Good news spreads fast, bad news even faster.
Freedom of speech is a wonderful privilege. It's just a shame that many abuse it. It's an unfortunate fact that "freedom" is likely one of the most misunderstood concepts in the world. When many people hear that term, they think of freedom without responsibility. True freedom is a heavy burden as it entails a great deail of responsibility - being accountable for what you say and do.
The Word Of Mouth factor
If you've been in online business for any length of time, it's likely that others are talking about you and your services - both positively and negatively. Seen a sudden surge in sales or perhaps a sudden drop? It might be due to the online WOM factor - Word Of Mouth; rather than a sudden search engine ranking boost.
I remember a while back a page on my site suddenly getting a lot of positive attention suddenly, thousands of extra visits a day; but I couldn't pinpoint where the activity was coming from. My server logs showed the referrals coming from all sorts of places, but nowhere central. I finally tracked back to a few blogs that mentioned the page was mentioned on a TV show. Without those blog mentions, I likely never would have found the source.
Social media's influence
A few years back, the main source of traffic spikes were a boost in search engine rankings, but the skyrocketing popularity of social media in its various forms means it can now come from thousands of different places - forums, social bookmarking services, blogs and social networks. If your site or company gets positive coverage, it can really boost your bottom line - but negative coverage can literally ruin you.
It doesn't have to be a scathing post on a popular blog that brings you undone - a lot of negative posts on minor blogs can have the same effect. For example, if you were to type in your company/product/service name into Google and the first page of results was littered with negativity - that's certain to have an effect on potential customers.
The snowball effect
If someone has an issue with your company, it only takes that one disgruntled person to get the snowball rolling.. and growing. Someone spots a post or comment and then the "me too" brigade joins in. If you're not monitoring what's being said about you and your company, negative coverage can get out of hand very quickly. Equally as important, this sort of feedback can highlight valid flaws in your products and services, or the way your company works. Negative feedback can have positive results if you jump on it quickly enough.
It's sad, but it does happen - some of your competitors will assume an identity and then make the rounds of blogs and other social media services for the express purpose of damaging your reputation. They tend to leave telltale signs and once you've connected the dots, their comments can be discredited simply by drawing attention to the pattern on the blogs where they've posted.
Monitor your competition
While it's important to keep tabs on what people are saying about you; it certainly doesn't hurt to monitor the reputation of your competition either. For example, if people start complaining about Competitor A's shipping costs; this is a great angle to work on your site - free shipping, cheap shipping etc. Monitoring your competition's online reputation can also alert you to new developments, products and features they are offering that may impact on your own sales.
Tracking your reputation online - tools
Keeping on top of what people are saying about you can be a full time job in itself; preventing you from actually growing your business. There are some great free and premium tools around to help automate the process.
Google Alerts was probably the first free automated service for online reputation monitoring. Based on terms you provide, Google Alerts will automatically email you when there are new related results from Google News, Web, Blogs, Video and Groups. You can specify that only one resource is checked, or all 5.
It's a handy service, but I have found it generates a lot of repetitive, static and old results.
Serph is a great free tool for reputation monitoring. Serph compiles data from blog search engines, social media, news sites and social bookmarking services. Services Serph draws data from include: Technorati, Digg, YouTube, Flickr, Google Blog Search, Bloglines, and NewsvineSerph. Serph has some very nice features including filters that allow you to block domains you don't wish to see in results.
Unfortunately, Serph doesn't email you results, so you'll need to remember to check.
TrackUR is a premium reputation monitoring service offering a wide range of features. Usually such premium services are geared towards the top end of the market and are incredibly expensive, but TrackUR is priced reasonably enough to allow small online businesses access to full strength reputation monitoring. TrackUR incorporates the features of Google Alerts and Serph, plus a stack more; including additional data sources, the ability to save items, sort them, share them via email, and subscribe to an RSS feed.
You can try TrackUR free for 14 days to see if it suits your needs.
Dealing with coverage
It's all well and good to find negative comments - but what to do with them? In some instances, the guidelines of dealing with aggressive clients work well. One thing you want to avoid is going on the attack - this can lead to the Streisand Effect - something that has damaged many companies.
Most importantly, whether the feedback is negative or positive. Use the negative comments as an opportunity for improvement where valid. Don't just fix the problem, tell folks you have. Positive posts can be further bolstered by diving in to say thanks and offering readers of the blog, forum or whatever a special deal :). The coverage you uncover can also be a great source of testimonials and reviews to publish on your web site.
It's also important not to allow reputation monitoring and management become an obsession that prevents you from your other core tasks. Remember too that sometimes, you just can't please all the people all the time.
In the interests of transparency and disclosure, please note that the owner of Taming the Beast.net often receives goods and services mentioned in reviews for free, or may receive payments or affiliate commissions for advertising or referring others to merchants of products and services reviewed.
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