In many ways, social media has made online marketing essentially a matter of ongoing reputation management. Social networks, when implemented properly, can prove invaluable for enhancing a company's image, and advancing the brand's message to the general public. Conversely, a botched social media campaign can paint a brand into a corner, portraying it as out-of-touch, inept, or simply lacking in strategic vision.
What makes social media such an important tool for reputation management is that a social media campaign can be mounted at any time, providing immediate and far-reaching response to any PR crisis that happens to emerge. With negative online reviews and up-to-the-minute online news coverage both posing potential threats to businesses of all shapes and sizes, this immediate-response capacity of social networking is utterly paramount.
Surprisingly, though, many companies do not have social marketing strategies in place, much less a plan to leverage social media's power for reputation management purposes. The online marketing professional can help with this, helping small and large companies develop some basic policies and strategies for managing their online image through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and all the rest.
There are five basic strategies that are important here.
Social media is invaluable for online reputation monitoring
Before any company can defend its online reputation, it must know exactly what that reputation is. Social networks provide the opportunity for consumers to say whatever they want about the brand in question -- but by the same token, they also provide companies with the chance to discover precisely what is being said about them, and to use that information as the basis for their response. At the bare minimum, companies should have Google news alerts set up to help monitor their reputation, but it's also a good idea to be vigilant in checking the buzz on Facebook and Twitter.
Second, it's important to be proactive
There is an old saying in politics, that it's important for a campaign to "control the story" -- and that's very much true in online marketing, as well. Any and all information about a brand is essentially discoverable via social media -- so it is in the best interests of any business to be out there in front of it, controlling the way the story is presented on the internet. Whenever something happens within a company -- whether it's good news or bad -- it's a good idea for the company to break the news before some other Facebook or Twitter user breaks it for them.
Have a social media crisis plan in place
While it's vital to strive to control public perception, there may be times when bad PR happens completely unexpectedly. It may be something as simple as a scathing new review, posted to a site like Yelp and ranking well in a Google search result. It's important to have a plan in place for responding immediately and aggressively, creating plenty of positive, brand-enhancing social media content. The plan needs to note exactly who will be responsible for what in the event of a PR disaster.
Have written social media policies available to all employees
This may be the digital age, but it would be imprudent to simply assume that any and all employees are going to possess a high degree of social media savvy. It's helpful for companies to have short, clear, and straightforward plans, written and published, to encourage employees to use social media in their personal lives, but also to remember the difference between personal and professional interests. Should a reputation management crisis emerge, it might prove useful to have a staff full of employees who possess social media savvy, and who can help spread positive press about the brand.
Be deliberate in the development of any social media campaign
What this means, first and foremost, is that businesses should have an express, written plan, stating the values or virtues they wish to highlight through their social media doings. How does the company wish to be portrayed on Facebook and Twitter? You can never just assume that each and every employee will automatically be on the same page, as far as this is concerned. Have a written statement of vision, or brand identity, available to all employees who are involved with social media. On a related note, make sure that the company's corporate social media posts always come from an employee who gets that vision, and who has a passion for developing the brand's image. Handing over daily Facebook posting duties to, say, a summer intern is likely a poor idea.
Ultimately, social networking can be an invaluable asset for any company -- but it takes a vision, and some strategizing, to ensure that social networks are helping more than they are hindering. For any marketing professional, these basic tips are essential for smart, effective reputation management and brand enhancement.
Cliff Stein is CEO of Reputation Changer.
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