Expert Commentary

Mitigating Risks through Online Reputation Management

Online reputation management is a tangled web that involves social media, search engine ranking, and online reviews. Current polls indicate that 90 percent of consumers admit that online reviews impact their buying decisions. Additionally, 79 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. This 2013 percentage is up from the 72 percent reported in 2012.


Brand Equity and Product Recall
May 2014

Online reputation management is defined by search engine results, ranking consumer reviews, social media comments, articles, and press. And, the Web makes it easy for potential customers to run searches on their own. Currently, 100 billion searches are conducted monthly on Google alone. If you Google your company name, what do you see?

Today's companies have to own the conversation when it comes to search. This means proactive online reputation management strategies must be employed to keep a company's voice strong among search results and social media interactions. Online reputation management should never be used solely to bury bad information about a company on the Web. In fact, reputation management involves more than brand perception; it is a practice in brand understanding, which means consistency is key. If a company's brand is not consistent online, online reputation will suffer.

Ninety-four percent of customers do research online before purchasing a product or contacting a company about their service offerings. Much of this research done online by potential customers is performed on the big search engines: Google, Yahoo, and Bing. First page results on these keyword-focused search listings are imperative since very few searchers make it beyond the first page of listings. In fact, the majority of searchers never make it beyond the top seven listings.

Your Company's Reputation Affects Your Company's Worth

Reputation clearly impacts a company's sales, revenue, and stock prices, and with the world moving to making the majority of their purchases online, online reputation management is imperative. A 2013 Harris poll proves this point, showing clearly that the companies with the highest reputation are most often the companies with the highest stock prices. Apple had a dramatic loss in stock pricing last year, and the firm fell in the reputation polls. Amazon did exactly the opposite within the same year—coming out head-and-shoulders above the rest in both reputation and rising stock pricing.

One of the biggest problems with a company's online reputation is that it often remains forgotten until something bad happens. Reactive online reputation management is available for situations like this, but it takes time to employ. It is much more effective to proactively build and maintain a company's online reputation as opposed to going into recovery mode when bad press hits the Web.

It is prudent to think through a company's online reputation before there are any black marks to fight. This means deploying a consistent stream of content that focuses on the good. Social media can help with this strategy as well, but each interaction must be well thought out. Search engine algorithms take social media mentions into account, but these interactions also build brand and help create an army of supporters to back the brand and the products or services offered.

Consumers and business prospects are holding conversations with each other about products and services online, and these conversations are showing up in search results. We are no longer in an era of pushing advertising and marketing content out to the world to encourage chosen brand position. From the brand manager to the CEO, corporate officers are mitigating risk through proactive reputation management by positioning the corporate brand in a way that must hold a dialogue with today's consumer.

Your Employees' Personal Reputations Affect Your Company's Worth

It is easy to correlate a company's online reputation with company worth, but personal online reputations play a part too. Companies of today must set up guidelines and parameters to encourage employees to use social media in a productive way. Some companies have taken a hard-line approach to employees' social media use and written strict guidelines for what is acceptable, on both personal social media interactions and company-driven interactions. While this seems to be a good approach, many companies have seen it backfire—with firings often being overturned by court decisions that are furiously trying to keep up with technology.

Companies that offer a helpful approach to personal online reputation management often see the best results. This means taking an extra step and working to train employees to use social media interactions as a valuable business tool. And, while it is an extra step and added expense, it is one that can pay off in spades later. These social media guidelines not only build an employee's personal brand, but they help to build your corporate brand and image as well and have also been shown to improve productivity and increase performance.

Social media can be a great tool. It offers collaboration and access to ideas, especially for larger companies that have employees with a wide geographic spread. But, as with any tool, social media offers a risk. It gives the employees of your company a voice and can allow them direct access to your customer base. If an employee becomes disgruntled, you quickly have a problem.

Within the Internet marketing world, there are five basic rules to social media interactions. These guidelines work for companies that are representing themselves online as well as employees and heads of corporations who choose to use social media through personal profiles. Known as the "5 Rs of Social Media," these guidelines include:

  • Reason

  • Represent yourself

  • Responsibility

  • Respect

  • Restraint

As a corporate brand ambassador, your employees should be encouraged to think through the Rs and the impact that their post could have on both corporate and personal brand. Remember, the best online reputation management is proactive. Many employees view social media outlets as the gossip forum for the office, but social media postings spread a lot faster than mindless gossip at the water cooler. If your employees' profiles are public, or their posts are shared in any way, the situation goes from an interoffice matter to a global online reputation management nightmare.

But, if your employees are properly trained, they will learn the value that social media can have for them personally. For example, building yourself up as a knowledgably source of information within your field can have multiple benefits, both in an employee's current workplace and beyond. Encouraging your employees to represent themselves online as they would at a business dinner is a good start. They also need to understand that their interactions online become permanent record. It is impossible to delete things from the Web—cached copies are always available.

Working with an Online Reputation Management Firm

There are many avenues to explore when protecting a company's online reputation, and there are always new threats. For example, one of the most recent threats gaining attention is the release of a wide variety of new Internet domains—generic top-level domains (GTLDs). A GTLD is the part of the domain name system of the Internet that can be viewed by regular users as the suffix at the end of the domain name. The most common, of course, is .com, but there are other options available as well. Before 1998, there were only eight GTLDs available for use. These included .net, .com, and .gov, all of which are easily recognizable to the common Internet user. Seven more GTLDs became available in 2000. This wave included .biz, .museum, and .info. Still more were added in 2004, but this crop was never widely used, though the GTLD .xxx did draw a wide net of publicity.

There has now been a release of more than 1,000 new GTLDs. This release provides an amazing opportunity for companies to brand themselves, but it also creates a large concern when it comes to online reputation management. With this many variations out there, how can a company ensure that its name is protected?

It is currently common practice for companies to purchase their name under several different GTLDs. Often, large companies also purchase their name with a variety of negative connotations attached as well. With the new GTLD options available, your company can now brand itself in a variety of different ways. For example, location-based GTLDs can help customers narrow down content, and subsites focused on different aspects of a business can help to better organize content and serve customers with exactly what they are seeking.

Conclusion

There is a lot to control now, making it all the more imperative that companies partner with an Internet marketing company that understands good proactive online reputation management tactics that will keep their brand safe. Bottom line, if your company is on the Web, you need an online reputation management strategy that is proactive and also focuses on constant and consistent monitoring. This allows problems to be dealt with expeditiously, so that your business can maintain a strong, healthy presence with your customers online.


Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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