(What the Experts Don’t Tell You and What to do Instead)
The other day I was talking about reputation management with the social media community manager for an HR firm. We talked about strategic approaches and projected outcomes. Then the conversation turned to why most companies’ efforts in reputation management are doomed to fail in the long run. Even when they succeed in the short term.
Then, the next day, I stumbled across this article: “How long does reputation management take?” written by columnist Chris Silver Smith in Search Engine Land
It caught my eye because it is exactly the opposite approach of what I advise our clients to take when they need to hone their online reputation.
What reputation management gurus don’t tell you about really managing your online reputation. Click To Tweet
The Value of Reputation Management
Do you know that 25% of your market value comes from your company’s reputation? Customers make purchase decisions in part based on your reputation, 11% of job seekers decline job offers from companies with a poor online reputation, even when they are currently unemployed. Further, 80% of institutional investors regularly use social media.
Talk about a return on investment. Everything you do in reputation management reaches across your entire organization. Of course you want to do it right.
Yet, so many do it wrong. You may have encountered this same frustration. Or you may be considering hiring a reputation management firm, but you’re not sure.
Where Reputation Management Gets It Wrong
Perhaps you can spot the problem in this excerpt from Chris’s article.
“Just about the first thing that a potential reputation management client will ask when considering asking someone to clean up their name in the search results is: “How long will it take?” This is unfortunately not easy to answer.
Deploying content and changes to displace something negative in Google and Bing is complicated, involving literally thousands of variables, and it typically requires development over a period of time.”
He then goes on to explain all of the variables and obstacles to displacing negative content.
Did you see the problem?
The problem is this: This is a warped view of reputation management. It ignores the obvious.
You clean up your reputation by redressing the problems, not by hiring people to bury your bad reviews.
It’s Blindingly Obvious, right?
Yes, I think so too.
Yet, when confronted with negative online reviews, too often executives don’t get this.
Even though 87% of executives rate online reputation as more important than other strategic risks, only 15% actually do anything about it. I’m willing to bet most of those merely hire a reputation management firm to bury the bad reviews.
It’s like continuing to pour water into the top of the bucket after you’ve noticed the holes in the bottom.
Fix Your Problem and Your Reputation Will Almost Manage Itself
The problem isn’t bad reviews on social media. The real problem is your customer service. Or, your product, policies, or corporate culture. Or, most likely, your problem contains a heaping helping of all of these.
When you fix your real problems, your reputation will soon fix itself. And then, sit back and be amazed by what positive word-of-mouth on social and in real life will do for you.
One of my favorite stories of a company that did it right predates social media. It’s the story of how Continental Airlines went from worst to first. They fixed their considerable customer service problems. Their reputation improved. In a few short years, Continental had won more J.D. Power and Associates awards than any competitor. Their stock price rose also, from $2 a share to $50.
You don’t have to imagine how long the airline would have lasted in our always-on social media world. Continental eventually merged with United, which in just one day in April captured international attention as the worst airline, ever. A textbook case of how Not to handle social media.
Before You Hire a Reputation Management Firm
Chris notes that no matter what, fixing a bad reputation takes a long time.
“It takes significant time to get new web pages to rank high in search results. A study by Ahrefs determined that most newly introduced web pages do not appear on page one of search results in the first year they are created.
In fact, most of the content appearing in the top 10 listings in Google search results is two years old or more, with the highest-ranking items being the oldest ones.”
Before you hire a reputation management firm to ‘fix’ your social media image, you might need to start with a good hard look at whether your bad reputation is deserved. Sadly, it probably is. People on the whole are good judges. They know when a situation has been blown out of proportion. Likewise, they know when backlash is deserved. Then, they eagerly await to see how the company responds.
Often, it is the response that determines their reaction. Handled well, the public responds well. Handled poorly, they will crucify you. This is true even after you resolve your problems, and not just covered them over. Just ask BP. Or Toyota, Tyco, or Martha Stewart.
It’s too late to ask HealthSouth, Arthur Andersen, Adelphia Communications, or Enron how they would have handled things. Based on what we do know, it’s a safe bet they would have done their best to bury the truth on social media.
Do This Instead for True Reputation Management
So, if it takes two years of developing content and posting it, as Chris states, choose where you want to put your effort. You can spend those two years burying the truth. Or, you can spend two years using social media to listen and engage with your critics, fixing your problems and telling your improvement journey. Which one is going to put you further ahead?
Remember the Continental example? If 25% of a company’s value is from reputation, then only $12 of the higher stock price can be attributed to its improved reputation. The other $36 came from the actual improvements in operations.
By all means, take to social media, but not to defend the indefensible. Social media are forgiving, but only of the repentant. Instead of dumping money into burying the facts, put that money into a true reputation management program. One based on honest, open, and transparent engagement. Acknowledge you need to address some problems. Ask for feedback. Then thank your most vocal critics for pointing out your flaws and ask them to give you the opportunity to overcome them. (I know, it sounds crazy, but it works.)
Open a dialogue on social media with your customers, partners, media, anybody who has an opinion to share. Yes, even the ignorant crackpots. (Listening doesn’t mean you take their advice, only that you respect them.) Then, show and tell them how you’re fixing the problems.
Let Good Word-of-Mouth Work for You
You will re-establish trust over time. Those who cared enough to complain will also care enough to sing your praises. Your naysayers will become your advocates. Good word-of-mouth does more to deliver customers, at a far lower cost, than anything else you can do. And, none of this even considers the return on investment in customer retention and account growth, employee performance (aka: engagement and turnover) or whatever else has been ailing your company.
The next time you consider hiring a reputation management firm to bury your bad reviews on social media, stop.
Instead, put together a comprehensive plan for using your social platforms. Listen to what’s said. Engage your communities in dialogue. Inform them of your progress towards fixing the issues. When you do, you will convert them from critics to fans. Then, you will profit from them.
I’ve spent 15 years building business-to-business social media programs and I’d like to help you build yours.