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Is your business or brand well-known online? How do people look at and feel about you, and what do they think of when they come across your products and services online?
What kind of content appears on search engine results pages, online review websites, and social networks whenever your business or brand is being searched? Is the content positive, neutral, or negative?
These are some of the questions you must ask — and be able to answer — when you’re looking for ways to manage and measure your online reputation. Ideally, you’ll have a team that guides you throughout the process, along with a reputation management software tool to make sure your image — your reputation — on the Internet is as good as it gets.
To start with, however, it’s good to have an idea of how to measure online reputation. But before we dive into details, let’s closely examine why reputation measurement should be an investment priority for your organization.
Why is reputation measurement important?
You may have heard of this story.
In 2008, singer-songwriter Dave Carroll arrived in Chicago’s O’Hare airport for a layover and discovered that his $3,500 Taylor guitar had been damaged by the baggage handlers of United Airlines.
Not long after the incident, he repeatedly tried to get a process claimed, but United said no and refused to reimburse him. For the next nine months, Carroll sent emails, made phone calls, pleaded with the airline’s customer service reps, and suggested that $1,200 in flight vouchers would be enough to compensate for the damaged guitar. United wouldn’t budge.
Finally, Carroll decided to do what he did best. He wrote a song, called “United Breaks Guitars.” And it went viral.
“United Breaks Guitars” has over 19 million views on YouTube. At the 150,000 mark, United decided to offer Carroll payment to take the video down; he suggested that the airline donate the money to charity instead.
According to the Times, United Airlines’ stock price plunged by 10 percent within four days of the song going online, costing shareholders as much as $180 million. This isn’t to mention the tsunami of bad PR and negative online comments that came United’s way.
Of course, a cheeky 4-minute song is unlikely to be the only reason (or even the main reason) for the airline’s staggering loss. But that’s not the point. The fact of the matter is that in the age of the Internet as an impactful platform, “United Breaks Guitars” made a very real impact on the brand reputation of United Airlines, which could have so easily put things right, but never did.
Investing in reputation measurement
“United Break Guitars” presents a strong case for managing and measuring reputation. Whether you’re running a small business or an enterprise-level organization with multiple locations, an upstart venture or a 20-year-old corporation, reputation measurement is one investment area that you have to focus on over the lifetime of your business. If not, you’ll be leaving yourself vulnerable to nightmares such as the one United had.
Reputation measurement saves money. “United Breaks Guitars” would probably not have happened if the airline simply agreed to pay Carroll the $1,200 in flight vouchers that he had asked for. Instead, saving $1,200 cost United Airlines 19 million negative impressions, and that’s on YouTube alone. A Google search of “United Breaks Guitars” produces approximately 8 million (!) results.
If you know how to monitor and measure reputation, it will positively impact the financial health of your company. It saves money in the long run. It also strengthens your entire foundation, so that a negative social media comment, a critical online review, or an unflattering search result won’t send your business reeling. I’m not saying have a stack of gift vouchers handy whenever a customer complains. See the big picture and structure your investments accordingly.
- Establish brand guidelines and ensure that these are followed at all levels of the organization.
- Foster a customer experience culture in which everyone takes part in developing and evangelizing your brand.
- Implement tools, training, and technology that enable you to stay on top of your online and offline reputation.
- Manage customer feedback and respond proactively to customer needs and expectations.
- Have crisis communication plans and reputation management and protection measures in place for worst-case scenarios.
You might find it worthy of note that it was only when Carroll’s song on YouTube became a hit that United took action and offered the vouchers. “They definitely want this to go away,” said Carroll at the time.
This highlights the power of preventive over corrective action.
No one in his right mind would believe that Carroll singing the blues could actually have cost United as much money as some media outlets had reported. But there is no doubt that preventive action on reputation (measuring and monitoring it) can save your business from lost sales and embarrassing brand situations.
Reputation measurement keeps you in business. Even though you may feel like you have no control over what people say or think — that your reputation is all based on their perceptions — sound reputation measurement and brand management practices will give you the ability to influence those perceptions.
It can drive increased awareness, engagement, and customer loyalty, and enhances your business’ capacity to endure.
