New Year's Top Resolution: Managing Your Online Reputation!

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by: Christian Smagg

Well, 2009 has arrived, along with the New Year’s resolutions and the ever-present pundit predictions. Now that we’re on the other side of the New Year, I thought I would share my thoughts on what I feel should be one of the companies’ top priorities – and probably their number 1 resolution for this year: Efficiently managing their online reputation.

Every day, a blogger or forum member is discussing something important to your business, being your company’s brand, your key executives, your competitors or your industry. They may be hyping your company and building positive buzz for your products or criticizing your services, complaining to others about the poor quality of your customer service. When you think about it, companies aren’t just potentially facing negative consumer buzz. Criminals are starting to blackmail corporations by threatening to attack their reputations online and competitors can also get online and cause trouble.

Managing online reputation is fast becoming a growing problem for businesses. With the rise of social media and user-generated content, online reputation is not just a matter of tracking influential blogs. Millions of people can alter the content of popular sites, anonymous people can post rumours on obscure chat sites and popular consumer rating sites. The Internet has quickly become a complex ecosystem where public opinion can be created and disseminated within seconds. Keeping your eyes and ears on the world of consumer generated media can be a daunting task for any company. Blogs, forums, wikis and social networks gain popularity every day and without a plan to monitor and manage your company’s online reputation, you could be at risk.

A business’s reputation will be based on an almost infinite amount of information sources. The Internet is a huge database of unstructured information. When everyone is a publisher, the likelihood of libel increases a millionfold. Accountability has fallen by the wayside."
Toby Bell, Research Vice President at Gartner, Inc.

A great brand can take months, if not years, and millions of dollars to build. It should be the thing you hold most precious and managing your business’s online reputation is key to owning your brand. Many enterprises are only just starting to understand the importance of online reputation management. It is fast becoming critical for marketing and communication, legal counsel, corporate risk management and the line of business alike to really understand how to better monitor, manage and measure online reputation and to remedy problems faster when they occur. There are so many conversations out there that there is simply no effective manual way to identify them all, to figure out whether there is something to take action on, to react to or promote. Companies should therefore create policies and adopt technologies that can help analyse what is being said about them on the Internet and respond to conversations that can damage their reputations.

The proliferation of social media on the web empowers consumers to become influential, opinion-wielding publishers but also enables businesses to take the pulse of consumers as it pertains to their brands. There are a handful of vendors including Reputica, Nielsen BuzzMetrics, Andiamo Systems, Market Sentinel or Visible Technologies to name a few, that offer services and technologies to help you monitor, protect, nurture and build a stellar reputation for your business. These solutions will help you gain a comprehensive understanding of what your customers are saying about your products & services, and proactively identify issues that have the potential to affect the reputation of your company, image or brand. You will be able to gain control of crisis situations with up-to-the-minute intelligence that helps you pinpoint the consumer state of mind on issues that can include product recalls, liability issues, consumer activism, negative publicity, corporate issues, news events, rumours or situations you never expected. Advanced monitoring, relevance detection, filtering, classification, sentiment & concept mining, modelling and scoring techniques as well as visualisation technologies will also enable you to leverage candid public conversations so you’re in the best possible position to repair your relationship with customers, stakeholders, regulators, the media, the public and other groups. 

But reputation management should not only be limited to large organisations. Companies of all sizes have competition and are experiencing the new reality of Internet-enabled consumers who are creating and sharing their experiences, opinion and content online. The MarketingPilgrim website published a great list of twenty six free "buzz tracking" tools that can be used to monitor your company reputation, track news that relate to your industry or even spy on your competition. As new social networks have gained increased importance, and new tools have come onto the scene, this recently updated list of 8 additional free social media monitoring tools is also well worth checking out.

To learn more about this topic, I encourage you to download the full copy of Risky Business: Reputations Online™, a white paper resulting from a worldwide online survey of senior executives conducted by Weber Shandwick in cooperation with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
This excellent white paper addresses issues including the vulnerability of company reputation, the resources executives rely upon to assess company reputation, the identification and prioritization of online risks to reputation, the impact of traditional and new media on reputation, the globalization and localization of digital reputation, the penetration of Web 2.0, the threat of employee cyber-sabotage, and most importantly, the best measures for protecting a company’s online reputation.

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