Reputation Management 101

They Said What?!

The term Reputation Management refers to deliberate activity that is undertaken by marketing and public relations people to combat negative impressions that are caused when someone posts damaging content online. It is also referred to as Search Engine Reputation Management (SERM) or Online Reputation Management (ORM).

So they said mean things. Who cares?

You do. Because negative commentary can adversely impact brands, which are the foundation upon which a business differentiates and sells its products and services. People buy from brands because brands are more trustworthy than no-name suppliers, except when online commentary says otherwise.

The whole point of managing your online reputation is to:

  1. Diminish the effect of negative or damaging online content about the brand, business (or individual);
  2. Use the opportunity to increase confidence in the brand, reduce purchase risk and improve online brand visibility; and
  3. Increase sales.

If you’re here because you’re in strife already, you should check out my post on online brand damage control.

Trust and Authority.

When marketers think of the Internet, they see a fantastic channel to reach and broaden their consumers (which it is.) But even though its easier to move into international markets, its harder than ever to get them to listen to you. Why? Because everyone is shoving their messages out there. Consumers are simply drowned out by all the noise. In response to marketers, consumers have developed a natural filtering system – turning to people they know for recommendations and turning to brands that they trust. Most eye advertising messages with a degree of disdain and cynicism, consumers know they are always being marketed to and many are heartily sick of it.
Trust and respect is earned, it isn’t something you have by right so you have to give (and often quite a lot) first before you can expect something back.
So what can you give? Your time, your empathy, your accessibility and your listening ear are all good starters. Be there for your customers before you expect them to be there for you.

Trademark Infringement.

Trademark infringement is very problematic on the Internet. Courts around the world are creating “Cyber law” as a means to try to figure out how best to fit legal disputes on the Internet into preexisting legal frameworks. As a result, the legal principles governing conduct and commerce in cyberspace are still in a state of flux.

Claims of trademark and copyright infringement have become commonplace. If you want to see if anyone is using your brand unlawfully, you just need to go to Google. The onus rests with the brand to police the use of its marks and to pursue inappropriate use of it. This can be tough to do if the infringer lives in a country that does not have agreements with your own. A huge issue that emerges from this is that if someone is infringing your mark, and you know (or should know) but you ignore the problem, you can lose your trademark. The bigger the brand, the more that is at stake.

The only advice is to get yourself a good lawyer and be prepared to spend a lot of money dealing with trademark infringements.

See BitLaw for some great resources in this area.

Trademarks and the Search Engines.

Approximately 20% of all searches are for trademarked goods. Competitors bid on the brand names of competitors, driving the cost of pay-per-click advertising higher. They have been stopped using a competitors brand name illegally in their websites, but there are always ways around it.

Online cybersquatters are the worst offenders. They are waiting for customers to click on their website, thinking it belongs to a larger, more reputable trademark owner and, once there, customers are presented with an alternative, competing product. It is potentially a form of bait and switch fraud.

Government authorities and the major search engines are all aware of the practice and have, over time, introduced a series of measures to diminish the impact of this kind of online bait and switch fraud on reputable brands.

Counterfeit Goods.

According to the OECD, the industry of counterfeit and pirated is now worth more than $250Bn per year and climbing.

The Internet has facilitated the easy sale of counterfeit products, the vast majority of which are manufactured in China, Korea and Taiwan.

To combat counterfeit products, trademark owners increasingly split production over different factories to minimise the opportunity for factory owners to perform deliberate overruns that are indistinguishable from the original goods.

Reputation Management Disasters.

There have been some big brand disasters in regard to reputation management (learn more details from the Madigan Group experience).
Who can forget United breaks guitars? United Airlines sure want to forget it. Over 15M views of the song written by frustrated musician, Dave Carroll, who was unable to get compensation from the airline for the damage it caused to his guitar. It was widely reported that the cost to United Airlines was $180M due to a drop in its share price after the video went viral.
Two disgruntled employees filmed themselves doing disgusting things to a pizza before it was sent out on delivery. The video was uploaded, turned viral, the employees were sacked and the brand was thrown into damage control.
A fake memo claiming McDonald’s stores deliberately rip off customers went viral, sending the fast fooder into a flurry of official statements and calling in its lawyers who ran to the police. The memo was claimed to be the work of serial prankster, David Thorne, and outlined a secret plan to save money by leaving items out of drive-through orders.

Want more?

Check out more of my posts on brand and reputation management.


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