“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” ~ Warren Buffet.
Every business must manage their reputation because in the end, what else is there? Yes, a business with a great reputation can fail, but it is far more difficult for a business with a poor reputation to succeed. Marketing gurus talk about the importance of branding and although I don’t disagree, isn’t your reputation really your brand or image and vice versa? Therefore, protecting your reputation, your brand, your image (whatever you wish to call it) must be at the top of the list as a business owner.
There are several things that impact the reputation of a small business. In general, everything in your business that touches your customer has the potential to either build or tarnish your reputation. Your policies and procedures around customer complaints will often play a large role in determining your reputation. The message you send when you invoice a customer or make a collections call affects your reputation, brand and image. How your phone is answered and how many buttons the caller has to push before reaching a live person can affect your reputation. Every thing that touches the customer can have either a positive or negative impact.
In the past, companies managed their reputation by placing carefully crafted messages in various media. The invention and mass adoption of Internet access and interactive web applications including social media has effectively put the consumer in charge of the message. Consumers trust the word of other consumers far more than what the company might have to say. And, with the millions of people using social networking sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, news can travel very fast – in minutes thousands of people can know of a good or bad experience with your business.
As soon as customers express their opinions about products, services, brands and companies (good or bad) on the web, it is there for the world to see and it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get them removed. If you doubt that, pick any company or brand name (maybe your own) and search Google for “CompanyName complaints”, CompanyName sucks”, or the like and you may be amazed at what you find.
So, as a small business owner who wants to manage their company’s reputation, where do you start? I recently wrote an article, Customer Complaints Are Good For Business, where I shared the details of a bad experience with a furniture chain here in the Midwest. I called them out by name and was pleasantly surprised when they contacted me through the comments feature of my blog. This told me they were paying attention, “listening”, and had decided to insert themselves into the online conversation stimulated by my article. Read the comments on my article and you will soon realize that listening is the first step in managing and protecting your reputation. So, how do you listen? Here are some free listening tools:
There are millions of people chatting on Twitter every day and any one of these conversations could be about you, your company or your website. You can listen by using a free service called TweetBeep that monitors Twitter and sends you an email alert for the keywords, phrases and domains (your personal name, your company name, your brand, your blog/website name and/or domain) you have selected. The alert will tell you what was tweeted and who tweeted it. Of course, you will need sign up for a free Twitter account if you wish to insert yourself into these online conversations.
You will also want to sign up for BackTweet Alerts. Because Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters most twitterers will use link shortening services like http://bit.ly, http://tinyurl.com, etc. in place of the actual web address of a specific web page or blog article that is much longer. The really cool thing about BackTweet is that it translates the shortened address into your actual link and alerts you by email when someone tweets about it.
Websites, Blogs & Public Forums
Google claims to have indexed over 1 trillion domains and over 150 million blogs with over 1 million new posts every 24 hours. Then, there are public forums, social bookmarking and reviewing sites where users can comment. My blog, America’s Best Business Practices, averages almost six comments per article while other more popular blogs will average much more.
To “listen” in these places, you will need to sign up for a free account at Google Alerts and/or Giga Alert. I personally prefer Google Alerts. BackType Alerts is a free service that primarily searches comments on blogs and forums looking for keywords, phrases and domains. Don’t forget to sign up for that as well.
SocialMention is a free service that works a lot like Google Alerts. So why would you want to use both? Just in case one of them misses something, possibly the other will pick it up for you.
Have you ever wondered what people are saying about your company and brands on the message boards? All public message boards are open for search, but BoardTracker Alerts seems to pick up the ones that everyone else misses. Be sure you don’t forget this one or you will miss out on the discussion about your brand features, organization’s last fundraiser, and more.
All of the listening services above are free. However, you should not overlook Filtrbox even though they charge a small monthly fee for their service. Filtrbox can replace all of the free listening services and give you much more than just alerts. Not only does it listen/monitor and alert you, it gives you the tools to analysis and engage. At the least, might want to take advantage of the free trial.
So now that you know the many tools available to help you listen to the conversations about you and your business on the web, what is the next step? When you read my previous article, Customer Complaints Are Good For Business and the comments, you will notice three case studies. One is a short story and video, of which you may already be aware; the second is my experience with the furniture chain and the comments that proved they were listening and had inserted themselves into the conversation, creating brand ambassadors within my family; and the third relates a problem one of my readers had with Procter & Gamble and how they were not listening. All three cases were handled differently; resulting in different outcomes which, in turn, had an impact on the company’s reputation. As you realize the implications of cause and effect illustrated in these three cases, you will probably know what you should do without me having to tell you.
By listening, you will learn a lot about which of your policies and procedures are creating goodwill and building your reputation and which ones are having a negative impact and diminishing your reputation. Of course, it is critical to empower your employees so they can resolve problems quickly while untold others in social networking communities may be watching. As I pointed out in my previous article, an unsatisfied customer made satisfied is ten times more loyal than a happy customer and often will become a vocal brand ambassador.
To accomplish this, you will need to encourage your employees to invest some of their time in these social networking sites. Is that too big of a leap for you at this point? It is entirely up to you. After all, it is your business and you need to determine what will work for you. However, those business owners who are hanging onto practices of the last decade seem to be struggling more than necessary.
As I conclude this article, I can’t help wondering if any of the companies that provide listening tools are listening and will decide to weigh in on our conversation. It wouldn’t surprise me if the answer is no. You know what they say; the cobbler’s kids often go barefoot and a carpenter’s house is never finished. Let’s see what happens.
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Posted by: Mike Clough