James Griffin founded online reputation management group SR7 in 2008 after discovering several businesses were suffering negative feedback from customers on sites such as Facebook and MySpace, and were wondering how to fix the problem.
SR7 offers an audit service that monitors where a company is mentioned, the tone of the conversation and offers solutions on how to fix the issue before it escalates. He says SMEs need to pay attention to what is being said about them online, and connect with customers on social media to improve their reputation.
How did you start SR7?
I completed a degree in politics and interactive media. During that time I was working for a politician, and that happened to coincide with the Barack Obama campaign over in the US. I think that campaign illustrated to the world how powerful social media could be in delivering a message.
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I then worked at a government relations firm in Sydney, and there I discovered issues were popping up with regards to social media in business. I found there were really no systems or tools that could monitor the content on social media regarding platforms and brands, and if businesses did find this stuff they didn’t know what to do about it.
Because it’s becoming more important now, people buy or don’t buy things based on what they read online, and companies need to deal with small problems before they turn into bigger ones.
Were your first clients trying to get out into social media, or trying to fix a problem that had already occurred?
When we first started it was very much a case of people having an issue blow up, and then them calling us for us to sort it out and have a look at what happened.
But since the beginning of this year, and some of last year, more companies have been proactive in understanding how it affects their business. They’ll want to talk to us and have us show them what to do, which definitely shows an increase in the knowledge that companies have about social media and how serious they are taking it.
When a company approaches you for help, what are the first steps you take?
We undertake a full online audit of the company. This is important, because it provides a benchmark for everything that happens from this point onwards. Most of the time we go six months back and find out what’s being said about the company, its brand, products, and so on, in areas like social media sites and blogs.
The audit is a good starting point because it points out risks, opportunities and identifies key influencers. There could be bloggers commenting on the brand, pretty prominent ones, getting a lot of comments. You’ll often find a key group of people are commenting on the service, so you identify whether the main chatter is positive or negative and provide that information.
From there we really go on to whether the company has a communications crisis plan, something to do with social media or anything like that. Most of the time, they don’t.
Are they aware of what’s being said about them?
Not at all. We ask companies whether they have a good understanding about what’s being said, and unfortunately, they say they don’t. It really sheds some light for them.
That’s the real benefit of undertaking a venture like this, because it harnesses the opportunity there and gives companies a good answer as to why people are saying things the way they are.
After you provide a company with an audit, where do you go from there?
We tell them to build in social media. We tell them that there is no use measuring something if you can’t manage it, and they need to have continued reporting of what is being said on blogs, Facebook, etc, and to consider whether what is being said is positive or negative.
Then we tell them to get on there and start interacting with people, what language to use and that sort of thing. If there are negative reviews and discussion on big forums we discuss how to go in and talk with users about that, and instruct them on the ways they should be interacting with customers.
We show companies how to solve issues customers may have online, how to stop problems before they arise and how to stop an online complaint into escalating into something further.
Another key point we emphasise is the registration of online assets. So they need to register names on Facebook, MySpace, etc, even if they aren’t using it. Then they should go and communicate with people in this area. It could be on Flickr, MySpace, YouTube, it could be anything.
Then we move on to teaching them about content. We show them that if you’re not selling your brand online, then someone else is doing it for you and could be trashing it. It could just be a Wikipedia page that’s needed, because they are traditionally very strong in Google ranks. Content is critical, and we show them that and make sure they have content on all of these pages.
Do you find these companies are opposed to these recommendations, or do they accept suggestions pretty easily?
We just show them statistics and they are pretty responsive to that. Many are often immediately convinced. This is basically a new word-of-mouth, and they can’t put their head in the sand any more. Once they get the audit, it crystallises the way forward.
What advice would you have for businesses moving into social media?
The number one point is to ask yourself why you are going into a particular space. You have to understand what you’re getting into this for. Companies say “we do it because everyone else”, and that’s fine, but you have to figure out what capacity you’re doing this in. Is it a sales tool? Communications channel? Until companies work out what they are doing, and why, problems will arise.