When I ask my students and clients why they’ve been reluctant to get involved with social media, their answer is almost always the same. “We’re afraid of putting ourselves out there in the public eye, for fear people might say bad things about our organization.”
Social media creates a kind of funny catch-22, doesn’t it? We know that it’s a great way to spread the word, build communities and promote ourselves and our businesses, but by creating spaces online where people can become part of our community, we’re opening ourselves up to the potential for criticism and even outright bashing. For many organizations, it seems easier to shrink away from exposing ourselves that way – it’s a lot safer, right?
Not so fast.
One of the most dangerous things we can do for our brand is hide our heads in the sand. By turning away from the conversations that are already going on about you online, you’re setting yourself up for much more than just the odd critique. You’re potentially doing real damage to your reputation.
Online reputation IS a big deal, and as business owners, we need to take responsibility for this reality. If nothing else, we need to be aware that people ARE talking about us online, even if we don’t have our own channels set up.
There are some pretty famous examples of companies who’ve gotten into a lot of hot water because they failed to properly manage their online reputation. Probably the most famous is “United Breaks Guitars”. You can read the whole story here, but suffice it to say that, because a) United Airlines was unaware that they had an unhappy customer with access to musicians, a video camera and YouTube, and b) that musician created a video vocalizing his concerns that went viral around the world, United ultimately had some pretty big PR damage control to contend with.
A more recent example is the now infamous meltdown of the owners of Amy’s Baking Company. After Gordon Ramsay walked out on the owners of this restaurant, believing they are beyond help, they completely lost it on Facebook for the world to see, doing potentially irreparable damage to their brand and their business.
As these examples attest to, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a huge, publicly traded corporation, or a small mom-and-pop shop business, failure to manage your online reputation can land you in all sorts of hot water.
Even if you’re not interested in becoming active on social media right now, you can start the process of at least monitoring your reputation online. Listening is the first and most important step of any social media strategy, and it doesn’t have to cost much to get rolling.
Do you own a restaurant? Just Google your restaurant name with the word “reviews” after it. You may well find that people have talked about you on their blogs, or left a review on Yelp.com. Save that search using a free Google Alert, and from this point forward, you’ll get an email the minute someone mentions you online.
Don’t have a Twitter account? That’s okay. You can search all public posts on Twitter using the Twitter Search page. If you’re a not-for-profit organization, this can be invaluable. Not only can you search your organization name for mentions, but you can search for keywords find out what people are saying in general about your cause. (Tip: this works just as well for any kind of business – just search for your name, and for some industry keywords – you’ll be amazed at the conversations that are going on!).
Just setting up these two simple things can open a whole world to you. Students and clients that I work with are always surprised at what pops up when they do a Google search on their name. Don’t assume nobody’s talking about you. The Internet is a big place. Assume that there’s always the possibility that someone IS talking about you. By listening in, you’ll know immediately when they are.
Then the only thing left is figuring out what to do about what people are saying – more on that in my next post.
Have you had any experiences with managing your online reputation or that of your organization? Please feel free to share your story in the comments.
Oh, by the way…
I’m really fired up to be pitching a session at South By Southwest Interactive next year, with my esteemed colleagues and wonderful friends, Martin Waxman, CEO of Martin Waxman Communications, and Mary Pretotto, Director of Social Media Community & Intelligence at Rogers Communications.
Our session is titled, “You Suck! How Reputation Can Make or Break a Brand”, and in it we’ll be discussing the good, the bad and the ugly of reputation management, and providing some real life examples of how you can apply skills you already have to maintaining and building your reputation online. It’s going to be a pile of fun, and we’d be honoured if you’d pop by the SXSWi Panel Picker and gave us a vote! Thanks for your support!