Two years ago I wrote a white paper regarding the value of reputation management (see below) and the connection points within social media, public relations, executive branding, and business impact. These elements tie together to form the foundation of reputation management: with the business impact (both risk and reward) driving the primary strategic direction of the idea.
The story of reputation management in a crisis is fairly common: a businesses finds themselves in the center of a controversy spinning out of control on the web.
The generally begins with an executive who happily fell asleep one night, only to awake the next morning with dozens of emails in the inbox and a team anxiously awaiting a “master plan” that will save them. The executive finds themselves wasting valuable time researching facts they should have known, trying to educate themselves on basic best practices, and hesitating to take action due to a fundamental lack of understanding.
This article takes a good look at why real reputation management is not just SEO, but an integrated and holistic communication strategy that ties into multiple parts of a business. By examining questions regarding reputation management to avoid a crisis elements, a business can have a healthy and positive online footprint that grows into a strong business asset.
In a crisis, the simplest actions become the most important ones.
While this exercise is written for a larger organization, all of the questions leading towards a good reputation management plan are valid regardless of whether your company has $25k or $500m in revenue.
“Prepare: the time to win your battle is before it starts.”
~Frederick W Lewis
Is your business prepared to operate without your web site?
There are a number of reasons why a site may go offline and you should consider ‘what if’ scenarios to ensure foreseeable events are taken care of. Failure to have a consistent presence during a crisis is a quick path to derail your reputation management strategy.
- The most obvious is a simple hardware failure for the server.
Make sure to have ample back-ups of the site (and keep them off location.)
- Review if your site capable of having a major spike in traffic
(can it handle 100k people using it?)
- Have a site disaster plan in place (loss of power, flooding, fire, earthquake.)
- Create a communication plan in case your web presence becomes compromised
(I.E. hacked or crashed)
Who on your team is capable of answering specific issues about your high value assets?
Create a list of all the topical experts on your team.
Stack rank them in order.
If they are handling a very important asset, indicate a list of back-up personnel in case they can’t be reached. It is important to have an executive discussion and make a decision of who has responsibility before a crisis occurs.
Is your brand and mission statement integrated into a crisis plan?
In the digital world of reputation management and crisis control, responding quickly and transparently has huge benefits.
The simplest way to enable your team to act is to give them a direct brand and mission statement. By integrating this into the first step of your crisis plan, any employee in your organization should be able to ask a basic YES / NO question of “Do my actions support our brand and mission statement?”
This is critical for allowing an organization to have a consistent message at all levels.
“Not to know is bad: Not to wish to know is worse.”
Do you know what assets you need to protect?
Like a good game of chess, you need to know the difference between pawns and your king. Sit down with an asset sheet and define all of your valuable assets.
This is the heavy lifting part of a reputation management project.
Write down every brand name, executive, and product your company offers.
You also want to include a list of top clients and high-value business partners.
Stack rank all of them in order of importance.
How can you monitor your important assets online for current and potential threats?
There are a wide variety of options ranging from free to paid systems.
- For conversation monitoring there are tools like Google Alerts, Trackur, and Radian6.
- For site monitoring there are tools like Google Analytics, Postrank, and Woopra.
Who is responsible for monitoring the web for early signs of a crisis?
If someone doesn’t have an official responsibility to monitor for signs of problems (and opportunities) – you will be doomed to a very jaded moment of finger pointing when the executive team all shrugs and says “I thought you were handling it…”
“You can either take action, or you can hang back and hope for a miracle.”
Do you have a spokesperson capable of dealing with online communication?
The web can be a strange place: it involves blogs, article sites, consumer reviews, tweet streams, video critics, and community mobs. The spokesperson for your company needs to have a little bit of faith, a good amount of aptitude, an arsenal of technical education, and a whole lot of support. They also have to have a an attitude and a good character under pressure – the wrong statement at the wrong time (or taken out of context to the wrong place) can fuel a fire out of control.
