How to defend your online reputation
With Google often the first port of call when shopping for everything from legal advice to airfares, it has never been more important for a company to ensure that it keeps its nose clean online.
Just ask the Australian electrical goods retailer Bing Lee, which was hit by a storm of online criticism after it ran a campaign whereby the company offered to donate $1 to the Queensland flood appeal if people ‘liked’ its page on Facebook.
A quick Google search shows results relating to the controversy are still plaguing the company on page one.
The Bing Lee furore followed other notable incidents, such as United Airlines, which in July 2009 was the subject of a song about a broken guitar went viral on YouTube. Earlier that year the US business of Dominos Pizza was the subject of a YouTube video of kitchen staff performing unsanitary acts.
When these incidents top the Google rankings, a company’s reputation can suffer accordingly.
It is not just large businesses that are at risk. The San Francisco-based online review site Yelp encourages consumers to anonymously review local business such as restaurants, shops and beauty spas, and has more than 41 million members. Yelp uses and automated system for flushing out suspicious reviews, such as those perhaps posted from a competitor, but its methods have been frequently criticised and lawsuits have even been filed against it.
Distancing your brand from negative information online can be difficult, but it seems prevention is much easier than a cure.
According to principal for the digital economy at KPMG, Malcolm Alder, if companies build a reputation online for credibility and trustworthiness they are able to respond more effectively.
In the case of United Airlines, Alder says the consumer response might have been different had United already put information into the market about the number of items it moved every day and the percentage that arrived on time, and dealt with the complaint sincerely.
“Had they said they were really sorry, that they would replace his guitar and give two tickets to his favourite band, the wind would have gone out of his sails,” Alder says.
“But you can’t just do that as a knee jerk reaction to a one off event that comes along.”
Believing the worst
Often the most damaging posts catch on because people are willing to believe the worst about the organisations involved.
The backlash against Bing Lee was possibly exacerbated by the public response to the call by retailers to impose GST on good purchased through international online sites, regardless of Bing Lee’s involvement in that campaign.
Similarly, it is not difficult to believe that airlines care little for stowed baggage, or that people have a low regard for the hygiene standards of fast-food restaurants.
According to the head of digital at public relations company Edelman Australia, Matthew Gain, these high-profile incidents have meant that clients are more aware of the need to monitor online channels and respond to even the most mundane criticisms.
“There is a realisation by organisations that crises can have a very real impact on their brand,” Gain says. “There are now so many new avenues to get it into the media.”
Bad news found its way into the mainstream media before the Internet came along, but Taurus Marketing chief executive officer Sharon Williams says the rate at which news disseminates across media channels is astounding.
“With social media, traditional news sources have changed so that everyone can create news, content and conversation,” Williams says.
“With news coming from so many different sources, managing online reputation and real-time communication should be at the top of your agenda.”
First step towards protection
The first step is simply to start monitoring what is being said about your online. Numerous tools exist, such as free services like Google Alerts, to the paid services BuzzNumbers, Alterian’s SM2, Radian6 and SR7.
Williams says it is also important that all organisations have a strategy for social media which offers guidance to employees and aligns with their overall business objectives.
Gain says the key to an effective response is to remain vigilant and act quickly.
“We need to be more vigilant than ever in terms of being aware that issues are arising,” Gain says.
“Whereas we used to monitor the media every morning, now there needs to be almost a constant monitoring of online news and forums to ensure that you reputation remains intact and you are aware of everything that is happening.
“Some of the telcos here in Australia are doing that as well, more from a customer service point of view.”
Digital strategist at Weber Shandwick Jye Smith says often the risks from a negative posting are not as great as people initially think.
He says it is important part to define the significance of the post – whether it is a valid concern, its nature, and the influence of the author.
“We’ll define a response that is actually going to be beneficial for the author and the stakeholders that are affected,” Smith says.
“With the speed of social media, the most important thing is to send a response, just to give some transparency into what the process is.
“There is a bigger experience of a brand than one negative incident. There are a lot of incidents that are not enough to make you change your mind if the brand experience is good enough.”