The internet has not only revolutionized the way we communicate in our everyday lives, it has also completely changed the landscape of managing a brand or the reputation of a company.
Brand management for the longest time has been a top-down discipline. Put simply, focus on the big influencers first (news media, advertising, etc) and let that trickle down. It has also been about controlling the brand – every mention, every use of the logo carefully orchestrated by the marketing team to foster a very specific perception in the customer’s mind of what that brand is.
The web has democratized communications to a greater degree than ever before. Any individual today has more ability to have their voice heard by more people than in any other time in history. The question for your company is – what exactly are they saying about you?
Managing your brand online is very different than managing offline perceptions. First of all, there are infinitely more sources to be paying attention to – every website, blog or social media account is a potential source of good and bad publicity for your company. And thanks to the sophisticated algorithms of Google and the other search engines – this deeply hidden content is evermore accessible to anyone who knows how to type your brand name into the search engine.
A single negative comment or review, stubbornly placed high in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) could have drastic implications for your business. Think of it this way – if you Google a company and see tons of great reviews, positive comments and high-authority website talking about the brand, your perception of the company is inherently raised versus if you see results like “This company sucks!”, “Stay away from XYZ Corp.”, etc. Which of the two are you more likely to do business with?
Once something is up on the web, it is very, very difficult to get rid of it – even if the original is taken down, there are almost always echos – people who copied and reposted or websites that cached the original. Negative comments made years earlier about a company, brand or person can stay around long after their relevance has expired, but they could be hurting your business on a daily basis.
A reputation audit is a process of analyzing where exactly your brand sits at the present point in time on the web. Typically a reputation audit may take a seasoned expert hours to complete, however, we have arranged a quick 10 step audit here which will give you a good birds-eye view of what people are saying about you and if there is anything you might be missing.
This step involves coming up with every term that people might use to talk about your brand or organization. Ideally, you want less than 15 or 20, but depending on the size of your company and what you do, this might not always be possible.
Here’s a list of starting points:
This audit is essentially a series of online searches using a variety of tools and search operators to uncover mentions of your company that are the most relevant to what you’re looking for.
It’s important to have some sort of mechanism in place to record the mentions you find – or if there are a lot of them, the ones you’re most concerned with – generally the extremes – the very positive and very negative.
Within any searches, you will encounter quite a lot of “junk”, i.e. references to other people, companies, etc, particularly if your brand is small or locally based – there might not be as much content as if you are a large regional or national brand. The more specific the terms you use, the better the content you’ll get – but invariably weeding through the junk is part of the game. However, in most of these searches we will only be concerned with what shows up in the first 10-100 results – while there may be mentions beyond those pages, the most important and relevant mentions; the ones most likely for people to come across when searching for you will appear in the first 100 or so results.
Either create a spreadsheet to record links to the pages and references you find, or create a bookmark folder in your browser and save all the links there. We recommend a spreadsheet, as you can record other information like the date you found it, whether it was a positive or negative mention, etc.
This is the first things first approach – take the list of terms you have selected. Depending on your brand name and the other terms you’re using, it might be sometimes necessary to use quotation marks when searching so you can find more relevant your results. For example if your company is called Smith Books, just searching for [Smith Books} is going to turn a lot of irrelevant results – searching for [“Smith Books”] is a far better option. This is a judgement call – you may need to run a few searches first to see what returns better results.
There are a number of tools available for doing reputation searches – however typically I find Google advanced searches one of the most effective tools for two reasons: first, Google has hands-down the best search technology in the world, and secondly, the way people will be searching for your brand will likely be through Google – so seeing the results in the order of importance Google places them is essentially seeing them in the order they will be presented to other people.
Use this search query format for each of the list of terms:
This searches for all the references to your brand that are not on your own website.
We recommend looking through at least 3 to 5 pages or results (more if you have the time) and reviewing each mention. Many results you will be able to pass over as they are clearly not your brand, however as a rule of thumb: if in doubt, check!
Hints: Google has some search options that will help. Go into advanced search and set the number of results to 100 (far easier than flipping through pages). Also, on the sidebar you can select “page previews”. This will show more text from the site as well as a screenshot – giving you more information about the page without visiting it.
Depending on what your company does, different main review sites exist within different industries. It helps to first find out what these top review sites are. Five to 10 minutes of preliminary research should be all you need. For example, if your business is a restaurant, you might want to search for generic terms like “restaurant reviews” or geographically specific like “seattle restaurant reviews”. Once you have a list of 5 to 10 top review sites, plug in your brand names into the search query below, using the Google site search operator to restrict your results to pages from the review sites you’ve found.“brand name” site:review-site-one.com OR site:review-site-two.com OR site:review-site-three.com etc…
Not only will this search string return you all the mentions of your brand from these specific sites, it will also order them roughly in order or relevance and importance.
While this search should return the most important reviews, it may well not return all of them. That’s why a last ‘catch-all’ search is required, which is simply:
While this search will likely return much more junk than the previous search, by looking through the first 3 to 5 pages of results you should find any important reviews about your company that weren’t in the top review sites.
Blogs are one of the foremost sources of new content on the web, so it’s important to monitor them for references to your brand names and people.
Google Blog Search is one of the best tool to use for monitoring mentions on blogs. Go to http://blogsearch.google.com/
Then, using a similar technique as in top targets, enter:“brand name/keyword” -site:your-website.com
A great feature of blog search is the ability to refine your search by when the post was published – on the right-hand side you can select from posts published in the last hour, 12 hours, day, week or month, or choose custom date ranges. This is an effective tool for regular monitoring of the blogosphere.
There are many social media sites out there, however, this search will focus on the “big three”, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. However, using the same model you can expand this to include any social media sites that publish content publicly.
This search string with return results from all three sites – while it is possible to review each of these separately, viewing them all-together can identify the more relevant references overall first.“brand name” site:facebook.com OR site:twitter.com OR site:youtube.com
The point of this audit is to discover what is being said about your company, positive, neutral and negative. As you go through and record these results you will start to get a picture of the overall impression of your brand across the web as well as the main things people will be running into when they search for you.
Generally, you will find your brand falls into one of the following rough categories:
Small or fledging presence: there’s just not that much about you online – people don’t know who you are and you’re probably not making it very easy for them to find out. You will need to focus on creating a web presence and encouraging your offline customers to talk about you online.
Neutral or information-only presence: there’s a decent volume of references to your company or brand, but it’s all factual “this company does this” kind of stuff. Some brands are naturally more likely to attract this kind of presence (it’s harder to get excited about packaging material than say, iPods). This can also happen when a company has just started building its presence and most of the online mentions are from the company itself. In this case, it’s important to start building engagement and encouraging people to talk back!
Negative Perception: Pretty self-explanatory. People are talking about you and you’re not too impressed with what they have to say. First thing to do is STOP! Don’t freak out and don’t get angry, and whatever you do don’t start reaching for your lawyers number to sue the people for disparaging your brand. It’s actually time to take a look in the mirror and ask yourself if there’s any truth behind what they’re saying. You’ve actually been given a unique opportunity to listen to your customers! Don’t waste it! There are many things you can do to better your online reputation – but you might also need to look at improving areas of your business too.
Positive Perception: Congratulations! The goal of any business should be a positive online (as well as offline) perception. Now’s the time to grow it! Find your brand advocates and try to create an active relationship with them – if they’re close by invite them round for a coffee. Focus on expanding your brand presence to new parts of the web. At the same time, keep monitoring! A positive perception can turn negative surprisingly quickly, and if you’re not watching so you can nip it in the bud, your brand could suffer serious damage.
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