Does your company currently have a system to push out a message to multiple social media channels?
When social media goes wrong, it can happen in a variety of places.
Think about the ways you can quickly create content and distribute it to channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Slideshare, your blog, and the newswire.
This means having a ‘web brand kit’ ready that has the needed elements such as graphic visuals and video animations ready for use. The last thing you want to be doing during a crisis is waiting for your graphic designer to e-mail you a high resolution copy of your logo.
Does your company own its online brand assets?
There are dozens of important sites and profile accounts that your company should own. This prevents cyber-squatting on trademarked terms and important keywords that may be searched for online.
- This includes accounts on services such as Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook.
- It includes multiple domain variations (.com, .info, .org, etc)
- It potentially includes common mis-spellings
- It includes company, brand, product, service, and executive names.
“Problems become opportunities when the right people come together”
Do you have a real “web master” ?
All joking aside, you need to define someone who has both a business brain and an aptitude for the web.
In a real crisis, time is a very valuable and costly commodity. The faster you can initiate a proper response, the greater the chance you have of minimizing potential damages.
This person should also serve as the person who ‘double checks’ all of the basic preventative elements. When you are dealing with a potentially dangerous situation, you don’t want novice mistakes damaging your only lifeline.
(*Shameless plug : if you need someone who can handle this, drop me a line.)
Do you have an incident response plan?
This is really important. Everyone “in the know” should have a list of cell phones and e-mails to make sure that critical personnel can be reached quickly.
In an ideal situation, a private blog or employee portal can serve as a command center to coordinate information.
How can you help your business partners and how can they help you?
Share these questions with your business partners both internally and externally.
When forming a good reputation management strategy, the more the merrier.You don’t want to be trying to find the right communication person in a partner company or explaining the basics of this article during a crisis. You want to be able to pick up the phone and make a simple request to take specific action on behalf of your partnership.
This is a good opportunity for business partners to strengthen relationships. In the social media conversation, it is often more effective for your partners to lend defense and support. This can be incredibly important if the case happens to be oriented towards reputation management regarding search engine optimization (a few links from relevant partner sites can do a world of wonder.)
“When you create your own destiny you prevent others from doing it for you.”
How have you enabled your fans to support you?
Social media has some amazing benefits that extend outside of your immediate employees and business relationships. You have access to several different layers of social networks that can be activated to help you out.
- Friends and Family – do a survey of your immediate relationships and find out what influential connections exist within your friends and family network. These users/decision makers/influencers can radically alter the way your business is viewed online (and in the real world.) While you may be planning a reputation management strategy for a crisis, this list is also a very valuable asset to be leveraged during good times (new product launches, special announcements, brand studies, etc.)
- Happy clients and brand evangelists – these individuals may have no real reason to do something for you… except for the fact that they like your business, what you do, or who you are. This layer of fans has numerous advantages when dealing with the ‘digital mob’ that can arise during an online crisis. Understanding how to communicate correct information to this group quickly and effectively allows them to distribute it.
What happens when someone goes rogue?
It may sound harsh, but what happens when a trusted employee does something stupid? Perhaps they found a better job or they found out about a lay-off too early. Maybe they simply have too much personal stress and decided to push a couple of buttons…
Part of a good plan needs to have some consideration for back-up and redundancy. You never know who will be removed from the equation.
Do you have a social media policy in place?
This is a critical communication piece for your organization. Employees need to know how to act during both good times and bad. When looking at special assets and topics, your strategy may include exclusions for specific items that are ‘no comment’ items. This is commonly seen in traditional communication and crisis plans, yet online versions are often severely lacking.
*If you would like to develop a policy – read my recent eight part social media policy series.
If your company is publicly traded, how do you monitor threats that affect your financial value?
