In Part 1 on this topic I wrote about why it’s so important that businesses of every size and type get on board with online reputation management. I also discussed the importance of “listening” to what’s being said about your business online and pointed out a few tools that are available to help you do so.
Yes, starting your reputation management program by “listening” is important, but if you don’t take the time to understand what you’ve found and you don’t take appropriate and timely action, then listening is pretty much a waste of time.
So, in this post, I’m going to discuss the two other critical and inter-related components to an effective reputation management program; understanding and acting on what you’ve discovered.
Who’s Listening & Responding To What’s Being Said?
If you’re a small business – a local retailer, a restauranteur, a bed & breakfast owner, a financial advisor, a medical practitioner, etc. etc. you’re probably extremely busy and may not be all that savvy when it comes to social media tools and best practices. The tendency will be for you to delegate these responsibilities to a young employee who enjoys social media and seems to know what they are doing.
Of course this strategy could work, but it could also be a recipe for disaster. Using social media for business is totally different than using it for personal enjoyment. For businesses, being social online should be all about getting, keeping and growing customers; and doing this successfully requires knowledge, experience and skills that often only social media professionals or people who’ve stayed at a Holiday Inn have.
To be successful with reputation management, you’re going to need best practice processes for gathering information, identifying its relevance, understanding the sentiment and most importantly, when, if, and how to respond.
Although your chosen technology tool can help, only people who are very knowledgeable about your business, its brand promise, and social media practices and etiquette will be able to properly interpret what the data all means, answer the tough questions and (most importantly) know what the appropriate action/response is.
Real social media intelligence is the combination of technology and expert insight by knowledgeable people.
Interpreting What You Find
Analyzing and interpreting the comments you find on Facebook, Twitter, Review and Check-in web sites is a skill in itself. The true meaning and value of what’s being said is not always obvious.
Here are some of the opportunities that might be found with your “listening” tool that can be of value to your business and/or its reputation:
* Generating New Leads – “Hi Sue, I’m heading to Denver this morning, wanna have lunch?” This could be an opportunity for a Denver restaurant to offer a promo/invite to their establishment. Bottom line: You need to be on the look out for people who are, or might be, interested in your products and services and appropriately engage them.
* Buzz Tracking – You, or your business, get some positive local coverage in a paper, magazine, or on the radio or TV. Tracking the spread of the social media response your business gets as result, facilitating the “virality” of this content, being able to determine what the full (buzz) life-cycle is, can all help you to take advantage of an excellent marketing opportunity.
* Brand Reputation – Comments about your business and its products and services can help you to get a handle on how it’s currently perceived and how customers rate you versus your competitors. You may find opportunities to make improvements to your business here. Or, when the comments are positive, your response could help to create more “brand advocates”.
* Fostering Dialogue and Promoting Advocacy – Identifying and engaging key influencers could build positive spin for your business with these people.
* Crisis Management – If there’s a negative conversation swirling around about your business or brand you not only want to know about it, but you want to be able to respond, when appropriate, to prevent and mitigate any further damage to your business’s reputation.
* Customer Support – Uncovering and responding quickly and appropriately to customer service questions and issues is of course of paramount importance.
Engaging with Prospects and Customers
Engagement in social media is different for every business. And getting started can be daunting, especially after you’ve spent a lot of time listening.
There are varying ways to engage using social media depending on the source of and type of information you’ve uncovered. As I noted above, you can answer a question, share some information, offer to be helpful to someone and show interest in the needs of your prospects and customers.
Remember, engaging successfully requires an understanding of what to do with social media intelligence once you have it, making sure the right people in your business are aware of it and finally, that each item requiring engagement is responded to appropriately and on a timely basis.
As Sebastian Cowie noted in his post, Online Reputation Management – 5 Tips To Protect Your Brand –
To do this successfully, you’ll need to have a plan in place outlining how to react to each type of comment that arises – especially negative comments. Reacting inappropriately can and will have a negative effect on your business and/or brand, so careful planning is essential.
It is usually best to have one person, or a small group of people, take charge of reacting to negative comments. When you find a negative blog post, comment or review that warrants a response, act quickly, but make sure that you are professional and courteous at all times. Even if you don’t change the mind of the original commenter, other people will see that you are trying to resolve the situation professionally, and this can go in your favor.
It is also a good idea to react to positive mentions. When you find a positive review or simply someone announcing how much they love what you do, a quick ‘thank you’ can go a long way. It shows that you care about your customers and listen to what they are saying, and it can be a great way to improve brand loyalty.
Most importantly, engagement does not usually end with a social media response alone. Taking meaningful action some times requires “real” change within your organization.
Meaningful customer-focused engagement often includes making changes to the way you’re doing things; changes to your policies and procedures, changes to how your employees interact with prospects and customers and changes to how you collaborate.
Responding To Negative Criticism
There’s always a chance that you may get up one morning go to your listening tool and get an unpleasant surprise… a negative comment.
If someone is trashing you and their comments seems ridiculous and unreasonable then DO NOT respond. Nothing good will come of it. Keep thinking about what Kenny Rogers once sang “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold, em, know when to walk away and when to run.” Don’t “gamble” with your online reputation and get into an online fight with an unreasonable person. These type of people tend to be notoriously stubborn and vocal… so walk away. Eventually positive comments will push a lone negative one to the side.
As Christopher Null noted in his article, How to clean up your business’s online reputation –
What if you believe that a complainer has the capability to engage in a mature debate instead of a hostile flame war? Can a measured response ever be appropriate?
Reputation.com CEO Michael Fertik thinks that it’s possible. “Unless the person is truly nasty and it’s clear there’s no room for productive conversation, in most cases you should indicate your desire to resolve the situation as soon as possible. Let them know you’ll contact them–this protects their privacy and enables you to fix the issue without an online audience. Make sure to follow through,” he says. And remember: If someone is griping about your business or its products, they might have a valid complaint. Consider all complaints seriously and take corrective action when it’s warranted.
So how about some discussion about how you’ve handled your online reputation — Please comment below… but be nice!