What is online reputation management?
It’s the practice of both monitoring the online reputation of a person, brand, product or business, and of addressing negative mentions, either by eliminating or suppressing them, or by decreasing their visibility on search engine results pages by pushing them lower; for example, making the negative content appear on page 15 of a Google results page, rather than on page one or two.
Online reputation has become a thriving business. Many companies and products offer services to manage online reputations.
While occasionally reputation management can involve requests or demands that negative content be removed from the web, that’s neither a reliable nor effective strategy.
The practice of online reputation management is based overwhelmingly on one practice: content marketing.
At the most fundamental level, search engines are designed to do one thing: find, and prioritize, online content based on the words or phrases used in search queries.
Long before the term “online reputation management” was coined, marketers were advised to google the names associated with their company, brands, products and executives, plus the qualifier “sucks,” to learn if they were being dissed online, and why.
Old Style Reputation Management = Googling
An example is the infamous “miserable failure” Googlebombing case study. In 2003, back in the George W. Bush administration, a loose, but large, fraternity of websites linked the term “miserable failure” to point to the then-president’s official White House biography web page.
It stayed that way for four years, until Google retooled its search algorithm to counteract the practice.
That was back in the days before social media. Back in 2003, it still was relatively difficult to build a web page or site to air complaints and share them with friends, members of your business network, or even the entire universe of Internet users.
Consumer-Generated Media Rules
No longer. Consumers complain across the social web sphere: on blogs, forums, social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, on Twitter, and in YouTube videos, to name only a few of the channels readily available to anyone with an internet connection.
Own a local business? They’re reviewing you on Citysearch, Yelp, Zagat.com and on the local business listings at Google, Bing and Yahoo.
Selling products? Consumers can easily review them on Amazon or virtually any other major ecommerce site. In fact, many of these sits have social media links that let consumers push their opinions from a product page straight to Facebook or Twitter.
It’s All About The Content
Monitoring — and addressing — online reputation issues boils down to search engine optimization. Creating, disseminating and promoting strong, credible, positive content is pretty much the only weapon at a marketer’s disposal.
Online reputation management starts with having a content strategy and content marketing already in place. You don’t want to wait until there’s a fire blazing to assemble the tools you needs to douse the blaze. Rather, you not only want those tools in place, you want to have already constructed fortifications in the form of plenty of optimized content on the web in general, as well as on blogs, social media and social networking sites.
It’s also critically important that all online content and digital communications be optimized for search. This includes PR, marketing, and investor relations, as well as any other digital content available on the web, anywhere. Optimized text, images, audio, and video results in more content in search engine results pages.
Don’t be fooled that once content elements are in place, you can set it and forget it. Content marketing, like search engine optimization, is an ongoing process. You’ll always have to continue what journalists have long called “feeding the beast.”
It’s important to bear in mind that not all reviews will be positive, and 100 percent of customers will never be happy 100 percent of the time. Online reputation management isn’t about obliterating any negative mention or association made with your organization, rather by mitigating those negative results with strong, positive, visible, and consistent content.
As any politician caught with his pants down (literally) can attest, reputation issues can strike suddenly and without warning. Online, such attacks can be vicious and literally take down careers and businesses in a manner of days or weeks, often in a highly visible way.
Some online crises are just destined to end badly. It’s nearly impossible to conceive of a strategy that would retroactively restore the reputation of a married member of Congress who was discovered to be sending inappropriate photos of himself to young women on Twitter, for example.
Dell learned this the hard way in 2005 when A-list blogger Jeff Jarvis, frustrated with the company’s refusal to repair or replace his defective computer, published an open letter to CEO Michael Dell on his blog, BuzzMachine.
Immediately, it became one of the most widely-read, discussed, linked-to and viral articles on the web — ever. Every major newspaper and magazine in the country ran the story of what came to be dubbed Dell Hell. That’s when Dell (the company and the CEO) sat up and took notice.
It was a slow and painful evolution, but Dell revamped its customer service and began both blogging and reaching out to bloggers. When Twitter was released, it was one of the first companies with a presence on the platform. The company has at least nine different Facebook pages and an equal number of blogs. It runs various community sites for customers.
It took a full blown crisis to get Dell to respond. Once the company did, it very quickly realized the value of entering into a dialogue with its customers, and not just the one’s of Jeff Jarvis’ stature.
