AS people begin to use the internet more and more, not only on computers but via mobile devices too, whether they realise it or not, they are leaving more and more of a digital footprint.
In addition to that, if you have a business, whether you are online or not, it is quite likely that people are talking about you whether you like it or not.
This quote by marketing guru Scott Stratten sums it up for me: "In a world where every consumer is a reporter, every business owner and employee should be a marketer. "
For these reasons I believe it is important that you place a high priority on monitoring and managing your online reputation.
Some companies with a budget big enough to warrant it are taking the issue of managing their online reputation extremely seriously, committing serious resources and setting up massive control rooms with massive teams of staff monitoring every mention.
See this YouTube clip to see what Gatorade do to monitor their brand online: http://youtu.be/InrOvEE2v38.
Having a massive control room and the resources involved is however not realistic for most SMEs in Australia. So here are a few ways that you can monitor and manage your online reputation yourself:
1) Set up Google alerts - Apart from being a great search engine, Google has many free and great products. One I have used for years is Google Alerts which you can find at google.com/alerts. Google Alerts are email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your queries.
To utilise this free service, simply go to this website address and set up alerts for:
a) your personal name
b) your company name
c) any key products or services that you offer that are unique or trademarked names
d) your competitors' names
e) key industry terms that it is important for you to be abreast of.
Google Alerts gives you the option to receive these alerts once a week, once a day or as it happens. I've always gone for the as it happens option, because if some major issue breaks related to your business or industry, you want to be the first to know. Out of the other options you are presented, I recommend opting for 'everything' as opposed to segments of Google's search engine i.e. blogs, news etc. and I recommend setting alerts to receive 'all results' instead of 'best results' to ensure you are receiving comprehensive coverage.
Alerts will be sent to your email address or you can also elect to receive them via Google Reader. Either way, it will do the hard work for you, rather than you going trawling on the internet for it.
2. Hootsuite - Social Media is obviously a massive and growing area where people are certainly talking about other companies and their experiences with them, whether the experience they had was good, bad or otherwise. It is therefore important to monitor and manage what is being said about you on the search networks. A great tool to achieve this is Hootsuite. Using this tool, you are able to set up search terms as listed at point 1 (i.e. your name, company name, trademarks and any other key interest thing that are significant to you). Once a day it is a good idea to log into Hootsuite and see if anyone is talking about you or at you on the social networks. Depending on what is being said, a response may be required. See below for options when it comes to responding to items online to manage your online reputation.
3. Me On The Web - Google is aware that some people are reluctant to place their details online and worry about what information Google has on them. For this reason it has the 'Me on the Web' privacy tool which helps you find your data on the internet, and gives you the option to remove unwanted content. This is a little known part of Google's services, and one I highly recommend you check out.
So what do you do if you don't like what is being said about you/your company/your service/your products online?
Whilst being given the tools to identify what is being said about you is empowering, if you find something you don't like, it can be hard to know what to do. The most important thing to remember is NOT TO PANIC. Responding immediately under emotion can often be the worst thing to do.
Instead, here are a few options you could consider if you don't like what is being said, however in some instances you may need to It is important to note that different options below are best used in different circumstances and you may need to call on the advice of a professional if you are unsure of the best course of action:
1. Stay silent - but be 'aware' - Sometimes issues are not serious enough to warrant any response, but are certainly worth being aware of.
2. Buy yourself time - Respond and say 'matter has been referred to management' and plan a response, perhaps with professional advice. Whilst you may be a small company, sometimes buying some time is what you need to come back with the perfect response. You could use lines such as - 'we have referred this matter to management' or 'we are looking into the matter and will respond shortly' simply to buy yourself valuable time to give the perfect response. During this time you might even like to consult with a lawyer, PR or social media specialist in what they recommend for the best course of actions.
3. 'Kill them with kindness' - sometimes the person may have the wrong end of the stick and it may mean that you need to respectfully point out that they do and make sure you come across as kind and caring as possible.
4. Ask them how you can fix it - If you're a bit stumped as to what to do, sometimes it can be appropriate to ask the other person how they think you should manage the situation by asking them 'how can we make this better'. Sure, sometimes people will take advantage and come back with ridiculous responses and other times they will suggest a reasonable solution that you have not even though of which is plausible for you to provide, and well worth asking for.
5. Personally see it through to the end - Even with the best of intentions, it can be easy to get busy and not see a matter through to the end. If you are going to pass the issue on to another staff member, make sure they understand the importance of managing your reputation on your behalf, and ensure 'ownership' of seeing through any problem to the end.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how amazing your business is. Your online reputation is important, and measures to monitor and manage it should definitely be taken. Hopefully the tools mentioned in this blog post will help.
I would like to hear from you with any situations you believe you have resolved well online and how you managed to achieve them.
Perhaps you have more suggestions on how you can/have managed your online reputation too?
By Yvette Adams, director of The Creative Collective.
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