According to polls, 78 percent of americans were using some form of social media in 2016. Without much effort, you can reach millions of people in seconds with your company’s message across social media sites. And with the same amount of effort, people can turn on you in droves because of an oversight. You’ve probably seen this phenomenon on Facebook or Twitter: someone posts a rant, and the masses follow close behind with their jeers or objections, gaining traction and opening the door for more controversy. The anonymity and facelessness of the screen makes it easier, it seems, for people to express extreme emotions where they normally would be a little more cautious.
When it comes to your business or your reputation, it’s important to keep tabs on what people are saying about you across all major social media platforms.
It Only Takes One Instance
Your reputation can be drastically affected in by a single social media mishap. In 2015, the Victorian Taxi Association in Australia started a social media campaign in search of feedback so that they could improve their service for their customers.
"People shared horror stories of sexual, physical, and verbal abuse about drivers"
They called the campaign “Your Taxis” and encouraged people to use the hashtag “#YourTaxis” on Twitter to share their experiences. What happened next was not what they wanted, though, as people began to share horror stories of sexual, physical, and verbal abuse from drivers.
Between the campaign’s launch on Monday through the following Wednesday, there had been so much backlash that the company was forced to make several public statements of apology.
This is a situation that was truly beyond knowing, but that still had a major impact on the reputation of the Victorian Taxi Association. It can’t be said with certainty, but a few things may have helped mitigate this disaster: a better understanding of the company’s overall online presence, a contingency plan for a social media blunder coupled with basic ground rules for social media use, and a monitoring system of common social media channels. Oh - and perhaps a better understanding of their drivers.
Your Company’s Online Presence
Whether you’re active on social media or not, your company has an online presence. Before we get into the details of creating and monitoring your social profiles, here’s a breakdown of some key elements of your online presence.
Any new or established business is expected to have a website today, but it’s not just for the consumer’s benefit - it’s for the business, too. For instance, Verisign conducted a study in 2015 regarding websites and attitudes of business owners towards them. Here’s what they came up with:
- 97 percent would recommend having a website to other small businesses
- 88 percent of small business owners agree a website has made it easier for customers to find their business
- 84 percent say their website is important or critical to their business
A company website (especially one with the domain matching your company name) improves a potential consumer’s ability to find you when they’re searching for options. This, in turn, allows you to grow business without expensive marketing campaigns. A website will also make your company seem more professional and more legitimate.
Forwarding domains is like forwarding email — visitors to your domain are redirected to a location of your choice. This is a great way to avoid building out a web site before you’re ready, as you can redirect people to a landing page, a social media site, or wherever else you’d like. You can begin to build a strong brand this way, as everyone can be redirected to the same branded web location.
It's also a good way to protect your reputation. By purchasing domains similar to your own, and simply forwarding traffic from those domains to your true domain, you may be able to avoid domain squatters - people buying domains to shave traffic from your brand.
A lot can be said with an email outside of the subject line and the body. Imagine that you receive an email from “firstname.lastname@example.org” some Tuesday afternoon. You may not take “Bob” very seriously, but what if the email you get is from “email@example.com” instead? Now you know who he is, and that he’s probably legit.
Getting Started on Social Media
You don’t need to know the ins and outs of every platform to be successful on social media. Simply having profiles and a few posts on a couple of the top platforms brings your company up to date, showing customers and others that you care about them and their opinions. It also becomes a relevant brand touchpoint, often occupying valuable first page search result space.
Educate yourself to some extent though, you don't want a replay of the Weiner Twitter drama by using the wrong symbol in a tweet.
Even if you don't use them all at once, it’s smart to set up social accounts on all of the major platforms using your business name. This way, imposters can’t get in the way of your online reputation by registering your name before you do, and you’ll have the account names saved in the event you want to use those channels later.
Set up accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Google Plus, and Pinterest for starters. All of these are free.
Employee Damage Control
You may have heard about employees accidentally posting to social media under the company’s profile rather than under their personal profile. Oops! Another scenario is when employees post something offensive or harmful without realizing that it could be perceived as such. Dealing with these nightmare situations begins with having a plan in place.
A good place to start is by defining how you want the company’s social media profiles used, and in a similar vein, how you want employees to use their personal social media profiles. In mid-size to large companies a formal social media discussion and plan is a good idea.
Company Social Media Use
If your company is on the larger side, hire a part-time or full-time social media manager to plan and schedule posts that meet your strategic goals. If you’re doing it yourself, take some time to define your goal with each post. Develop procedures for posting and commenting, along with contingency plans for when things go haywire. When your company grows you'll want to have this written down as it will make training others to do it far easier.
Employee Social Media Use
Put policies into place regarding social media posts to protect sensitive information, such as customer records or trade secrets. The legal issues that can arise from an accidental unveiling can be harsh, even devastating, on both consumers and your business.
To mitigate some of the more nuanced challenges of social media posting like tone and content, suggest publicizing a social media posting etiquette across your work environment. Encourage employees to be respectful and honest, avoid instigation and flame wars, and give things a general thought moment before pressing that “send” button.
Social Media Reputation Management Tools
One of the most powerful, and challenging, aspects of social media is its public forum style. Someone can post their thoughts about your company, positive or negative, to the entire world through Facebook or other platforms. There are few to no monitors requiring that posts must be true. The poster doesn’t even have to be a real customer to make statements about your company.
If you’re paying attention, you can mitigate the damages of a negative comment or statement. There are myriad tools available, and many excellent ones for free, that listen in on social media ruminations. These tools not only help you understand what people think about you, but they can also shed light on the effectiveness of your social media strategy and help monitor anytime you’re mentioned by name.
Hootsuite vows to help you "do more with your social media marketing," including measuring ROI, protecting your brand, scheduling multiple posts across different platforms, and more. This tool covers Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and many more social media sites. It is widely praised, and, best of all, it’s free!
By monitoring over one hundred social media sites, Social Mention combs over the web and deliver reports on popular metrics used in the industry. The company’s website says this of their product: “It allows you to easily track and measure what people are saying about you, your company, a new product, or any topic across the web's social media landscape in real-time.”
If you’re new to monitoring social media, Google Alerts is a good place to start. It’s easy to use, and offers great functionality with Google’s trademark simplicity. It's not as functional as TalkWalker though, also free.
Understanding the risks that are inherently carried by the web will allow you protect yourself against them, arming you and your employees by proxy. Making an effort to be present online will show people that you care, increase your visibility, and give you insights pertaining to the chatter on the wire about your company. You can respond to those insights using social media monitoring tools, and continue to shape your online reputation with the help of an ORM company.
The online world is a whirlwind of changes and opinions. Keeping up with it can be a lot of work. Even getting involved in social media can cause a backlash that can cost real dollars. The ultimate message brought to us by years of activity and study, though, is that a little effort and compassion from the business goes a long way in building business reputation, sales, and consumers’ trust in you.