2010 is going to be an interesting year for SEO, Reputation Management and Online PR, there could not of been a better example of how the communication world is changing, with this years Christmas number 1. TV vs Facebook; X Factor vs Rage Against The Machine. 2010 will see a real shift towards groups of people on social sites really making a difference and having access to many tools to shout out even louder. Tools like Facebook, Twitter to name a few are only part of it, with the introduction of Google’s sidewiki which allows people, customers, competition to write remarks about a website without any control. There is no opt out of sidewiki, customers will love it, businesses who have a bad track record of customer service will hate it.
Many companies will need to allow for Reputation Management to be in their marketing budget for 2010, but this is not a negative, far from it. In the last 5 years there has been a massive shift from traditional advertising to online advertising because, if done correctly the returns on investment can be far greater than traditional advertising. Plus if you focus some of your efforts on organic SEO and RM you will see them as an investment rather than just a cost. Compare that to a TV advert, once you’ve spent you budget the advert is gone, unless someone has recorded off the TV, but even then most people just fast forward through the adverts.
How Reputation Management Works
So you’ve decided you want to focus your efforts on improving your position online and spent a wee fortune on SEO, what happens next?
The customer finds your site and now knows your company name, it is at this point that Reputation Management and Online PR play their roll, because if the customer has not bookmarked your website they will put your company name in instead. It only then takes one negative comment on a forum to start effecting your sales and the reason for this, if that negative comment appears on the first page of the search results and starts to attract more negative comments it doesn’t take long for it to rise up the search results and ultimately be sitting directly below your own site. Having a negative result directly below your own company website can attract up to 70% of your potential customers to click on it first rather than click on your site. Pushing the negative forum down the SERP’s is where RM and SEO come into play.
If personalised search results are here to stay, then click through rates could be one of the determining factors for which site will show for your company name. Maybe PPC campaigns will help with CTR and make certain sites perform better, but the jury is still out on this.
If 2010 for your business is about converting more of the right customers then reputation management has to be up there in the marketing budget. There is no point spending 1000’s on advertising only to loose all those potential sales because of negative things being said about your business. So here is our top tips for 2010.
Neat acronym for the process of online reputation management:
- L = Listen
- E = Engage
- A = Address
- R = Respond
- N = Next…
Companies need to start with listening about what people are saying before they respond (aka that does not mean REACT)
Response needs to be thought through and considered and addresses the problem.
Step 1 – Listen…
Try Google Alert (www.google.com/alert) and subscribe for alerts for your company name or key product names. A good way to stay on top of discussions on a daily basis via email. You can then track those comments and remarks back to the source and if appropriate leave a comment yourself. This is free and easy to manage. You can move on to trackur or distilled for more coherent reporting tools.
(Keotag is another good free service – www.keotag.com)
Step 2 – Engage
Reach out to critics and engage with them. Most important, you have to ADDRESS the underlying issue. They have to feel that they have been HEARD and also UNDERSTOOD. You need to know what has happened and what has gone wrong and why. Some criticisms can be unfounded, but many times, criticism has due cause and can be resolved.
Step 3 – Address
Before you can respond to online conversations, you need to address the underlying problems or incidents within your organisation. Criticism offers a learning process, but it is wasted if you dont make use of it. A customer problem can be a one-off or can turn out to be a symptom of a much wider systemic problem that the company needs to work on.
Step 4 – Respond
It is important that the response carries some weight and not be a low level customer-service operative. It should carry executive weight, acknowledge, apologise and then correct . If you give a meaningful and authoritative response then your critic can become an evangelist.
Step 5 – Next…
Move onto next issue… or in other words restart the process. Too many marketing and reputation managers tend to work from crisis to crisis and do not develop a systematic approach to their online reputation management. An iterative, patient process that builds up a real knowledge of the online environment, who’s talking and where and why allows you to shape and join important conversations rather than always being caught out by emerging threads.
Executives within the organisation need to understand the brand and its message, but most importantly have a strong sympathy for the reputation. It needs to be important for them what people say about and experience with your company.
Having a clear and precise feedback structure for customers to vent both positive and negative comments is a fantastic way to deal with damage limitation. If people see you responding and listening then 95% of customers will be satisfied. Not doing this means more people will find forums and blogs to have a go.
Get Your Head Around Social Network Sites
Many of the issues and problems we’ve seen in 2009 I believe will be escalated for 2010, Companies need to understand social network sites and how they will play a part in reputation management. They are a great RM and customer feedback tool if managed correctly. Another big benefit of signing up to all the SNS’s is it stops other people pretending to be you, again another issue we came across this year. The final and probably just as important point, if you own the account and the page and follow the best SEO rules you may well stop negative pages from the same SNS site showing up in the search engines as Google only tends to show one possibly 2 pages from the same site in the first 3 pages.
By protecting your company name and brand the other outset is of course you have more positive pages talking about your company, and the bigger the net the more fish you catch.
Happy Christmas and looking forward to 2010.