In the Web 2.0 world, managing your personal or corporate reputation is paramount. Search engine marketing (SEM) is an increasingly powerful tool for online reputation management (ORM). Unfortunately, a deep understanding of ORM strategies doesn’t assure a successful outcome in the client/vendor relationship. Over the years, I’ve learned that clients’ success correlates more to executive management’s support of the program than the marketing teams’ understanding of ORM strategies & tactics. The challenges I’ve experienced with ORM clients is that CEOs may know they need the help and hire experts, but they end up being very reluctant to implement recommendations, thus limiting success. The most common barriers to achieving desired ORM goals include: timelines, transparency and trust, as outlined below:
While companies and executives in need of ORM help typically start looking for help late in the game, the longer their delay, the more difficult it is to mitigate negative search results. To compound the problem, executives often have large egos and little understanding of the time and resources required to manage an effective ORM campaign.
Assuming the client is on board with a realistic timeline and budget, the next hurdle is their ability to be transparent and honest in communications with stakeholders. Many clients would love to buy their way out of a situation and “make it go away,” rather than address the issue directly. Unfortunately with the Web, this is not a viable option.
The next bottleneck is gaining sufficient trust to implement against the plan. Just because the client initially agrees to a scope of work and writes a check, it doesn’t mean they will actually implement recommendations. There’s a general skepticism of ORM by executives, whether due to the specific stressful situation or their inherent personality. Either way, the client needs to trust the ORM vendor’s recommendations or re-evaluate the program’s viability.
With so many obstacles in the path of a successful ORM program, why even bother trying? The answer is because the stakes are far too high. Search Google for Starbucks or Wal-Mart and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Search results can make or break a customer, if not a brand. With a commitment of time, resources and budget, any company can mitigate online reputation issues. Based on our experience managing ORM campaigns for a variety of clients, we’ve compiled best practices process for maximizing the potential of our client ORM campaigns. The fundamental elements include integrity, education and flexibility.
A successful ORM campaign starts and ends with the client: do they have a level of integrity that ensures honesty and transparency in communications with the vendors and stakeholders? Here’s a hint: if the company or individual exhibited bad judgment in the past, it’s likely a personality trait that will repeat, endangering the client’s (and vendor’s) reputation in the process.
Each of the three T’s mentioned above can be discussed thoroughly up front to minimize backlash, delays or frustration down the road. Setting clear expectations on timelines, levels of transparency and trust required by both parties in the initial agreement phase is critical.
Last but not least, the client and vendor both need to be flexible in communications and implementation of strategies, tactics and timelines. In the dynamic world of reputation management, things can get out of control or change on a dime, so crisis planning and proactive communications are essential.
The success of an ORM campaign has as much to do with the people involved as it does with solid strategies & tactics. Ensure the key players are all on the same page.