Despite its current popularity, brand reputation management (BRM) is not a new concept. Most credible organizations have always taken their reputation seriously. It used to be called PR and word-of-mouth marketing.
However, the arena has changed fundamentally since then. User-generated feedback via social sites and review networks is now commonplace, and such instant feedback means new challenges and opportunities for every business.
Today, BRM is about actively managing the references, conversations, and feedback on your business. Typically, those occur online, but being mindful of what happens in the offline environment is equally important. An in-store complaint that is not dealt with properly will invariably make its way through the virtual grapevine; therefore, it shouldn't be ignored.
So, what course of action should you take? Basically, having a good defense as well as attack strategy is required. Here are seven key areas you should address:
- Search engine dominance
- Brand monitoring
- Social media PR
- Reviews and recommendations
- Customer service and culture
- Negative-PR management
- Brand advocacy
1. Search Engine Dominance
When users type your business's name into a search engine, your company website should be the first listing they see. The remaining listings will vary (according to device, geography, etc.); however, they will typically include social profiles, entries for Google Places, and news stories. Wikipedia pages and review sites can also make the front page, so check that any facts printed there are correct.
Your aim should be to dominate the first page results with listings you control. Set up key social profiles (if you haven't already)—and, crucially, make sure you have a Google+ page. Google will include Google+ updates on the right-hand side of its desktop search results, so being active on this channel is a great way to push positive news and information.
To exude authority, you should also aim to appear prominently in search results for key search terms within your industry. The more a customer sees your brand in search results, the more they will regard you as an important player.
2. Brand Monitoring
Depending on the size of your business, lots of people may be talking about your brand online, or a very small amount. Irrespective of numbers, it is important that you understand what is being said. You may need to respond to inaccurate stories, deal with an aggrieved customer, or simply reply to an unanswered question. Even a small number of mentions—positive or negative—can have implications.
Fortunately, lots of tools are available to help you to monitor such conversations, include the following tools:
Your aim should be to monitor brand mentions wherever they take place online—forums, social sites, blog posts, etc.; then,you can respond where appropriate. Smaller businesses should take advantage of as many free monitoring tools as possible. Larger businesses might consider a paid solution or outsourcing.
3. Social Media PR
An important part of BRM is to project a positive business image. Social media provides an excellent platform for doing so, allowing you to cultivate your desired public personality. Look to maintain activity on the networks relevant to your business, and strive to create a reputation as an authority, which will add credibility to what you say.
For larger businesses, social activity should also extend to the online profiles of your key staff. Their LinkedIn profiles (including your company page) must be accurate and up to date, while their personal social sites should be identified as such.
4. Reviews and Recommendations
Every business is open to critique, and the digital arena provides the perfect soapbox to air sch views. For most companies, that can be a positive thing—an opportunity to showcase glowing endorsements.
If your business is fortunate enough to have many excellent reviews, then look to harness those reviews on your website and via services such as Trustpilot and Bazaarvoice. Although there are costs involved with both, they can form a key part of your BRM. When you share and encourage reviews, your customers will do the positive talking for you. Customer endorsements have been proven to hold more weight than company recommendations, so investing in this area can help all aspects of your business.
Admittedly, not every business is in the fortunate position of having a catalog of positive customer feedback. Accordingly, you need to look at addressing any problems first. However, negative reviews can help to highlight where improvements need to be made.
5. Customer Service and Culture
Brand reputation management is not a term that all staff will be familiar with, but it is crucial that they understand its significance. Every interaction with a customer or supplier is potentially being evaluated, so that fact needs to be communicated internally. Consider introducing targets for customer service staff and look to actively champion the importance of your brand reputation internally.
6. Negative-PR management
Negative PR can occur in many shapes and forms—from a disgruntled customer who posts feedback online to an exposé on unethical business practices. For most businesses, however, negative feedback will be from customers; what is important is how such feedback is dealt with.
If negative comments are posted online, make sure they are followed up and responded to—in a timely manner. If the complaint is especially strong, it may be worth offering a discount—or, if your brand is coveted, a branded giveaway with a sorry note.
Crucially, if the same negative feedback keeps occurring, then it is time to address the issue directly rather than continuing to apologize.
7. Brand Advocacy
Finally, who better to endorse your brand than your best customers? Send your most valued customers free items, invite them to a VIP event, or ask them to take part in company feedback. The likelihood is that they will quite happily talk about their experiences online, projecting a very favorable viewpoint of your brand.