All professionals, especially those who conduct business online, can be subject to bad publicity. All it takes is one negative comment on a blog or website with the right (or wrong) mix of traffic to drive a company’s reputation into the ditch. If your company has not heard of or are not doing Online Reputation Management (ORM), here are the basics and why this is something every business needs to start doing now.
What is Online Reputation Management (ORM)
ORM is the process of following online references to a brand, company, person or service while having a plan in place to deal with any negative feedback. It is a three-step process, although they may not always occur in this order:
Monitor – Maintain an ongoing system for researching and keeping track of public perception.
Evaluate – Consider individual feedback, as well as the source, outlet, reach and timing, to come to a decision about the risk.
Act – Comment, rebut, draft a formal response or simply ignore what has been said, based on your company’s evaluation.
ORM is typically considered to be a mix of marketing (including SEO) and public relations. There are numerous firms offering ORM services, although it’s something companies can do on their own for free.
Why Companies must have an Online Reputation Management Program
Let’s say your company has years of experience, a solid client base, and great relationships with your clients and colleagues. Your company recently bid on a huge design project with a well-known company and won. One of the other candidates, who was not awarded the job, is resentful. Not only did he put hours into the process, but a friend within the company essentially guaranteed him the job.
Upon discovering that your company was awarded the work, the other candidate publicly attacks your company’s character, work ethic and values in his very popular design blog with over 5,000 readers. Unbeknownst to your comapny, one of the top Google results for your name is now this scathing post, which at this point has 35 comments from people who don’t even know your company, agreeing with the author. Anyone who Googles your company will now see this negative response -- potentially before they reach the business’s website.
It takes two weeks until the company is aware that there is a drop off in normally steady inquiries, and a call from a long-term client asking for details on the situation further highlights the situation. At this point, your company has no way to know how much business has been lost, but senior members are quickly scrambling to find all references to this post, and trying to do damage control.
If your company had been monitoring its online reputation, senior management would have immediately known about the negatively. Now the business’s executive team would not have been able to avoid this situation, but they could have done a few things immediately to defray some of the damage. The most important part of online reputation management is being aware of what’s being said about your company, to whom and why. It also requires that the proper methods be implemented to be quickly advised of negative comments on the Internet and that that there is a plan in place when action can be taken.
How to Handle Negative Publicity
Ideally, with every project taken on and every relationship formed, companies need to work toward building a professional reputation. Your company can enhance the effectiveness of a positive reputation by:
Doing great work
Being customer service oriented
Making yourself approachable
Collaborating with others in your industry
Forming personal relationships
But even if your company does everything right, there may come a time when negative publicity raises its ugly head. Harmful feedback can happen for many reasons – a misunderstanding, a wrong-doing on by a company employee, varying points of view, a disgruntled former employee, a competitor, or any number of other reasons.
How your company reacts to negative feedback is dependent on the type of comment, who said it, what forum it was said in, and the potential it has to damage your company’s reputation. However, there are some ways to gauge the risk of negative publicity and determine how best to handle it.
Think It Through
We’re human, so our initial reaction to negative comments is usually anger, belligerence, and/or defensiveness. The worst thing a company can do is react quickly without thinking the situation through because your company may only make the situation worse. Put yourself in the other person’s position, and be honest with yourself. Take a deep breath and ask yourself these questions:
Is the comment true?
Can I see how this person could view my company’s actions this way?
Did an employee do something that was misunderstood or misconstrued?
Is my company in the wrong?
By being rational and at the same time pragmatic about the situation, the senior management can avoid doing further damage. Senior management may want to get a focus group of company employees together to further analyze the situation and get a new perspective.
The saying, “All publicity is good publicity,” may not be entirely accurate, but your company can certainly turn some negative situations into positive events. Negative publicity can give your company the opportunity to right a wrong; it can provide a platform for your company to address an issue; and it can make your company better at what it does.
Respond or Not?
Not every negative comment deserves a response. In fact, your company may decide not to respond because they feel the situation is best simply ignored. If the impact is minimal, don’t fuel the fire by pleading your case when it’s not necessary.
In some cases, your company may want to go to the source and try to work it out offline. A personal conversation may uncover information that would not have been otherwise known. If your company was in the wrong, your company can rectify the situation, and ask the author to publicly retract their comment or provide further information to defray the impact.
Your company can also respond by posting a public comment or publishing an acknowledgment letter on your company’s website or blog addressing the situation and providing your own perspective. However, be sure not to be overly defensive or personally attack the other party as that will only make your company look unprofessional.
Use It to Your Advantage
Keep in mind that whatever method your company chooses to handle the situation, your company cannot change the actions of others. Handle the situation as your company thinks is best, but don’t be pulled off-track by the negativity of others.