Sales from retail eCommerce will exceed $6.3 trillion by 2024, and 86% of consumers look towards the digital space for information. They’re willing to pay more when they trust a brand. Yet, it isn’t just sales potential that your online reputation might influence.
Online reputation affects many facets of your business, from customer acquisition and loyalty to potential investments. The problem is that effective online reputation management (ORM) has become increasingly complex.
Today, channels like Linkedin, Facebook, and Amazon have become acceptable sourcing grounds for company and product information. Any lapse in your ORM strategy can result in devastating consequences.
What is ORM?
ORM is the art of being able to maintain a trusted brand in cyberspace. It involves the constant monitoring of various channels to take control of conversations that may negatively impact your brand. The main aim of ORM should be to steer the public away from negatives such as misleading trends, misperceptions, or even hostile acts.
The Internet is a boiling pot of the good and the bad. You’ll find everything from helpful, accurate resources to outright scams and lies. One of the most significant issues is that all of this is contributed to by the billions of netizens worldwide – something tough to police.
ORM helps companies monitor the pulse of these conversations, allowing them to nip potential problems before it becomes a crisis.
ORM versus Public Relations
It may seem that ORM and public relations (PR) are the same, this isn’t necessarily so. They both have a similar top-level objective, which is shedding the best possible light on the company. However, the path taken towards this objective doesn’t overlap.
PR typically works externally, connecting brands and promoting them to media houses, advertising firms, and other third-party organisations. These activities are, for the most part, proactive and often crafted along strategic pathways.
ORM is seen as primarily reactive since it involves guiding existing conversations. While there is an element of monitoring involved, the critical point of note is that the conversation needs to exist so it can be discovered and managed.
General ORM Strategies
Caption: The ORM process is simple, but there are many details to consider along the pathway.
Although we’ve called ORM an art, there is a relatively distinct pathway to success. ORM activities occur incrementally, and knowing the key stages is vital to paving effective responses that will guide things your way.
From a strategic perspective, your ORM process needs to focus on the three progressive areas;
- Monitor and track all key channels
- Evaluating and understanding root issues
- Engaging in conversations to steer them
While understanding the flow is the crux of the matter, you need to pay special attention to what needs to be done at the various stages and how to handle them.
Some things you must include;
Track Brand Mentions Closely on Social Media
Many companies integrate social media as one of their marketing channels. Even if you don’t, there is a likely chance your customers will discuss you on social platforms. It’s essential to establish an official presence to steer these conversations.
Saying that is slightly simplistic since there are many potential social brands you need to monitor. These include Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and more. The wider the range of social channels that need management, the more challenging management will be.
Unless you employ the right tools and have the right strategy in place to respond, losing control of your reputation on social can happen in the blink of an eye.
Address Negativity Upfront
Negative perceptions can easily pile on quickly, rapidly tuning non-events or minor events into a full crisis. The speed at which these conversations can develop is something of which companies need to be keenly aware. The critical thing to do is to respond before things get out of hand.
You can drop carefully crafted strategies into place, but no pre-designed solution is perfect. Teams need appropriate training in responses, which should spill over to other employees regarding acceptable online behaviour.
Employees are part of your reputational risk profile since anything they do online may be interpreted as representative of your brand.
Stay on Top of Your Search Results
The easiest way of understanding this is by Googling your brand. If you’re unhappy with what you see, then conversations aren’t being adequately managed. Managing search results is technically the purview of your content marketing department, but ORM gets involved when netizens discuss content.
While more stringent policies may curb content or marketing departments, doing so may limit creative options or even cripple you operationally. Ideally, let them do their thing while being prepared for potential fallout.
Clarify and Define Trust Metrics
Establishing an ORM strategy can be akin to attempting to bail water out of the ocean. Accepting that your ORM won’t be perfect can go a long way. Establishing measurable ORM goals is necessary to avoid being stuck in that bottomless pit.
Make use of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to quantify the goals you wish to achieve for your brand. Tangible objectives, progress tracking, and more need to be quantifiable to see if efforts yield the right results.
Some KPIs you can consider;
- Volume and frequency of social shares
- Net Promoter Scores (NPS)
- Responses times to problem identification
- The quality (Domain Authority) of websites linking to yours
- Time taken for problem resolution
ORM Implications in the Actual World
Understanding that you need ORM is one thing, but nothing drives the point home faster than illustrations of where ORM has worked. In some cases, companies have also neglected it, leading to lasting long-term implications.
Case Study: United Airlines
2017 was an unfortunate year for American carrier United Airlines. They first came under the spotlight early in the year when gate agents refused to allow three female passengers on board a flight. The ladies were wearing leggings, which the agents deemed “unsuited for corporate travel.”
A commotion then ensued on social media over the company’s attempt at what the public saw as the policing of female attire. In a highly tone-deaf response, United simply stated that the ladies did not adhere to their dress code policies for company travel.
Before the issue played out, United once again gained fame when it forcibly removed a passenger from an overbooked flight. Graphic images of the incident made waves on social media channels and through news outlets.
Remedial Action Taken: United Airlines issued a statement attempting to explain the incident as an overbooking. A few days later, the company amended its response, saying the flight was sold out. United’s CEO stated that it would not happen again.
Result: United saw a dip in stock price from its ORM efforts (or lack of them in this case). The company noted an almost immediate 6.3% drop in share price following the second incident.
