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7 Ways to Take Control of Your Brand in 2010

In 2009, it came to the forefront that the advent of social media had applications outside of connecting with friends and building personal networks. Businesses began to take advantage of the social Web by expanding their online presences and attempting to make deeper connections with their customers, employees and other target audiences.

However, it’s also become abundantly clear that just as businesses can have a greater voice through online tools and applications, so can the everyday Joe or Jane.  Today, if the stars align just right, a single person can have a major affect on a brand’s reputation.

bad reputation

She didn't give a damn... but you should.

Sometimes, this can work to your brand’s advantage.  Like when Chris Brogan decides he loves your product and wants to share it with his massive number of followers.  Or, for example, when a single employee makes an extra effort that moves your customer so much she decides to blog about it, and the word spreads like wildfire.

However, there are also times when people will say negative things about your brand and their experience with it.  These voices, whether internal or external, can cause waves of crisis before you even see it coming.  We’ve seen several examples of this over the past year: from the Dominos gross-out, to Motrin moms, to United Airlines breaking guitars, to people getting fired for dissing their job on social networks.

Even if negative comments don’t spread widely, the presence of a large amount of small negative comments can harm your brand and your bottom line, particularly when they get indexed by search engines, or appear on product review sites. Honestly,  when was the last time you purchased a product online without first searching for information and reading the reviews?

So, the question becomes: in a world where everyone has a voice, how do you handle the negative comments people share about your brand?

1. Listen.

We often speak to clients about approaching online behavior in three phases: monitor, participate, publish.  If nothing else — even if your company isn’t ready or willing to participate in online conversations — in today’s world it is imperative to have some kind of monitoring in place, to understand what people think about your brand. 

Even if your company isn’t active on social networks, chances are that your employees and customers are — and they just may be talking about your culture, products or services.

You can mash together free tools, such as Google Alerts and RSS feeds of Twitter searches, or you can opt for a more robust, paid solution like Radian6. Either way, if you don’t know what people are saying about you, you’re sunk before you’ve even jumped in the water.

Now that you know what people think, why not take their advice? If you see a common complaint or suggestion, do something about it. Make consumer-recommended product improvements, or host a company-wide meeting to address previously unknown service issues.

2. Let cooler heads prevail.

If you’re passionate about what you do, it may infuriate you to see an employee post a negative review about working at your company, or to see that a customer is complaining about the service they received — especially when these situations are out of your control — when you know there were other factors at play. However, deleting negative comments or joining in the negative banter will get you nowhere fast

3. Develop a social media policy, and encourage participation.

For internal purposes, developing a social media policy can help to set guidelines for employees’ social media participation.  If you’ve developed a great company and culture, trust that your colleagues are happy to do what they do — ask them to share it online. 

Allow employees to share their professional experiences with their personal networks through blogs, photos, videos and status updates.  Passionate people are going to do this anyway in person – why not document it online for the world to see?

A social media policy can also put support mechanisms in place for helping employees understand what information they can and can’t share online, what times social media participation is appropriate, and what the ramifications may be if they step outside these boundaries.

4. Be the best customer service representative you can be (whether you work in customer service or not).

If you see someone complaining about a bad brand experience onsite or by phone, don’t you talk to them about it? Why should it be different online? Reach out to the naysayers, ask them what the problem is and see if there is anything you can do to help.  Turn their negative experience into a positive one through your proactive approach to improving their interactions with your brand.

5. Publish your own content.

Develop a content marketing strategy, and start developing multi-media content that is highly relevant to your target audiences. Consider the following:

Start a company blog. Write articles and eBooks that your potential buyers will find useful and want to share. Work with your happiest customers to develop case studies about their experience that you can share online. Post photos and videos from around the office and at industry events. Interview people that you think are smarter than you — record these and use the audio for a podcast, post a quick video, and write about it.

While you can’t control people’s perceptions of your brand, you can certainly work to influence them, and build your reputation by publishing content.

6. Understand that you can’t always win.

I can’t think of a single brand that has a 100% positive reputation. There will be times when things fall through the cracks, and there will always be negative Nancys and Neds who just want to complain online because they can — especially when they can do so anonymously.

If your company is doing its best, providing the best products and services you’re capable of, hiring the right people and making ethical business decisions, you need to trust that the community you’ve built will stand behind you.

If you give the majority of people great brand experiences, whether they be employees or customers, and offer ways for them to share these perceptions online (whether through online reviews, blog posts or simple comments on social networks), I can all but guarantee that these are the attributes that will stick out when people look for you online.  Bury the naysayers with your positivity. Just do it authentically.

7. Put in the hard work.

I know… you’re busy. We’re all busy. Most of us are already trying to squeeze 50+ hours of work into a 40-hour workweek.  But this is how people interact today, and to survive and thrive, you have to adapt.  I challenge you to make it your goal in 2010 to, at the very least, start listening to what people have to say about your brand online, and put a basic social media policy in place.

Go to http://www.google.com/alerts and set up email or RSS feeds for your company name.  If you’re feeling ambitious, also include your name, any major product names, your CEO’s name and your main competitors.  See what people think about you, and how you stand up against others in the industry.

Lastly, Remember:

Even though it might seem a daunting task at first, making your business the best it can be, and keeping your employees, customers and other stakeholders happy was the plan from day one, right?  Didn’t you always want to be the best?  Didn’t you start your company, or choose your career path, in hopes of being the industry leader? Now just may be the perfect time to refocus on that, and make it happen.

Laurel Miltner is a consultant at PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based inbound marketing agency and PR firm. Follow Laurel on Twitter @laurelmackenzie.

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(Image courtesy of Blackheart Records)

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