A recent study by a researcher at Indiana University found Twitter has a predictive correlation to stock price (with 86.7 percent accuracy)
There are dozens of new platforms encouraging entirely new conversations online. The audiences involved in these crowds produce a massive amount of data that can often be correlated to revenue points within your business. It is critical that you think about what marketplace conversations are happening, what types of data are being created, and whether or not you can use that information to draw better business insight.
If you have survived a reputation management crisis,
what is one question you wished you would have asked
before it happened?
Read some of my other articles on reputation management here.
Reputation management extends beyond simple reviews of personal names and corporate brands. Reputation management is not limited to simple search engine optimization or negative press online. The basic act of ‘finding things’ through search engines and social conversation on services like Twitter and Facebook creates a huge opportunity for malicious individuals to make a lot of money.
Online security firm Mcafee highlighted a core problem with the annual “The Most Dangerous People on the Internet” report.
The basic idea is that you don’t know what you are clicking on.
When you are looking for information about your favorite celebrity or the hot topic of the day,
be forewarned about what lurks in the dark corners of the web.
- Millions of virus enabled web sites using
very sophisticated strategies to steal things of value.
- Really smart, well educated and highly motivated
people who want to take advantage of you.
These malicious sites use every tool and trick available: malware downloads, creating trojan viruses, and infecting machines with spyware.
They also use social engineering to lure users into giving away valuable personal information. This can take the form of phising or fraudulent login requests.
The end result includes
- personal information stolen
- bank accounts hacked
- data files corrupted
- countless hours lost
Looking at some examples
For the past three years, Mcafee’s ‘Most Dangerous Online” report has a long list of celebrity names that were targeted as delivery mechanisms for these criminal activities. A quick review of the last three annual leaders of the ‘most dangerous people on the internet’ include Brad Pitt, Jessica Biel, and Cameron Diaz. All three celebrities suffer different reputation management problems.
2010 – Cameron Diaz: “Fans searching for “Cameron Diaz” or “Cameron Diaz and downloads,” “Cameron Diaz and screensavers,” “Cameron Diaz and wallpaper,” “Cameron Diaz and photos” and “Cameron Diaz and videos” are at risk of running into online threats designed to steal personal information. Clicking on these risky sites and downloading files like photos, videos or screensavers exposes surfers or consumers to the risk of downloading the viruses and malware.”~ McAfee press release.
2009 – Jessica Biel: “Fans searching for ‘Jessica Biel’ or ‘Jessica Biel downloads,’ ‘Jessica Biel wallpaper,’ ‘Jessica Biel screensavers,’ ‘Jessica Biel photos’ and ‘Jessica Biel videos’ have a one in five chance of landing at a Web site that’s tested positive for online threats such as spyware, adware, spam, phishing, viruses and other malware,” ~ McAfee press release.
2008- Brad Pitt: “When “Brad Pitt screensavers” was searched, more than half of the resulting Web sites were identified as containing malicious downloads with spyware, adware and potential viruses.” ~ McAfee press release.
Understanding volume and trends
Celebrity names are just like popular products
(some argue that a celebrity is a product)
When a movie studio announces a new movie, they attach the name and personal brand of a celebrity to it.
These celebrity names carry audience recognition, market support, and brand awareness that drives three critical business factors:
- online traffic
- news coverage
- ticket sales
By looking at how product names function online (chart below – click on image below for full-size chart) we can see trends that encourage malicious acts of thievery and brand attack.
We can see how celebrity exposure spikes around movie releases and additional press coverage.
These peaks and trends are what attracts criminals to create these reputation management issues.
In most cases the individuals behind these illicit activities are not targeted towards the actual celebrity. They would attack anyone (or thing) who was popular enough to drive traffic and exposure for the illicit endeavor (while unethical, the business model they have is usually professional and rarely personal.)
Understanding the damages
As of today – these three celebrities have a significant number of people searching for them on a daily basis.