Having $1.4 billion wiped off company value may not be much in the scope of things, but it is a very real chunk of money. This value did not include costs of fees paid for the recovery from brand damage, litigation, and other repercussions.
Case Study: The FIRM Australia
The FIRM is an Australian financial asset services company that works with members for advice and investment. As a niche services provider, it relied heavily upon word-of-mouth for recognition in the past. Things changed as the Internet and social media grew.
On one occasion, the company received negative coverage in an unnamed digital publication located in North America. This incident created an issue since reputation is a key concern for financial services companies.
The publication attempted to extort money from the FIRM by requesting a $2,500 monthly fee to post a “rebuttal” to the negative coverage. Advice from legal consultant to the FIRM noted the challenges of cross-border prosecution.
Overall, the situation impacted the FIRM’s operations as new potential customers and partners found negative coverage online.
Remedial Action Taken: The FIRM contacted a consultant who specialised in online content removal. The consultant company built a case against the publishing site, lodging a formal complaint with Google.
Result: Google’s official stance is that it will not remove search results upon request in most scenarios unless the links violate its terms. However, after various challenges, Google conceded and removed the offending hyperlinks to the negative content.
Case Study: Mercedes Benz
Global companies can sometimes lose their way, and that was the case with Mercedes Benz. The company found itself at a crossroads in the United Kingdom and wanted to see how it could better serve the market.
Struggling to cope with what it saw as negative customer perception impacting business, the company needed an independent view of how customers saw it. Further, it required to understand the perception of the UK customer segment specifically.
Remedial Action Taken: Mercedes Benz engaged the services of an ORM company with the objective in mind and obtained actionable insights that could help it move forward in the region. The requirement was for an independent reputational audit across various channels, including Google My Business, Facebook, and other mediums.
Result: The German auto-maker gained valuable insight from the assessment and understood the ground-level situation better. It managed to improve customer experience levels and shed a brighter light on brand perception.
How to Choose Online Reputation Management Services in Australia
ORM companies offer various services as part of their portfolio. These may include Search Engine Optimization (SEO), content removal, social media services, online brand monitoring, and more. While it’s not always necessary to engage all their services, it is advisable to discuss service packages that can round up your ORM strategy.
One of the most important things you first need to do is assess the ORM companies under consideration. This task isn’t quite as challenging as it may sound, so long as you look at the right areas.
Some of the criteria for choosing an ORM service include;
1. Online Research
Google up the companies you’re seeking to engage with for ORM services. This step is vital to see how seriously they can walk the talk. Remember that finding nothing can be just as bad as encountering negative discussion about a company or service. Just as you expect them to handle your brand, they should be able to handle theirs first.
2. Consider Location
Depending on your needs, you may want to consider the location of the service provider. Despite the global reach of the Internet, many businesses retain a very domestic or regional focus. Engaging an Australian ORM services company can result in a distinct advantage in the local market as they would have keen experience and knowledge of the home ground.
3. Understand Your Needs
Every business is unique, and you may already have some elements of ORM in place. Consult with the service provider about the areas you need help in rather than scrapping existing plans and solely relying on them. It’s certainly advisable to get their input, but you don’t need to implement them across the board.
4. Ask for Real Case Studies
As a potential client, you might be privy to more information from ORM companies than publicly available. Ask them to show you some case studies that demonstrate the activities they’ve undertaken to get a sense of their approach and competency.
You must look for various case study scenarios, preferably in similar industries to the one you’re in. Aside from competency, not all ORM services work the same way – you may prefer one style of solution over others.
5. Note Time Frames and Cost
The adage of two out of three for things that are cheap, fast, or good applies to most ORM services. Ensure that any arrangements have marked timelines, so you know what to expect and can make the service fit properly within your budget.
Even if you cannot get a firm number, an estimate of both will be acceptable before contracts are signed.
ORM services aren’t just about signing on with a company that deals with them and simply washing your hands of the matter. A practical ORM approach is holistic and requires input from you in many ways, from strategic objective setting to budgeting.
Working with the right ORM service partner can save your business from serious consequences, irrespective of whether the problem lies within or elsewhere online.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does online reputation management do?
Online reputation management helps keep negative tones in the digital space from affecting your business. By steering conversations in the right direction, ORM can prevent issues from escalating, potentially causing a wide range of bad consequences.
What is a reputation management strategy?
Reputation management strategies are part of the brand-building process. It seeks to avoid negative impact from online conversations and promote positive views. The cyclical process includes monitoring, assessment, and responding to conversations.
How can I do my own online reputation management?
Managing your online reputation starts with understanding what needs to be done. However, the full scope varies widely, and many companies struggle to handle this on their own. Some prefer ad-hoc services which can work for specific issues. Ideally, engage a professional ORM service to assess your needs.
How much does reputation management cost?
The cost of ORM services can vary a lot depending on what you require. Prices typically start from as low as a few hundred dollars and run into the thousands per month for a broader scope. It may also vary depending on the industry, so check with your ORM service provider for a more firm understanding.
Is online reputation management worth the money?
The clearest example we can see of this is the case study of United Airlines discussed earlier in this article. Failing to address ORM issues can result in severe financial damage and potentially long-lasting consequences from which some brands may never recover.