How to build a positive Online Reputation: 10 key ideas
It is a privilege for us to be invited by the Asociación Para el Progreso de la Comunicación ("Association for Progressive Communications", APC) to one of their online meetings and share ideas on how to build a positive online reputation. To condense the complexity of Online Reputation Management into a 45-minute session, I am happy to list the key points, limiting them to ten essential ideas. But first, let's define the concept and the basic methodology of working with this topic.
What does “Online Reputation” mean?
We could define Online Reputation as the image that someone will have of us, our company or our product, through the content they find on the Internet, whether on a search engine, social media or both. There will therefore be the sum of our own content (and it is vital that we create it and are skillful in making it easy to find) and the content that others create about us, be it opinions, articles, references in the press or events.
But this image is not a fair and perfectly balanced sum of our own and other people's content; that would be easy enough. The difficulty lies in the fact that the content that others publish about us will always have more credibility than our own, and that criticism always arouses more interest than praise. We are human: we trust those who are like us (other consumers, other clients), and to warn rather than flatter each other is more useful.
Online Reputation Management is about making sure that our voice gets through (i.e. that our content is key in shaping our image and is easy to find); getting other credible voices to speak well of us (through public relations, positive press appearances, influencer actions, customer testimonials) and minimising any criticism or unfavourable comments that may affect us.
Basic methodology of Online Reputation Management
Each industry, each case and even each problem may require a different nuanced approach, but to generalise and clarify the concept, the basic methodology for Online Reputation Management is threefold:
- Monitor: that is, detect as early as possible the positive, negative and neutral comments that may affect us. Quantify each group of content, order them by impact in order to prioritise responses and identify the most influential voices. There are tools on the market (increasingly more accurate and affordable) to achieve this.
- Assess or Analyse: what the tool will not tell us is why we are being criticised or praised, nor will not detect wordplay or irony. Analysing the feedback helps us to decide what to do next. The more time we spend monitoring, the more context we have when it comes to dealing with a potential reputation crisis.
- Participate: the previous two steps give us many clues about what we should communicate in terms of striking a balance between the feeling behind the comments and the issues that generate them. Participating in the conversation often involves modifying the content strategies of websites, blogs and social media, or exploring new communication actions. Online Reputation is more about engaging in dialogue than making posts.
10 ideas that sum up building a positive Online Reputation
Based on our experience in this discipline, apart from the methodology explained above, there are at least 10 points to consider when starting to work on Online Reputation, be it for a commercial brand, a public institution or a personal brand:
- Stay disciplined, it’s an ongoing commitment. There are no shortcuts or tricks. Online Reputation Management requires constant work. Much like a tree that needs careful watering to grow, tending to content and relationships is what makes our online image flourish. Beware of short-term magic bullets: they end up being forgotten or creating bigger problems.
- Choose high-value content. As in any human group, whoever gives the most to others, earns the most prestige. In the case of digital reputation, this contribution involves defining a content strategy that focuses mainly on a thematic territory (we are experts in our field); on how our vision interprets this area (and it is important to do so in a differential way), on who we are to have this opinion (experience counts) and finally, on how our credibility has helped our bottom line.
- Make your vision unique. Whatever the thematic territory or industry we choose, there will be other professionals or companies already with a strong foothold in the market. How do we define a tone, a style, a voice that makes us different and shows that what we bring to the table is valuable?
- Improve internal communication. Many of the reputational problems faced by organisations start internally. Little can be done by Communication or Marketing if Customer Service goes its own way, if Sales has a different tone with customers, if Logistics doesn't meet deadlines or if the product's quality gets nothing more than complaints. Reputation (offline and online) affects the whole organisation, and requires the cooperation of the whole organisation.
- Optimise customer touchpoints. We said at the beginning that reputation is the sum of our content and other people's as well. It is therefore essential that our content is solid and placed in the right channels: our map of social media must consider what topics should be talked about on each platform, and our corporate website must be spotless in terms of content, search engine positioning and usability.
- Walk the talk. We claim that a Powerpoint says it all, but then you have to look at the Excel of the results, right? We can try to disguise the reality of our organisation with exceptional online communication, but if in the end what we deliver to the market does not meet the expectations we've created, we'll only be paving the way for a reputational crisis. What we say (online and offline) and what we do must be coherent, both in terms of quality and values.
- Build relationships with influencers and ambassadors. It's key we identify which outside voices can support our message, they can put us in contact with those who have credibility in the territory we want to work in, and we must build bridges with these voices. Remember that reputation is what is said about us when we are not there: it is good to have sympathetic voices in those conversations. Invest in brand ambassadors who will be more credible than your own message to certain audiences.
- Act with emotional intelligence. It's not what you say, it's how you say it. Does the phrase ring a bell? Many reputational slips start with a message that may be technically correct, but shows zero understanding of the person complaining. The difficulty online is that there is (almost never) an initial context that lets us see how a comment has arisen from the other side. We have to match the tone of the brand (we can't always be friendly) with sensitivity to others to make the problem smaller, not bigger.
- Be agile and resolve problems fast. When a criticism is addressed as soon as it appears, we have a good chance of resolving many other similar complaints before they go public. However, if we don't respond, we will be agreeing with those who think the same way as the critical voice. This is the "now that you mention it, it happened to me too" phenomenon. Let's remember that the Internet is asynchronous: whoever is annoyed will read a criticism from years ago as a problem that confirms their annoyance. Monitoring helps us to be agile and minimise negative impacts.
- Measure results to learn. The great advantage of digital channels is that practically everything is measurable. We can quantify and analyse the impact of each message, of each editorial line, of each response on each channel. And that will help us to refine our online communication strategy to know which messages are of most interest to us in which channels. Which brings us back to point 2 of this list: Online Reputation is a cycle of never-ending improvement.
Whether you were at the APC talk or missed it, you can use the comments section of this post to leave us your questions about Online Reputation - we'll be happy to try to answer them.
Thank you very much to the attendees and the organisation for the opportunity to share a bit of what we do at Zinkdo, we hope you found it helpful.