Across the top three search engines (Google / Yahoo / Bing )
- Brad Pitt – 13,178 (estimated daily searches)
- Jessica Biel – 38,413 (estimated daily searches)
- Cameron Diaz – 22,446 (estimated daily searches)
If we give a 1 in 10 chance of clicking on a negative site on the first page of search results,we can see that thousands of daily users are risking various virus infections, along with chances of data loss and identify theft. This is a huge loss depending on the celebrity brand involved in the process.
A percentage of these users are faithful and motivated fans.
They want to support the celebrity.
In many cases they idolize them and faithfully follow them.
Yet with a single mouse click, a faithful fan looking for an image or downloading a screen saver becomes a victim. They can no longer support the celebrity brand or push the actor’s latest silver screen endeavor.
Unless the Virus is Social
Computer viruses are much like the common cold.
They contaminate and infect the people you know.
In the case of brand supporters… like minded people know like minded people.
The single victim becomes a carrier and can potentially infect the entire “fan base.”
One infected fan exposes hundreds of other fans through social networking, email and computer sharing.
These carriers have no idea they are passing along an infection or helping someone steal from the people they know.
Why does this matter?
If you have a valuable personal brand, it should be apparent that a lot of effort and money goes into promoting a celebrity brand. In the online space your personal brand is a core target for technically savvy and unethical business minds to do everything they can to take value from you.
Yet most of us are not in the movie industry…
That is where product and executive brands come into play.
When a new product or service is announced, the digital conversation around it becomes an enticing opportunity for unscrupulous people to take advantage of.
Knowing how a new product launch can highlight your business as a criminal target is a critical issue for all types of brands.
The Good side of Reputation Management
Criminals prey on the weak and the unprepared. They look for easy targets and fast cash.
Proactive reputation management tactics work with this in mind. By understanding the basics of why certain endeavors attract criminal elements, you can eliminate a majority of the risk and make it costly for a criminal to attack your brand.
Key issues to think about for reputation management –
- prevent losing your fans and brand supporters
- prevent losing your general audience
- enable your fans to protect you (help them, help you, help them)
- educate your fans to reduce risk
Give thought to two important elements
- The Brand/Product itself – reputation management needs to be scored and benchmarked. Type your name into the big search engines and record what you get.
- The Consumer/Fan Audience – reputation management can be a group sport. Fans and supporters should be enabled. Providing exclusive interviews/news and some technical recommendations for things like search engine optimization can go a long way to protecting your brand.
What problems do you see in the
reputation management space?
There are a lot of different ways to look at online reputation management. As a trend, the topic (some would say crisis) of reputation management is going through some really interesting transitions.
I have been writing about the topic of online reputation for almost a decade, ranging from offering professional domain names to ceo reputation issues that lead to failure. A recent point of interest is that mass media (notoriously years behind most technical trends) is quickly adopting a message on the urgency of how the digital world and social conversation affects both corporate reputation and personal brand. An example of mass media hitting the “trend button” can be seen on sites like Cosmopolitan writing about it.
Needless to say: the topic of reputation management is trending upward Read more
Perhaps a Supermedia online reputation tool can save the corporate reputation. In January of this year, SuperMedia came out of the ashes of Idearc’s bankruptcy filings. You can read about how people feel about the SuperMedia scam or my own personal viewpoint on how leadership at SuperMedia seems to dodge brand/reputation bullets: SuperMedia, Idearc, Verizon, GTE? Reputations don’t fade online.
Moving forward six months, SuperMedia seems to be creeping into the reputation management neck of the woods (isn’t everybody?)
As the reputation management space becomes more active, it wasn’t too long before a company like SuperMedia (Idearch/Verizon) came along and tried claiming it. I’m normally not that out-spoken about a new product, but the reality is that this type of corporate entry into a marketplace has a serious risk of damaging a lot of small businesses.
The problem is simple however: large organizations like Supermedia simply don’t understand the online space. I can say this with some level of experience as I spent eight years working within GTE/Verizon Superpages/Idearc (which is now SuperMedia) and have been monitoring the reputation niche for the past five years. Read more