It seems like one thing that comes into sharp focus every time there’s a political campaign is just how fast a crisis fueled by Twitter, blog posts, Facebook, YouTube and other social media can strike.
That’s true whether you’re a political candidate or a marketer with a brand’s reputation to build or protect. So we all need to take some baby steps toward online reputation management – if they aren’t already part of your multi-channel marketing communications plan, now may be the time to add them.
It all starts with social media monitoring that tracks your online reputation. If you don’t know what’s been said about you online in the last 24 hours, how are you going to manage a crisis if one occurs?
Crisis planning begins with thinking about “worst case” or nightmare scenarios, and planning what to do about them. Who’s responsible? (In a distributed marketing organization, the question becomes not just who is responsible, but who is responsible at the corporate, regional, and local level. This is especially critical if your “local” level is an independent reseller, franchisee, or other third party.) What resources can you bring to bear? (Including outside help if required.) What are the escalation stages you want to watch out for?
Don’t forget the first step in social media monitoring: establishing a baseline, so you know where your company has been mentioned, who mentions your competitors or your industry most often, what local bloggers and influential social media users comment on topics of interest to you, and what blogs or forums or discussion boards — from Yelp to Annie’s List, or a particular Twitter hash tag — are most important to you. (Don’t forget LinkedIn Groups, especially if recruiting the best talent is important to you.)
The other basic step in the process of online reputation management is picking your tools and training your team. There are a lot of tools out there to monitor, track, and manage your online reputation, from free tools like Google Alerts to comprehensive social CRM packages. Which you choose depends on your industry and your specific situation.
The days when marketers could be “social media ostriches” who thought they were safe as long as they didn’t actively participate in social media are long gone. Customers, competitors, and those who have simply had a minor interaction with your brand – receiving an email or visiting your website or viewing a commercial, for example – will talk about you, whether you are there are not. In a large, distributed marketing organization, your team has to extend beyond the PR department if you have any chance of anticipating, responding, and managing any kind of social media problem.
In any distributed marketing environment, local managers and sales people are on the front line – and so are your sales channel partners. Customer support, technical support, and call center personnel may know a lot more about what’s happening than the marketing or PR team does. In a distributed marketing environment, crisis communications planning must include those at the local level. Why? Because it’s managers at the local level — closest to your customers — who will feel the effects of a problem first. They may even be able to anticipate a problem before you can even if you have state-of-the-art monitoring tools in place.
So recruit and train help – don’t try to do it alone. There are 1,440 minutes in every single day – and any one of them might be the minute that someone takes to Twitter, YouTube, or some other high-traffic social media site to create the next social media crisis for your company. In fact, it isn’t a question of whether or not you’ll face this as part of your marketing responsibilities – it’s only a question of when.
Social media monitoring isn’t a 9-5 job – the Internet crosses time zones, and something can go viral in one time zone while you’re blissfully asleep in another. So you’ll need technological and human help for this job, as well as some advance planning.
Protecting your online reputation — as an individual or as a corporate marketer — is an ongoing necessity, and one this blog has written about before. Here are some links to past articles on this subject that might help as you formulate your online reputation strategy: