People love to talk and social media in many ways is all about communicating. People have always talked about your products, your customer service, and your business practices. In the past they may have chatted over the phone, or at a family BBQ. As a company you knew they talked, as as long as you were doing your job, you didn’t think there was too much to worry about. Isolated conversations, within walls were okay to you and your company.
Then came social media. A new, permanent, online conversation where people still talk but this time their words stay on in virtual perpetuity. These words are more powerful than in the past because what your customers say can now be found by those searching for your service. Conversations on blogs, social networking/bookmarking site are easily indexed and found by simple searches. This is why social media is so different and why every company needs to pay attention.
It can take months, even years and many thousands of dollars to build a brand. This brand you’ve built can be easily tarnished by what your customers say on forums, blogs, social networking sites etc. And these words are powerful. According to a recent study from Forrester Research and Intelliseek, almost 65% of respondents said they trusted the recommendations of consumers as they were conducting online research. Compared to less than 45% who said they trusted messages on T.V. and radio.
If this isn’t enough here are some numbers from a recent study conducted by the Society for New Communications Research:
- 59.1% of respondents use social media to “vent” about a customer care experience
- 72.2% of respondents research companies’ customer care online prior to purchasing products and services at least sometimes
- 74% choose companies/brands based on others’ customer care experiences shared online
These numbers clearly demonstrate that you need to know what your customers are saying about you on social media sites.
Where do you start?
Monitoring your online reputation is not an easy task. It will depend on the type of industry you’re in and the reach of your brand. If you’re a local coffee shop, then some of the free tools from Google and Yahoo may suffice. However, a company with a regional or a national presence will require a more sophisticated approach involving investments in time and technology. Take a look at the 34 Online Reputation Management Tools referenced at Duct Tape Marketing blog to get an idea for how vast the options can be.
For starters I would recommend setting up alerts on Google and Yahoo for your company name. This way whenever your name is mentioned on any website on the Internet you will be notified. I will caution you that these are not exhaustive and in my experience are rather limited. However, it will open your eyes to the reason for why you need to monitor your reputation online and provide a foundation for developing a comprehensive online reputation management strategy for your business.
For a more sophisticated approach there are many tools available and the right one will depend on your industry as well as your size and reach. For example in the hospitality industry the two software systems I’ve evaluated keep an eye on your rankings, reviews and endorsements on travel focused sites such as Expedia, TripAdvisor etc. These programs automatically deliver the most recent user comments on your brand to you. Information to help you post a management response is also made readily available.
Online reputation management is emerging as an important component to a comprehensive social media strategy for many business. I believe monitoring your reputation online is only a first step. As a marketer you then need to devise a strategy for responding to customer views once you learn about it. This response needs to be well thought out and cannot be seen as being pushy, arrogant, and flippant. In other words you need to deliver that personal care you’ve always promised. In a down economy where everything counts, online reputation management may be just one of the things you do to beat your competition. That should get your customers talking!