Take online reviews, for example: investing time and effort to manage your presence on a site like Yelp can produce very real and very valuable results. A Harvard Business School study found that a 1-star improvement on Yelp translated to anywhere from a 5 to 9 percent swing on revenue, while Boston Consulting Group suggested that simply signing up and creating a Yelp listing can help you generate an average of $8,000 in annual revenue from the review site.
Now, let’s check out a short list of reputation metrics that you might want to look out for and monitor as you work towards building your presence online.
Reputation measurement fosters trust. Consumer trust is something you cannot buy. It certainly can’t be won by simply spending money on ads or embarking on massive blitz campaigns.
“Advertising can help build brands,” said Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. “But authenticity is what makes them last. If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.”
Authenticity resonates. That’s why it’s so important to invest in your brand reputation and make it the kind that consumers find authentic, and can therefore trust.
Reputation measurement creates stakeholder value. Your brand is more than just your trade name, logo, and tagline or slogan. It’s one of your most valuable and important business assets and a major factor in determining what your company is really worth.
Be wary of negative reviews and social media comments that might fester undetected in the background, quietly causing damage to your reputation. Not only does this make you look unattractive to customers; your own employees’ sense of pride might take a hit, too.
This is to say nothing of how your investors and stakeholders might feel. Can you imagine the kind of conversations that United Airlines execs were having after “United Breaks Guitars” was posted? “So, um, there’s this video on YouTube…”
Sadly, a majority of businesses are not investing enough in their brand reputation. At the very least, by measuring and monitoring it, you can help prevent avoidable problems in your organization. More importantly, it provides reassurance that everyone who comes into contact with your brand — customers, prospects, suppliers, the media, employees, and stakeholders — will have a reliably positive, engaging, and valuable experience.
PageRank is search engine giant Google’s link analysis algorithm, used to assign a numerical weighting for measuring the “relative importance” of your Web page or website. PageRank has always been an important metric for SEO professionals, but if you’re keen on managing your online reputation, you might want to check out your PageRank, too. (PRChecker.info is one of many free easy-to-use tools.)
PageRank gives an indication of how many of your inbound links originate from authority sites. Basically, the more respected, popular, trustworthy, and authoritative your business or brand is, the higher your PageRank becomes. Of course, this isn’t the only metric for measuring your online reputation. But it’s important to find out where you are in the PageRank scale — and, from there, figure out ways to improve.
Online reviews represent the voice of the customer. And they’re very influential in shaping your brand reputation.
Are customers giving you glowing reviews, complete with 5-star ratings, words of praise, and flattering shared photos? Or are they writing negative reviews, with a litany of complaints, disappointments, and demands?
Monitoring your online reviews across multiple websites is a key reputation measurement strategy. But don’t stop there. Be sure to engage with your customers as well. Respond to their reviews, whether it’s positive or negative.
If you’re getting high ratings, thank the customer for taking the time to share their feedback. If you’re getting negative feedback, acknowledge the reviewer and address any high-impact issues they may have raised.
Social media likes and followers
Social media is a great platform for keeping your finger on the pulse of your online reputation. The number of people who like or follow your Facebook business Page, for example, shows how many users are ready and willing to attach themselves to a brand or business such as yours. (No one, after all, would like the Facebook Page of a brand with poor online reputation.)
The same can be said about your Twitter and Instagram follower count. If people are following you on these networks, it means that your tweets, posts, and stories must have a reputation for having something valuable to offer.
Repeat website visits
Do you have a website or company blog? We highly recommend that you integrate it with some sort of analytics tool, even if you haven’t done so yet. That’s because one of the key reputation measurement metrics is the number of repeat visits your website gets.
A user may visit your website or blog once and then decide never to come back again. But if he or she thinks highly of your content — if you’re able to project a positive reputation and offer a positive experience to those who visit your site — then it’s natural to draw repeat visitors.
Bookmarks and subscriptions
Like PageRank, bookmarks can serve as a good indicator of how many people trust your brand or business. After all, Internet users tend to bookmark a page or website if they find it useful, or if they think it has something worthwhile to make them keep visiting.
Same goes with subscriptions. Few, if any, will subscribe to a business or brand with a bad rep. So if your subscribers are growing, congratulations! It means that people are looking forward to whatever new things you have to offer or say.