As I continue to convince the C-Suite at client companies to trust in social media, I find that it’s an easier sell when the company is struggling to fight a negative image online. Online sentiment is the cumulative effect of reviews, ratings, recommendations and in certain cases rants given by your customers, employees and sometimes just a casual passerby on the internet. As Alex Wright from The New York Times rightly describes it, “for many businesses, online opinion has turned into a kind of virtual currency that can make or break a product in the marketplace.”
The blog posts, tweets and Facebook updates being shared about a particular brand or company act as bricks and mortar for a company’s online reputation and also affect your SEO rankings to a large extent. Have you asked yourself the following questions recently?
- How does your company look online?
- What are people saying about your brand or services online?
- What is your overall online sentiment? Positive, neutral or negative.
- How do you stack up against your competition in terms of online sentiment?
- What is the most dominant online perception your target audience has about you?
If you don’t have answers to the questions above, here are three simple steps to start managing your online reputation.
1. Monitor by setting up social alerts: This may sound basic, I am still surprised at how many of my marketing and PR peers still haven’t taken the time to set up Google news and blog alerts for their own company, products as well as their competition. You can also set up Tweet alerts using Tweet Beep. Monitoring and listening how you are being referenced online is the first step in online reputation management. Another good return on your marketing investment is to conduct a quarterly online reputation audit. CRT/tanaka does an extensive social media audit for its clients before venturing into any sort of strategic engagement online. Social media engagement without listening in and feeling the pulse of your community online is like shooting in the dark. So take half an hour to set up your basic alerts and start listening.
2. Analyze your social reviews to improve your business: This is a natural progression to the first step which is monitoring. A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis format works well for online reputation as well. It is a good practice to regroup every quarter and analyze key themes, identify key concerns being expressed online or key contributors to positive feedback. Maria Ogneva from Biz360 blogs about the value of sentiment analysis to improve business efficiency on Mashable. To give you an example we have a client that gets repeatedly mentioned for its higher price over its competitor’s products.
Part of our recommendation from the daily monitoring was to take that feedback and present it to the Product Marketing folks. For another client, we discovered that their consumers were finding it difficult to navigate through their website and were tweeting about their difficulty in finding information that affects their buying. In my personal experience I have seen that companies that take their monitoring to the analysis stage are also the ones that benefit by delivering what their customers want versus what the company thinks they want.
3. Engage based on online sentiment: Now that you understand where your company stands in the eyes of the online user, start engaging with the blogger or the customer that complained about your service on Twitter. A simple comment saying, “Thank you for your feedback. We are working on resolving this issue,” can do wonders in terms of transforming a negative sentiment to at least a neutral sentiment. Of course comments need to be followed by action. When one of our clients in the Web hosting space experienced a high negative online sentiment, a listen and comment strategy (in addition to more strategic social media engagement efforts) improved the company’s image online. By diligently commenting back on blogs posts and responding to tweets, we started seeing an increase in mentions that recognized our efforts to listen and act on customer feedback.
You may still not believe in social media or its power to influence buying behavior, but I hope you start paying attention to who is saying what about your brand online.