We live in a world in which news can spread like wildfire. Stories break within minutes. If there’s good news, people will talk about it as soon as it happens. If there’s bad news, people will scream about it as soon as it happens. As a business owner trying to run a startup, the speed of technology is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you have an opportunity for your product to “go viral” and spread exponentially through the web. On the other hand, any minor mishap with your product, promotion, or people can quickly turn into a public relations nightmare.
The good news is that the same tools and resources that are publicly available to tarnish your reputation are available to you to defend it. There are things that you can do to keep your brand from being trashed and, at the same time, improve the chances of your brand’s message being spread. Here are some tips on how you might go about monitoring your brand and managing your reputation in the digital era…
- Stay tuned - The first step in protecting and upholding your brand’s image in the digital era is to use the tools available to you to monitor what people are saying. Google yourself. What do you see being said about you on the web? Track what is being mentioned about you on the web using Google Alerts. Set it up so that, any time your brand is mentioned, you receive a notification via email. You can also monitor Twitter in a similar way using a service like TweetBeep, which sends you notifications via email whenever you are mentioned on Twitter. If you aren’t informed about what people are saying about you, you could show up on CNN before you even know anything is wrong.
- Join the conversation - The first step in managing your reputation is knowing what’s being said about you. The next step is doing something about it. Did someone write a nasty blog post about you? Respond to it with a comment and courteously offer your position. Apologize if you’ve done something wrong. Apologize if you haven’t. Did someone mention your brand on Twitter? Reply to the tweet. If it was negative, apologize to them. If it was positive, thank them. I would recommend using your Twitter account, or creating a separate Twitter account, to provide customer service. That way, you will be able to respond quickly to issues as they surface and before they turn into catastrophes. Whatever you do, let people know you are listening. Get involved in the conversation.
- Craft a social media policy for employees - Maybe you don’t want to blog. Maybe you don’t want to tweet. Maybe you don’t want to bother with a Facebook page. That’s fine. But even if you don’t want to bother getting on social media as a company, you are still going to have employees using social media. Many people, especially those using Twitter to build professional connections, state who they work for in their Twitter bios. The very first item listed on person’s Facebook profile is where they work. Even if you don’t know about it, you are being represented to the public by your employees. I would not suggest banning your employees from social media…unless you want them to hate you or leave your company. But, I would suggest setting guidelines for how they represent your company on the social web.
- Build relationships with influencers - More important than gaining a large number of followers on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms is gaining the right kind of followers. You want to be connected with people on the social web who have the power and platform to spread your message. Build relationships with powerful bloggers and people who have a substantial amount of engaged followers on Twitter. Give them free samples. Read their content and respond to it. Quote them on your company blog. It’s great to have customers follow you on social media platforms, but an endorsement means a lot more coming from a third-party than it does coming from you. Connect with as many influential third parties as you possibly can in order to amplify a positive message about your brand.
- Be as transparent as possible - Many of the largest PR fiascos in social media happen not because of what companies do but rather because of what they fail to do. You have something that you are trying to cover up or simply have not got around to announcing…and someone else breaks the news before you. Then, it looks like you were trying to keep secrets and pull the wool over the public’s eyes. Not good. The safer route in today’s day and age is to make transparency the default route. Obviously, there are trade secrets you can’t reveal and certain things that aren’t really important for the public to know. But if there is something that, if someone should leak it, would damage your reputation, the best thing to do is to simply come out with it. That way, you can break it gently to the public and have a measure of control over the subsequent conversation.
There is no going back to the way it was. The media no longer controls the conversation. You no longer control the conversation. The public controls the conversation. That means irate customers that are capable of running you into the ground. It also means enthusiastic customers that are capable of assembling an army of supporters. But this environment is a reality, whether or not you turn a blind eye to it.
So, you have two choices. You can close your eyes to the conversations taking place on the web. You can play the ignorance card and let the chips fall where they may. Or, you can get involved. Listen and respond. That’s all it takes. You’ve worked too hard to build your company and develop your brand to allow a small incident blown out proportion to ruin it. Address the incidents while they’re still small. Join the conversation.