I recently chatted with a student working on his thesis. He was interested in the effects of the social Web and how these new tools were changing things for business owners. One of the big topics we touched on was online reputation management. The student asked me why someone would attack a brand and what the best defense was once you found you had been attacked. Here’s a much longer explanation of what I told him, for your use and also for his.
Quick! Someone has launched an attack against your brand. The washer they purchased from you actually BLEW UP in their home and, as you can imagine, they’re pretty angry about it. I think the homeowner’s dog even got some shrapnel in the eye (don’t worry, he’s going to make a full recovery). What do you do?
When you discover that someone has certifiably lost their cool in your general direction you’re going to start sweating, your hands will shake and you’ll be overwhelmed with the urge to vomit all over your computer. When this hits, go for a walk. Breathe. Do NOT immediately respond. You want to avoid running your mouth off online, making the problem bigger and making YOURSELF look like a moron. So just be quiet and breathe. Maybe go grab a hug if you feel really horrible about that poor dog.
Measure & Evaluate the Problem
Now that you’re feeling more level-headed, let’s figure out what we really have here. What is the scope of the problem?
- Do we have a few angry tweets from a specific user?
- A Twitter conversation involving multiple users?
- A blog post with zero comments?
- A blog post with 200 comments?
- An entire social media campaign centered on what a jerk your company is?
That will help you see the initial scope of the problem, but you also have to take into consideration how fast things are growing. Are things getting worse or are people calming down? How quickly is new negative content being produced? Does the evidence remain but passion/interest has died down? Where are you in the process?
Obviously, depending on the scope and speed of the fall out you’re going to want to handle the situation differently. If it’s just a few tweets from a single user and nothing else then it’s easy enough to reach out to them, apologize, and take the conversation offline. If it’s a blog post that’s gaining serious traction then you’re going to have to be more involved publicly in order to make things right. And, well, if there’s now an entire social media campaign growing around how you almost blew up someone’s dog, well, maybe you should take another trip around the block. And steal an extra hug.
Evaluate your Team
Once you know what you’re up against, take a look at your team. Is the problem something that you have the resources to handle in-house? Do you have someone who can respond to the tweets, play nice in the comments of an angry blog post, and help get everyone on the same page and working together? If you do, awesome! Bring this person into the fold about what’s going on (if they don’t already know), why this is important to the company, and the outcome that the company would like to see (hopefully more than just “MAKE IT END!”). Once this person has been briefed you can begin laying out a plan of action.
Or is the problem bigger than your team? Is it going to take more than saying “we screwed up and we’re sorry” to fix the damage that has been created for your brand in the search results and public opinion? If you don’t know the right way to handle things or how to control users find about you in the search results, then you may want to consider hiring an online reputation management company to at least help you create a plan, if not manage it completely.
Create Your Action Plan
Based on the team assembled and the problem at hand you’re going to want to lay out a plan for how you’re going to handle the problem. The plan you create will be completely customized to the situation at hand, but here are some things you’ll want to keep in mind when talking with your team, whether in-house or one you hired.
- What is the desired outcome? – for people to calm down, for follow up posts/tweets about the resolution, to get your side/truth out to other customers, to quiet one loon, etc?
- Where are the biggest fires located? – On Twitter, in blogs, in news articles, on Facebook, in niche community sites, etc?
- Who is the person making the attack – a customer, a former employee, a competitor, a competitor in disguise, etc.
- What is the damage to the brand? – turning away potential customers, social media users, the search results, authority drop, etc?
- Where does it make sense to respond? – what will be more powerful? On Twitter, on the angry blog post, on your own corporate blog (you do have one, right?), partner sites, a micro site, a larger media outlet, via some other outlet?
- Who is the brand currently on social media? – are you leveraging an established presence or speaking up for the first time? Do you have an existing fan army?
- What is the plan going forward – Will you create new content to displace existing content? Will you need to build a full social media plan? Will you create a pro-active ORM strategy once you’re out of this crisis?
- What is the biggest picture for your company? – how will this change business? What new policies will be put into place? Where do we go from here?
There’s a lot that can go into creating a plan of attack after an online reputation management issue. Here are some resources to help you learn more about your options if you are planning to go it alone:
- Outspoken Media’s Online Reputation Management Guide
- Outspoken’s blog content focused on reputation management
- Marketing Pilgrim’s Online Reputation Monitoring Beginners Guide
Put The Action Plan Into Motion
Your plan should come with a timeline for what will be implanted, by whom and when. This is your religion. Now get to it.
Learn the Rules, Play Smarter
Your plan of action should have allowed you to resolve the attack in some way that works for the brand. But now that you’ve cleared murky waters, you want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to set yourself up better next time. That means doing three main things:
- Create a system to monitor mentions: If you haven’t already created a listening station for your company, you’re behind the curve. Using tools like Google Alerts, Twitter Search, BackType, Social Mention, BoardReader and Trackur can help you find, in real time, the conversations that are important to your brand and where you need to speak up.
- Invest in pro-active ORM: Pro-active ORM means creating content to rank before you need it. One blog post with your company’s name in the title is way less intimidating when you have a search results filled with positive mentions, mentions that you’ve worked to build. Build your Google 10 before you need it. Better yet, build your Google 30.
- Build your social media presence: Sometimes people launch brand attacks because they’re really pissed off at you. Other times they launch them on accident when they tweeted something because they didn’t know how to get in touch with you. Curb the latter half by making it easy for people to find you. Set up your satellite communities on the Web and make sure people know where they are. I don’t want to write a blog post about why I want to stab you. I want you to be hanging out near my house so that you can come in and quickly fix my problem.
While the social and ORM strategies we provide clients are considerably more detailed, I do think the breakdown above can help business owners successfully wade through many online reputation hiccups without having to seek outside help. Of course, if you do need some help, the light is always on for you.