, just a good ol PHP developer who prefers to buy high quality brand name dog food.)

          • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

            So I’m having drinks after a long week and look at my phone am see this comment. I’ll respond more later, but allow me to say that after reading this, my only response is you are the coolest troll in the history of the Internet. Heh.

            Good stuff here. I’ll respond when I have more time.

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