The Steps to a Positive Brand Reputation: Part 1

Clay Shirky, Writer and Consultant on the Effects of Internet Technologies, knows the internet and it’s power – it can be your brand’s best friend or its worst enemy.

“Our social tools are not an improvement to modern society, they are a challenge to it.” – Clay Shirky

Believing that social media outlets are only brand boosters would be a big mistake; they can also be brand shamers. How do you face the challenges social media poses head on and stop your brand from slipping to the dark side? And how do you manage damaging online reviews and forums from displacing you in online searches?

The following will help to hone your brand’s marketing techniques so that your reputation can be more established, better avoid damaging reviews and feedback, and flourish in online queries.

1) Define Your Brand Culture

“You are what you share.” – Chris Leadbeater, Travel Writer

Many companies have the microscopic ‘Terms and Conditions’ at the bottom of their web pages, but you need to keep your consumers more in the know than that about your brand culture so they know how you do business and what to expect. As Leadbetter puts simply, your company is what it shares – not merely what it thinks it is.

Have a lenient return policy? Offer specific compensation for a certain complaint? Have a no frills approach to customer service? Make sure to include this as black and white as possible on all of your platforms. When your customers know your culture, they won’t be surprised with your responses to a situation (whether good or bad), and you can retain your image as cooky, high brow, zen, or whichever style your brand ascribes to. Now you have your foot grounded in an online presence with your kickass culture.

2) Know the Negativity: Set Up a Team

“Education costs money. But then so does ignorance.” –Sir Claus Moser, Statistician

With the good, comes the bad: and that pertains to reviews, e-mails, and feedback of all types. The best way to go about handling negativity towards your brand is to primarily focus on customer service. That means having a crisis management team set up and at the ready for those prompt responses (see #3) that have the skill to assess the situation and respond appropriately. This team should also be monitoring every outlet you have and managing access to all of your accounts, to avoid your employees approaching the same situations differently, and avoiding skewing your brand’s culture (see #1). You can be alerted when certain things pop up on search engines that pertain to your brand and most platforms provide reports on your outreach. Educating yourself may cost you time and money, but as Sir Claus Moser points out, so does ignorance. And that’s worse by manifold. When you assess the negativity associated with your business, you have the ability to move that content down (after you respond to it, of course) in Google search results, by maintaining all of your platforms and blog regularly, creating a Google Places page and a feedback page on your own site, and engage with your positive feedback. [We will discuss these topics more in Part 2]. Remember: Knowledge and positivity equals power.

3) Be Proactive and Respond Promptly

“Social media isn’t something that you “do”, instead you have to “be” social.” – Peter Thomson, Digital Brand Strategist

Social media was made for and thrives on connecting with immediacy. Therefore, your consumers expect a prompt response to their complaint or inquiry, and maybe even their praise. This is a simple tip, but as Thomson notes, you have to be social and not just do it. This means you can’t just say a quick “Sorry” after a complaint – you have to step back, evaluate the situation, and respond in the most attentive and compassionate way possible. An example of how not to apologize is the disastrous response to customer complaints by Lululemon’s founder, Chip Wilson. He blamed women’s bodies instead of his product for his customer’s dissatisfaction, and worse yet, made a video apology in which he didn’t actually take accountability for his words and actions. You can’t fake connecting with your consumers one-on-one; they can sense an unsubstantiated approach. “Being” social is about proactivity, promptness and a genuine demeanor.

4) Pay Attention to Review Sites

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” – Aristotle

Everyone loves to voice their opinion on the Internet – through statuses, tweets, pictures, and especially lengthy reviews on sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon. These are podiums for praise and soapboxes for criticism you really can’t ignore no matter what your business type; people take these sites seriously to find a restaurant for a date or a mechanic for a tune up. As Aristotle famously said, escaping criticism is cowardly and demonstrates zero character – your brand is nothing if you don’t face the criticism. (Harsh, but true). Making this even more crucial is the fact that most people only review if their experience was darn good or disastrous, so paying attention to every review is key for satisfied customers, remedied complaints, and return business, all thanks to the attentive management of your business’ account.

5) Remember: You Can’t Please Everybody

“Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.” – Charles Swindoll, Pastor

Does a negative Yelp review have you questioning how you handle business and customer service? It’s reality: some people just have an axe to grind and they want to take every opportunity for negativity. Don’t take less than rosy comments as a personal offense, or you’ll be tempted to retaliate with an anger-fueled response that’s not exactly professional. What happens to you is a small percentage of the success of your business – Swindoll reminds us how important our reactions are to the outcomes of situations. This is customer service 101: the customer is always right (right?) and having a bruised ego will only bring negative energy to your company and everyone involved. You may offer customers everything under the sun to satisfy and keep them coming back, but if that’s not enough, you have to stay true to that company culture you defined. Not everyone can be your customer, so instead focus your energy on your loyals and new recruits to encourage a cohesive customer base and target your brand to the believers.

6) Focus on Humanization: Update, Update, Update

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” – Albert Einstein

Without a doubt, projecting the real people behind your brand (no matter how big or small) who practice your brand’s culture is one of the most important components of your marketing scheme. Einstein knew success – but he did so because he stayed true to who he was (simply, passionately curious, in his words), and not money or fame hungry. Keeping this your focus will propel your actions to achieve authentic outreach and connect with exactly who is keeping you in business. You can do this by heralding the most basic advice for social media success: update, update, update. You know constant contact is essential for outreach and awareness, but also think of them as portals for building credibility in a larger sense. Every small move works towards compiling the foundation of a reliable and personable brand consumers want to cast their vote for. Updating constantly and on schedule demonstrates value, initiative, and trustworthiness. Did you think your funny memes and tweets could do so much?

Transparency. Authenticity. Accountability. These three traits are the most important indicators of a flawless (aim for the stars) brand reputation in the cyber world and the real world. Apply them to every move you make in marketing (on social media outlets or otherwise) – meaning, shed any façade and embrace clarity and conviction for a transparent brand foundation, be genuine and stick to your promises and not just your guns, and always claim accountability for your actions, negative or positive. With these ethical standards and a little help from technology, you can build and craft an admirable brand reputation and manage it so it doesn’t crumble in your hands or spin out of control.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will examine the SEO aspects of managing and repairing your online presence!

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