Taking Control of Your Own Brand
One way that companies and individuals can take an active role in their online reputation management pro-
cesses is to ensure that all online mentions of them going forward project the messaging and images that they prefer. Of course, creating strong products, providing stellar customer service, and just being responsible citizens can help organizations and people get the positive online press they desire.
However, technologies exist for those who need assistance in this area as well. ReputationDefender’s MyEdge product enables clients to ensure that the exact information they want revealed about them appears online. Proprietary technology publishes that information on behalf of the client.
Experts agree that companies need to be more proactive in their online reputation management processes. Taking that proactive, not reactive, approach can save considerable aggravation and money. "If they get in front of the issue and actively manage their reputation online, it will be one-tenth the cost of doing it after it’s a problem," says Fertik. "Think of it as Google insurance."
Joy agrees that some companies avoid dealing with online reputation management because they don’t want to incur any related costs. But the benefits of such protection—and a clean online reputation—can certainly outweigh the costs. Ferrara notes how helping clients get good exposure on the web can be very helpful to those seeking funding. Those positive mentions could be enticing to a potential investor. "The web allows us to interact with our customers, to talk and iron things out," says Ferrara. "The web is the best unpaid focus group out there."
Most online reputation management initiatives must be ongoing since negative information can appear online at any time. Joy says that a typical BrandProtect engagement for monitoring services is 1 to 3 years. "But the larger the organization, the broader [its] footprint, the more need for constant vigilance is required," he says. According to Priore, Biz360 does monitor metrics for a long period of time, but it does work with clients who just want to deal with one particular issue.
Priore notes how when Mattel received bad press about lead paint in its toys, that negative press coverage declined after the toy maker’s CEO apologized publicly. "But we also looked at the blog world, and around the annual holiday shopping season, there was a resurgence of negative press," says Priore. "If Mattel saw the negative blog press, the company could have reacted to it."
Results of companies’ reactions and increased vigilance are evident, notes Heiser. Online reputation management strategies are working. "Thousands of sites a day are getting shut down," he says. "The rate of phishing would be higher if not for them."
Still, technology providers recognize that there is still more they can do to protect their clients, and they agree that the online reputation management solutions market will continue to experience solid growth. "Our main expense is R&D," says Fertik. "That’s our main work right now."
For many companies today—particularly those with household-word brand recognition, or aspirations thereof—a primary objective should be to monitor and protect their online brands. "In the future, your online reputation will be based on how well a company engages in these conversations," says Nail. "Companies that are viewed as companies [that] respond and care will have stronger brands and a stronger reputation. You need to be closer to your customer and show that you care about them."
Before You Can Monitor Your Online
While online reputation management is a key component of an ongoing brand management program, none of these management processes are necessary if you don’t already have an established brand name online. Bottom line: You need to first control what your company is saying about itself on the web. "Before you can manage your online brand, it’s a great idea to figure out your brand on the web," says David Meerman Scott, a contributing editor at EContent and author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR. "On the web, you’re not better than the content itself. Understanding what your own website is projecting to the market is a good start."
Scott suggests gaining a better understanding of the phrases people are entering in search boxes and whether or not your company is visible when users are seeking solutions that your firm provides. "If somebody doesn’t know your name, they’re going to enter a phrase about a problem they have," notes Scott. "If you don’t exist in the search engines, you’re like a plumber in the 1960s who doesn’t have a Yellow Pages ad."
Internet marketing firm HubSpot offers a free service, Website Grader, that can help organizations determine how their sites are being embraced on the web with the goal of improving their search rankings and overall traffic. The service provides an evaluation of a site’s strengths and weaknesses and provides suggestions and recommendations for improvements. "The goal of a web site should be to help people find you; to find the content they care about," says Dharmesh Shah, founder and chief software architect for HubSpot.
To use Website Grader, visitors must enter their company’s URL along with keywords that best describe the site. They can also enter the URLs of competitors to obtain a competitive analysis for the site. Among the metrics included in a report are the number of pages that are stored in the Google index as well as the readability level of the site. Each site is given a grade from 0 to 100.
According to Shah, more than 330,000 sites have been graded by Website Grader. He says that some companies view their grade, make the suggested improvements, and return for another grade—all with the goal of making sure their brand is promoted and perceived as they want it to be. "Part of the importance of search engine rankings in terms of creating an online brand is making sure that people get a balanced viewpoint so that your voice is also there and shows up in the search results along with other people that are talking about you," says Shah.
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David Meerman Scott