Reputation management is the monitoring of how an individual, company or other entities are perceived online. Online reputation is centered on trust. The greater the trust with in an online community around an individual, company, etc. the more often their content is to be referenced online, the more business that they’re likely to acquire and the more likely they’ll develop a following.
If you’re reading this consider yourself ahead of the curve. Reputation & Brand management online is just now starting to hit the mainstream. For old pros this is nothing new, but if you’re just now diving into Social Media Marketing or just aiming to take part online more, then the following information is essential to your success online.
Brand & The Leveling of the Business Playing Field
Most individuals online, whether photographers or not, rarely think in terms of “brand”. In the classical definition brand is an identifiable name or trademark of a person or business (ex. Coca Cola or Madonna). Brand for marketers is often thought of as a promise (ex. FedEx – Peace of mind… “When it absolutely positively has to be their overnight”). Social Media marketers think of Brand as what others define it to be. In this regard Reputation is a large component of a perceived Brand.
Here in lies the shift, others now have the ability to shape and define Brand, thanks to the availability of social media applications (ex. Blogs) and the advent of the super communities online (ex. Facebook, MySpace, etc.). As individuals or businesses establish themselves online they’re stepping into a new world where the online community is more actively taking part in the shaping and defining of their brand. An individual or business may enter the online arena with a notion of who they are, sharing that perception as one voice among many. Individuals now have the power to voice their perceptions of individuals or businesses through Social Media platforms counter acting, if not over powering, the marketing efforts of that individual or company.
The prospect of an individual or company losing control of their brand is a scary proposition and for this reason many shy away from opening themselves up online. The reality is that if you interact with others on any level in the public domain then you’re going to have others shaping your brand or identity. For some this happens on a greater scale than others, but inevitably it is happening. Social media based communities are increasingly considered the norm for online interaction. The largest of these communities boast tens of millions of people and the blogging community reflects a very vocal minority that influences these larger communities. The question social media marketers ask is, “As these platforms continue to grow are you willing to let others shape your brand or identity with out your input?”
Impact Through Word of Mouth
The added dimension to this is how quickly perceptions of brand or reputation are now spread using social media web sites and tools. Word of Mouth, one person sharing their thoughts or experiences with another, is nothing new, but the online publishing tools now available to people make the spread of such information much easier and faster. The adage “perception is reality” now takes on a truly literal meaning. If numerous people online are sharing a sentiment with their networks and individuals in these networks begin to propagate this sentiment to their network and so on their perception becomes reality at an exponential rate.
Perceptions surrounding brand and reputation can now ebb and flow in real-time and require a more active participation by individuals and companies. Why? Brand and reputation is often the leading differentiator between you and your competition for new and return business. In every sense of the word, brand and reputation are a valuable asset to be monitored, adjusted (if possible) and guarded.
Lifespan and Impact of Perception on Brand & Reputation
Word of Mouth used to be just that word of mouth. Sentiment surrounding brand and reputation would last as long as the memory of the individuals discussing it unless something catastrophic hit newspapers, magazines or TV. Now with the advent of Social Media public sentiment is documented, searchable and ubiquitous. What is said today will be just as easy to find today, as it will be in 10 years. Will you be in business in 10 years? Tough to say, but you certainly won’t be if you don’t take steps to monitor, manage and take part in the shaping of your online Brand.
To date most people focus on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as a way of being found. This makes perfect sense, as strategically the first step with SEO is to plant a flag in the ground and let people know you’re there. SEO also plays a key role in highlighting brand and reputation so that as time passes those that find you have the best perception of you possible.
Good, Bad & Avoiding the Ugly
Every individual or company needs to look beyond his or her web site. Forums, social media web sites, blogs, wikis, etc empower others to shape brand and reputation. It is certainly good practice to get your house in order on your web site and reinforce your brand and reputation as you see it. It is also good practice to monitor how that brand and reputation is perceived. Should you be concerned about bad sentiment circulating online about you or your business? Certainly, but not to the degree that it paralyzes you from doing business. Bad things will always be said about an individual or business. We can’t please everyone all of the time, but it is possible to keep bad situations from getting ugly.
