Reputation has become far more consumer-led than ever before. There's a wealth of spaces for customers to comment on your brand through social media, self-published blogs, and review websites. More importantly, your customers care what other customers think. According to eMarketer, consumer reviews are nearly 12 times more trusted than manufacturer descriptions.
The weight of consumer-created content has also been demonstrated by TripAdvisor's recent press coverage, as outraged hotel owners blamed the power of online reviews for damaging their business, and even reported that some guests held them at ransom to the power of online complaints.
While TripAdvisor's story demonstrates customer power at its height, it also gives a flavor of how heavily weighted real customer experiences are for those assessing your brand's reputation. Customers want to know what other customers think, and disgruntled customers want to name and shame brands for their poor service. If it concerns your customers, then it should be concerning you. In the free-running arena of consumer-created content, a sophisticated approach is important to make sure you retain some control of your company's image.
Personal experiences are now easily shared on social media, either directly or with user-made content such as blogs and videos being circulated. One customer's poor experience of your brand quickly forms the fabric of your online reputation, a critical part of how your potential customers see you and form decisions on whether to do business with you.
Who cares what they say?
Our research has shown that not only do customers take your reputation seriously, but how you interact with customers online matters too. In a survey we carried out with New York University we found that 90 percent of customers were less likely to buy anything from a store that left customer queries and complaints unanswered on its page.
Social networks are the most dynamic part of your brand's online reputation. This includes journalistic reviews of your brand, customer to customer advice, and critically, living examples of how you treat your customers.
On Twitter, your official account is only one of many voices on Twitter. Your broadcasts don't have as much power as those of your customers. Remember these tips:
- Take your presence on these sites seriously. Devote time to making your voice interesting and useful to others. Think about what they want to hear, and cut through the noise. Remember no one has to listen to you, and insincere promotion isn't what consumers are after in social media.
- The consumer voice matters. Eliciting a positive reaction is the best thing you can do to boost your reputation, with much heavier weight than self-serving messaging. Don't tell the social world it's a great company -- show them.
How can you keep your social reputation positive?
Give customer service, not lip service.
Several retailers investigated by Conversocial in recent research, including major stores such as Walmart and Kohls, have missed the mark when it comes to real social service. Redirecting customers to take their complaints to other channels misses the opportunity for a reputation boost. Offering real help shows customers you're willing to help them after purchase. All that really counts toward your reputation is what can be seen, and pushing customers to the call center fails to demonstrate any effort to improve the situation. People often turn to social channels as the last straw, having already failed to get help via other routes. Not only do you risk losing their business, you risk missing a chance to turn things around -- customers expressing publicly their renewed faith in your company.
Walk the walk, talk the talk.
Social media is fast moving; news is expected to be current and up to date, and consumers move quickly. This means speedy responses to customer issues are a must. The CEO of Twitter reported that 40 percent of tweets come from mobile devices. Responding to customers effectively can turn a negative situation around dramatically, but you have to be quick to have a real impact. It's also important to speak your customers' language. Part of giving real help is that it's genuine, and tone of voice is important. Cut and pasted responses aren't enough -- social customers want to know that you care enough to give a personal reply in a personal medium. It's a great way to influence what they have to say about you.
How do you understand your own reputation today?
The Net Promoter score has been long established as a measurement of reputation. It offers great insight into perceptions of your brand, especially when followed up with more comprehensive feedback. But understanding how consumers share experiences of your company becomes much more direct on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Sentiment tracking goes beyond hypothetical behavior to keep a record of the real, existing recommendations and defamations taking place online. Monitoring the positive and negative mentions of your brand, specifically around particular issues, topics, and products, is the best way to keep on top of your company's reputation.
And it pays off. Social media is critical when it comes to both long term reputation and immediate customer retention. A leading telecoms firm made some exciting discoveries of the effects of good customer service on Twitter. When customers were about to leave, if the issues were resolved quickly, 90 percent remained customers, and 50 percent became brand advocates. But not just any response is good enough; you get one shot to impress -- make it count.
Joshua March is co-founder and CEO of Conversocial.
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"Group of happy business people" image via Shutterstock.