Guiding the conversation: how to manage online reputations

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All efforts flourish or flounder upon a brand’s reputation. It can maximise or minimise the impact of a new product, campaign, or event. How your brand is perceived shapes how it is interacted with, and determines the reception of its endeavours. 

This is as true for clothing brands as it is hardware developers and political campaigns. Reputation management is key to any successful digital communications strategy. All reputations have inevitable black spots; even the most successful brands are occasionally beset by controversy, and have to navigate a reputational crisis. 

The path to success is strewn by missteps. Online management is the process of highlighting the successes over the failures, and ensuring that missteps do not disproportionately influence the narrative. To that end, here are three ways to manage online reputations:

SEO and content management 

Bad news spreads faster than good news. This was as true for our ancestors as it is today. We live in the age of negative news cycles; controversy is more delectable than chivalry. For brands, a small mishap can quickly balloon into a new narrative: that a product line is no longer what it was, that it reflects a drop in standards, a diminished offering, a lower character. 

And whilst the newscycle is transitory, its byproduct is not. Every story is immortalised by the content that it produces; articles that linger on web servers, occupying the perennial backdrop of the web. These pieces may not be read every day. Some will go unvisited for months. But they endure; to be searched, referenced, and relied upon to inform impressions and opinions. 

A cornerstone of reputation management is SEO; managing the content to ensure that positive news stories find their place at the top of the pile, and negative pieces do not exceed their due attention. SEO analysis is key here. Seeing what content performs well, and why. Other simple actions include promoting your own content. Liking, linking, commenting, highlighting. 

Respond to negative reviews. Do not engage in negative discussion. 

Anybody that has ever offered a service or product has at some point feared a negative review. Negative reviews carry far greater weight than positive reviews – and a wit is lent to negativity that frequently exceeds that of positivity. (It’s in negativity that the poet is evoked, and language adopts an incisive edge). 

A negative review does not require a negative reaction, however. Amongst the policies embedded in a digital communication strategy, the rule of not fanning the flames should be written. Instead, take every negative review as an opportunity. Respond not to the language – nor the emotion – but to the message that it enshrouds. Even the most scathing critique can contain useful lessons. The ability to digest all feedback into usable insight is crucial. Ignore the adjectives. Look for the nouns and verbs: the salient ingredients of sentiment that convey the crucible of the customer’s experience. 

When responding to reviews, do so in a way that first validates their complaint, and prompts them towards further contact. Your place is not to dispute what they’re saying, but to acknowledge it. Further discussion should be kept private. 

Likewise, negative discussion should be eschewed. Negativity begets negativity. This can be enshrined in tone of voice guidelines. At a minimum, do not seek to argue or dispute. No one is swayed through discussion. You cannot wrangle a bad customer experience into a positive one. You can only recognise it – and then learn from it. Offer them recourse or action, to contact or return a product. A brand cannot win (and risks further damaging its reputation) by pitting their word against that of another. Objectivity is key; present facts, not feelings. 

Regular brand audits 

Last, but no less crucial, is a brand audit. Brands, like people, communicate who they are directly and indirectly; through the said and unsaid; the obvious and idiosyncratic. Much of what is communicated escapes the attention of the communicator. One thing might’ve been meant, and another understood. This discord can begin at the brand level, and spread through the communication strategy

A brand audit involves evaluating your messaging, and how you’re communicating. What is being said, and to who, for what intended message. Cross reference that to customer feedback and online conversation. This helps to challenge assumptions. It presents the opportunity to identify discrepancies in your messaging. Whether anything is being lost in translation, and how – and to what degree it could be impacting online reputation.  

Your brand’s voice and positioning can also determine how a message is received. A brand that is defined by the occasional controversial message or alignment will be better forgiven for doing so in the future. People can handle consistency; but experienced in an  inconsistent manner, discordant with the voice behind it, a message may be rejected. A seemingly innocuous message can be understood to suggest much more, representing a shift or a change, and attract an audience’s anger. 

In the playground, children learn to adapt their behaviour based on social cues. Whether they’re rejected by other children, for instance. Brands, especially young brands, typically only revisit their brand once a negative reputation is gained. However, it’s also possible to do so proactively, to ensure that what a brand communicates stays aligned with the message it intends, and that it’s building towards a positive reputation. 

Reputation is amorphous. It is a cloud that quickly forms, and must be meticulously picked apart. What’s easily gained cannot be easily lost. But it can be managed. Audience’s attention can be helped to focus not on the cloud, but on the clear patch of sky that surrounds it. 

For more information on how to manage the online reputation of your brand or campaign, contact us today. 

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