Social media outlets offer the ability for brand and reputation managers to address negative sentiment head on. From a customer service standpoint people like to know they’re being heard and if you can address the concern of a person who is vocal they’ll be just as likely to sing your praises as they are to knock you. Strategically speaking turning lemons into lemonade is a critical online business strategy. If someone is going to come across negative sentiment through a search in a years time you’ll want them to see that the concern raised was addressed and ended on a positive increasing the odds they’ll maintain a positive sentiment about you and/or your business.
Making Good Great
Recognizing the power of Word of Mouth social media provides a unique marketing opportunity to not just turn bad sentiment to good sentiment, but good sentiment to great sentiment. It’s easy to obsess on negative sentiment and this is a common fear. Turning limited resources on negative sentiment is reactive. Being proactive to propagate positive sentiment is the ultimate best practice.
Social media marketing affords the opportunity to create a community of fans and customers alike. Reinforcing the positive sentiment of this audience is key to creating a long lasting positive perception. In addition a passionate following will ensure that as negative sentiment arises that the community behind you supports you. A supportive community of followers expands the number of eye and ears looking and listening on your behalf. It’s not uncommon for passionate supporters to actually take on negative sentiment directly on your behalf. For those that are lucky enough to have such a passionate following it frees up time to focus on more traditional business tasks.
Feedback & the Art of Adapting
How do you navigate in a world where brand and reputation are not just fluid but documented and searchable? The best advice is to be alert, flexible and smart. Don’t do anything rash and maintain as steady a course as possible. This is true whether you’re in the business of photography or selling widgets. Photographers do face unique challenges images can be stolen or claimed to be taken by others, online impersonators can surface, less than stable individuals can defame and harass or customers can air negative feedback. With luck you’ll never have to deal with such scenarios, but you’ll never know until you start monitoring your brand and reputation.
Note: While its best, in most situations, to engage negative sentiment directly if you’re faced with a severe problem it may be best to consult legal and/or social media experts. Do your research, embrace support in your community of peers and do what is right for you.
Brand and Reputation Marketing Tools / Services
Google Alerts, Technorati, AlertsTwitter Search and TweetBeep are great real-time tools and services to monitor sentiment of your brand or reputation. As Brand and Reputation management gain momentum in Social Media Marketing circles we will see an increase in more complex service offerings. Many new offerings are services that are subscription based, but there are several free services that one can use. A few free services that will give you an idea of public sentiment via Andy Beal’s 8 Essential Free Social Media Monitoring Tools include:
- SocialMention – Monitor sentiment around the web based on user defined search terms
- User Name Check – Check against Brand Jacking of your name or business name
- Facebook Lexicon – Monitor Discussions On Facebook
- WatchThatPage – Notes changes to specified web sites
- BoardTracker – Search across and monitor discussion forums
- Trendrr – An alternate to Google Trends to monitor trends online for keywords of your choosing
Resources of Interest
- 300+ Online Reputation Management Resources – Toddand.com
- Nine Essential Tactics For Reputation Management In Social Media – Search Engine Land
- Study finds CEOs should do a better job managing online profiles – Chicago Tribune
New Media is the tipping point where Good finally beats Bad – GaryVaynerchuk
If you’ve enjoyed this article be sure to check out my other articles on Social Media:
- Why Social Media Matters to Photographers
- The Birds and the Bees of Social Media Connectivity
- 5 Tips to Get The Most Out of Twitter
- 5 Tips to Get Followed on Twitter
You’ve found my blog, but you’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg… follow me on Twitter and FriendFeed. I also invite you to listen and subscribe to my podcast “EXIF and Beyond” featuring photographer interviews and the chronicles of creating some of my photography
[tags]Social Media, Brand, Reputation, Management, Best Practices, Tips, Photography[/tags]