[Manoj]: How has the prevalence of social media changed the landscape of reputation management?
[Simon Heseltine]: Well, as the idea of social media sites is to connect people and allow them to create content that’s shared, that’s a biggie in terms of reputation management. Nowadays you have people tweeting about how they disliked the meal they just ate, creating videos about how an airline destroyed their guitar, or just writing blog posts about how much they hate a company or product.
Many social media sites have the concept of groups, linking people together around a single topic, which is just as likely to be how much they hate your brand as it is how much they love it. What’s more interesting is that you may find that in one venue the groups are more positive while in another they’re lean the other way. I saw in one instance where one individual had taken it upon himself to answer every question in Yahoo Answers that involved a particular industry, and to answer it in a very negative manner. Which goes to show that one person can make a difference.
[Manoj]: How does one begin the process of protecting their brand online?
[Simon Heseltine]: Once you’ve identified the places where your brand is discussed, or places where it could / should be discussed, your brand needs to have a presence in those places. If you can have that presence active in those sites before any issues around your brand arise, then you’re much more likely to be listened to than a user that registered that day and is responding with their first post.
Of course the important thing there is identifying those online sites where your brand is discussed. While you may think that you know those places because you visit them yourself, or they’re standard industry sites, you may want to think again. At my last company – Serengeti Communications – we had a custom built buzz monitoring tool that would look at historical buzz for a brand. With this we were able to identify that for one of the clients the buzz was primarily coming from 2 forums, for another client the buzz was primarily from a single forum, and for another it was spread throughout thousands of blogs, forums and social sites.
Until you look at where the buzz is you don’t really know whether you’re deploying your resources as effectively as possible.
[Manoj]: What are the best tools to monitor your online reputation?
[Simon Heseltine]: Let me start out by saying that there’s no tool out there that’s going to give you visibility into every utterance of your keywords across the web. Why? Well just remember that not every page on the internet gets indexed. In some cases it’s accidental, such as a site being blocked in the robots.txt. In other cases it’s by design. If you’re in the medical field and you want to know what doctors are saying about your product / service then the best place to look is SERMO. All you need now is your physicians ID to log in… don’t have one? Then you’re out of luck.
The basic tools that anyone can use are the Google and Yahoo alerts, they give you visibility into what those search engines find, and are usually fairly timely at letting you know when they find something new (usually several minutes after a blog post that mentions the keywords goes live).
The next level of information is to add in RSS feeds from sites that provide them and that you know have had some history of mentioning your keywords / you anticipate may in the future. RSS feeds are great in that you can set the up and just check them all in your feed reader at any time, any new mentions will be listed for you to check out.
When you look at more automated solutions they range from the free – The Buzz Monitor, an open source solution developed by the World Bank – and inexpensive – Andy Beal’s Trackur – to the multi thousand dollar solutions that that provide additional features such as relationship analysis or sentiment analysis. But you should always make sure to take a look at where they’re sourcing their data from. If it’s just from Google Blogsearch is that going to capture all of the locations that your company or product is talked about?
What you really need to do is know where the discussions are currently happening, and at a minimum monitor those locations. RSS feeds are a great way to monitor quite a bit of ‘the known’. However, there are sites that don’t have RSS feeds,
[Manoj]: What are some of the issues that you’ve encountered with reputation monitoring?
[Simon Heseltine]: I’d have to say that the biggest one is probably spam and ambiguity. For instance if you’re monitoring the term “SIPA” are you looking to read about:
Specialized Information Publishers Association School of International and Public Affairs (Columbia University) Southern Interscholastic Press Assocaition (USC) The national sport of the Phillipines All of them are valid, but the chances are you’re only looking for one of those terms. If one or more of the others have high levels of online discussion then you’re going to be hunting for the needle of your brand mentions in the haystack of results.
Sometimes your brand will get a mention or 2 on a completely out of the ordinary site, and if you’re not looking for it you won’t find it. One University I worked with had mentions on Russian military forums, a Subaru owners fan club forum, and a bizarre blog that was some form of tribute to an elven god. While the latter could be laughed at, the other 2 provided opportunities to potentially connect with audiences that may have been interested in their offerings.
Finally, sentiment analysis is an issue that is very tricky to automate. The English language allows for sarcasm, double and treble negatives, colloquialisms, and slang. How can an automated system say with certainty what is positive, what is negative and what is neutral? Especially when those definitions may change from industry to industry, and company to company. For one company getting a mention in a press article about a competing company may be positive, as it shows that they’re thought of within that industry, for another that may just be neutral.
[Manoj]: Do you have any final words to share?
[Simon Heseltine]: If you’re not monitoring the buzz around your brand, you can bet that one of your competitors will be, and they’ll be only too happy to capitalize on any bad buzz around your brand, and to try and move any good buzz their way by engaging with your audience.