The Internet has progressively become part of most aspects of our personal and business life, and corporate warfare is no exception. Now, those who like to play dirty use the internet as a battlefield and a means for their dark deeds. They have turned social media and internet news sites into a weapon to undermine their competition.
Fake news has become a common occurrence in social media platforms, news websites, and even reached mainstream news outlets at times. They can take different forms, but overall, they are fabricated stories created to pose and be spread around as real journalism. The most banal reason for publishing fake news is to gain clicks and generate income through ads. However, they are usually created with the specific purpose of smearing a public figure. While many fake news target political movements, politicians, or other public figures, they are also used to tarnish companies’ reputations.
And it works. Believe it or not, a study showed that false information tends to spread more widely and spreads faster than the truth.
Many brands both big and small have been affected by fake news.
A recent example of disinformation masked as news is a video that surfaced in January this year. You can see a car driving and bumping and tipping over a robot standing on the side of a street. Headlines all over digital news sites and technology sites read that a Self-driving Tesla had hit and killed an autonomous robot. Except the company hasn’t released a self-driving model yet. The video was allegedly released as a publicity stunt that the robot’s company launched during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
The jury’s still out on whether the purpose of the video was to put a dent on the electric car company’s reputation or if it genuinely is an advertisement for the bot’s company.
You may be asking yourself who would benefit from making the public mistrust Tesla technology and how. There is no simple answer to this question. But, off the top of my head, I think it would benefit competing companies that build and sell cars powered on fossil fuel, or those trying to steer consumers away from self-driving technology.
That being said, fake news is not the only way a business can have their online reputation compromised; competitors can also resort to fake bad reviews and REAL bad reviews. These can also be detrimental to a brand’s image and can hinder consumer’s trust.
What does that have to do with my company’s reputation?
If you think that this does not apply to you because no one is talking about your product or service online, think again. In this digitalized world of ours, consumers are always discussing your brand whether you have an online presence or not. It is your job to be on top of that discussion, and lead it when possible. That is what online reputation management is all about.
The first step to proactive reputation management is actively monitoring it. How can this be done? The simplest way to monitor what’s being said online about your business is to set up Google Alerts for your company’s name or any product you offer. You will receive notifications every time the terms you set the alert for are mentioned on the internet.
If your business is small, you might be able to check everything yourself and reply to any negative reviews that come up. However, as your business grows, you might want to turn to more sophisticated tools. Some of the apps available for this purpose are BrandMention and BuzzSumo. The former can be used to monitor what consumers are saying about your brand on different social media platforms. The latter allows you to sweep the web for any mention of your brand and products. It also provides other information such as engagement figures and number of links.
If your business grows to a point where it becomes unmanageable to DIY, you should leave the task to an online reputation management professional. This means people trained and experienced in handling all aspects of your brand’s reputation.
An effective reputation management and SEO agency can help you devise both contingency and mitigation strategies to protect your business from foul play. This can minimize the damage to your company if you fall victim to a fake news campaign and/or fake bad reviews. They can also lead a pro-active reputation management approach. This can lessen the blow if you are targeted by unscrupulous competitors.
What goes beyond monitoring?
Besides staying on top of your brand’s mentions, you also need to be ready to appropriately respond to any critiques, complaints, or mis- and disinformation that come up. Ignoring it will only make it worse. Even if it’s initially shared within a small circle, everything online has the potential to blow up and become viral.
If you think time heals all wounds, and people will forget. Let me just tell you no, it doesn´t. What goes online stays available, possibly forever. And it can resurface at any moment.
Case in point: “United Breaks Guitars.” Not a fake news campaign, but a very creative bad review of sorts. It exemplifies how powerful social media and the internet are today when it comes to a company’s reputation.
If you haven’t heard about it. I’ll give you the CliffsNotes version of it.
In 2008, a band traveling on a United Airlines flight overheard some passengers commenting on how some guitars were being mishandled by the airline’s baggage personnel. They later realized that, in fact, it had been their instruments and that one of their guitars was damaged beyond repair. After complaining to the airline, they got zero compensation for it claiming that he hadn’t submitted his complaint within the appropriate timeframe. The guitar owner then decided to write a few songs about the incident and posted the video on YouTube. As I write these words, over ten years later, the video has been viewed more than 19 million times, and even today, people comment on it. It was reported that the antic cost United Airlines shareholders $180 million dollars when the stock price went down after the video was released. Ouch!
If you’re asking yourself whether getting to know your target audience plays a key role in online reputation management (ORM), then you’re on the right track. And by knowing your audience, I don’t mean the statistics that make up your target market or your buyer personas. It is essential that you know where they are and where the conversation about your brand is happening. Don’t wait to be the target of bad reviews or for your business to be discredited to open profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all other social media platforms. Discover where your customers are and engage them. Be part of the conversation, listen to their needs and complaints, and take action. Doing that will help you cement your customers’ trust in your brand and you’ll earn their loyalty.
Another way of keeping a good online reputation is by somewhat “controlling” what appears on the first page of search results. What would you find if you searched your brand on Google? Chances are that you will come across a few negative results if you are not currently implementing an active ORM campaign. They may be years or even decades old, but they will show up because search engines like to display a balanced set of results.
How can I improve what appears on the first page of search results?
Simple: by creating, publishing and promoting more pieces of relevant content optimized for those keywords that are drawing negative content to that first page of search results. This is what we mean when we say “control.” Doing it will push the negative content down the rankings to the second or third page, where virtually no one ever goes.
Do you still think online reputation management is something your business can do without?
Here are some figures to help you gain some perspective on the importance of ORM for your business in the 3.0 era:
- 85% of people use the internet to do research before making a purchasing decision.
- 80% of internet users say that negative information read online made them change their minds about buying a product or hiring a service.
- More than 80% of reputation damage results from a discrepancy between the buzz and the reality.
- 50 % of consumers give a brand only a week to answer a question before they decide to take their business elsewhere.
- A one-star difference in the average rating of an online business can mean a 5% to 9% difference in revenues.
- More than 70% of consumers use social media to provide guidance for a purchase
- Nearly 1/5 of consumers have found something during an online search that made them decide not to do business with a company.
- Nowadays, most buyers trust recommendations from online users over advertising.
- More than 40% of companies that suffered a negative reputation event have reported losses in revenue.
Numbers don’t lie. The time where an in-house or on-retainer online reputation management expert is a necessity is here. Because as the saying goes, prevention is always better than cure. Keeping your online reputation in check can prevent your business from losing customers, recognition, and potential revenues.