Does Dell still have customer service issues? Certainly. But the fact that the company is committed to continually publishing content that discusses its concerns, challenges, innovations and efforts both in business and in the communities it serves goes far to mitigate customer dissatisfaction.
Prepare Now For Unexpected Battles Ahead
All this didn’t happen at Dell overnight. The company has been making new hires and training existing employees in social media and customer conversations. Companies that haven’t already taken these measures are beginning to wish that they had, particularly when they confront a crisis precipitated by a highly digitally sophisticated opponent
Case in point: Greenpeace vs. Nestlé. In 2010, Greenpeace launched a campaign consisting of a web site and a Facebook page protesting Nestlé’s sourcing of the palm oil used in Kit-Kat candy bars. The oil was being harvested from — and destroying — Indonesian rain forests, pushing orangutans further toward the brink of extinction and threatening the livelihoods of local residents.
Destroying rain forests and driving species into extinction is no one’s idea of corporate responsibility, but Nestlé was ill-prepared for the angry onslaught of Facebook protesters, particularly when people started to replace their profile pictures with a Kit-Kat logo modified to read “Killer.”
That’s when things started to really fall apart. Nestlé’s social media “voices,” most likely outside PR people or untrained interns, got a note from legal and started, amid a substantive discussion about sustainability, to hand out take-down notices.
Nestlé To repeat: we welcome your comments, but please don’t post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic – they will be deleted.
Paul Griffin Hmm, this comment is a bit “Big Brotherish” isn’t it? I’ll have whatever I like as my logo pic thanks! And if it’s altered, it’s no longer your logo is it!
Nestlé @Paul Griffin – that’s a new understanding of intellectual property rights. We’ll muse on that. You can have what you like as your profile picture. But if it’s an altered version of any of our logos, we’ll remove it form this page.
Paul Griffin Not sure you’re going to win friends in the social media space with this sort of dogmatic approach. I understand that you’re on your back-foot due to various issues not excluding Palm Oil but Social Media is about embracing your market, engaging and having a conversation rather than preaching! Read www.cluetrain.com and rethink!
Nestlé stock began to plummet, and the story (predictably) hit the mainstream media. A few days into the debacle, Nestlé changed the corporate statement on its Facebook page to read: “Social media: as you can see we’re learning as we go. Thanks for the comments.”
Lessons learned? Opponents like Greenpeace are incredibly well-organized. They’re web, media and PR savvy — as are many individual web users out there.
Companies must be well-prepared with content, PR-savvy, and the ability to create the right kind of content and deliver it in the appropriate voice. Threatening to sue your customers is never a good strategy (just ask the RIAA). Nor is nitpicking over a logo or copyright issues when lives are — literally — at stake.
Nestlé could certainly have anticipated this campaign. Unilever and Kraft had already stopped their dealings with the Indonesian supplier, at Greenpeace’s behest.
So in addition to not leaving their social media communications and content to unseasoned and junior staff, they could have rehearsed scenarios they must have known were coming, even if they didn’t exactly know the form they would take.
It would also have helped the company to have developed, in advance, relationships that could have strengthen their position.
While Nestlé eventually did capitulate on its palm oil sourcing, reportedly the company had been investigating new sources all along, and planned to stop buying from the Indonesian supplier.
Nestlé could have back this up with content: with blog entries from company executives, with documentation of the research it was conducting, with interviews with experts on sustainability, supply chains, product sourcing.
All this would have provided a wellspring of substantive content the company could have used in its very public discussions with protesters. Instead, the memo from legal took precedence, with unnecessarily disastrous results.
Turning Things Around With Content Ju-Jitsu
In closing this chapter, let’s look at a final and rather unorthodox case study. This one hails from Austin, TX, home of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, one of the most respected arthouse chains in the country.
The Alamo Drafthouse ejected — without a refund — a customer who, despite a posted rule, was texting on her cellphone during a film. Incensed, the customer left a long, vitriolic and obscenity-laden voicemail message on the theatre’s voicemail.
The Alamo converted the message into a YouTube video. In three days, the video went mega-viral with over three million views and a tidal wave of positive responses from cinema-goers everywhere. The story made CNN and other major media outlets.
This customer’s attempt to censor the Alamo for enforcing its policy instead turned the cinema into a hero — when it recognized the opportunity to turn a complaint into content that spoke to the frustrations of filmgoers everywhere who are faced with rude behavior.
Sometimes, reputation management is as simple a matter as turning lemons into lemonade.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.