Managing your reputation across the proliferating universes of social media can appear a bit like a juggling act but it’s one that’s well worth learning to do and do properly early on. PR by any other name, reputation management is the monitoring and management of communications about your company across the entire web, especially with a view to mitigating against negative commentary and publicity.
With more and more chatter and online commentary moving away from traditional forums and comments sections to social media, the ability to react quickly to negative comments has become a necessity for a lot of brands. But it’s not just big brands that are at risk of potentially disastrous publicity.
Social media has enabled gossip and news to travel fast and even the smallest companies can be at risk from potentially devastating reputational damage if they choose to ignore these new forums, especially in industry sectors that rely on word of mouth for business referrals.
Establishing a Brand
Understanding what your brand is all about involves establishing your brand archetype and this in turn has everything to do with how you want to project your company’s image to your followers and potential followers, who are in effect, your customers and potential customers (although for the sake of your SMM it’s best not to think of them like that). This is the essence of establishing a brand on social media, but it’s also the first step in ensuring you create brand advocates along the way.
Engendering brand advocacy on social media is not simply about how many followers you can accumulate, but about establishing a strong positive presence on a given platform amongst your target demographics. Key to this is encouraging conversations and engaging with your audience as much as possible. This tactic will see your presence not only grow faster but become more engaged and active.
This also has the effect of creating certain expectations in your audience, which you can play off. This can be a good and a bad thing.
Building a reputation for amusing and slightly risqué content can work well but overstep the line and you risk alienating the more conservative of your followers. Go too sensible, and you may lose that essence of risk that first attracted people to your brand in the first place.
With reputation management the trick is to always keep in the back of your mind the fact that, as your brand grows in popularity and the more people share your content and follow you, the more people there are that will potentially criticise your brand and your business (rightly or wrongly). If you grow your business without growing your social media presence, then the risk is that you have no mouthpiece on social media with which to defend your brand and your business.
What’s more, you’ll also have no significant follower base that will do this for you either. The inability to deal with this kind of negative criticism on social media can leave companies without the means to effectively monitor and be part of the conversation, making them vulnerable to negative commentary.
Establishing a Voice
The key to good reputation management, whether it be on the internet or not, is the ability to control the narrative to a certain degree. On social media this is done through a combination of earned and owned media; that is using channels you control to create positive PR around your brand.
There’s a reason big brands spend millions on building a presence on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms; not only can they can market their products and brands through these channels, but they can also use them as PR channels when there’s any negative publicity about them. Because followers of any given brand tend to be quite loyal to that brand it’s likely that a lot of negative commentary will be stymied from the outset by the community at large, instead of reinforced or left to fester.
By controlling a range of social platforms, brands can also dominate the SERPs when it comes to brand specific search terms. When negative publicity strikes, these dominant platforms can serve to push the bad news which has surfaced on other platforms further down the results. On this basis it is tempting to push your presence on as many social media platforms as possible but there is a point at which the time invested in this exercise starts to outweigh the potential benefits.
A better strategy is to dominate the top four or five platforms and perhaps establish a minor presence on a few more.
Avoiding PR Disasters and Dealing with Negative Commentary
A couple of points to bear in mind. The first is the ever present threat of slipping up on social media. As your business grows so too will your workforce and eventually you’ll have to rely on other people to monitor and maintain your social media presence. Keeping this voice consistent and loyal to the characteristics of your brand can be difficult when you have a team of people on your social media team.
Many big brands have ended up quite publically scoring PR homegoals with the content they’ve put out or the comments their staff have made. Be careful you don’t fall into this trap.
The second point, is that no matter how squeaky clean your company is and no matter how amazing your content, sooner or later you’re going to have to deal with negative commentary, because the internet is seemingly full of people who like to complain, criticise or just hurl abuse for no particular reason.
The unfortunate truth is that the more successful your brand gets, the more likely it is that you’re going to have to deal with a bit of negative abuse. Just remember that whatever you say on social media, your brand’s reputation is constantly in the firing line.