Creating a brand from scratch in any market often starts as an insular process whereby a thought flashes through the mind of an individual in the dead of night. You stew on it for a while, sketch out ideas and then, when you have confidence in your plan, you start to share it with others around you. At this point, the evolution of a brand becomes a collaborative process be it friends and family, colleagues or past associates. When the brand launches and success is achieved, what was collaborative often reverts to insular; unfortunately, closing the doors to the opinion of others once your brand is established often leads to an unrealistic image of how your brand is perceived. Allow me to elaborate.
You’ve slogged your guts out for the past 4 years, taking your idea and nurturing it to the point where it becomes a recognisable brand with a strong customer base. For arguments sake, let’s say your brand is an online cookie store. We’ll call it the oh so imaginative Cookies for All. You are getting plenty of orders and starting to turn a profit so there is nothing to worry about right? How about that customer in Scarborough that didn’t like the cookies she received? (let’s call her Lucy). Lucy thought they were a bit tasteless but she didn’t bother to contact you directly about it, instead she’s casually mentioned it on her blog.
So Lucy is pretty cross with Cookies for All and has chosen her blog as her personal platform to talk about her disappointment. She hasn’t contacted you directly so you have no idea about Lucy in Scarborough. No huge deal as that’s just one person that’s got a bee in her bonnet, right? Well Lucy’s little blog is really rather popular. She has 3,000 subscribers you see. So that one person turns into a possible 3,001 people who have a negative view of your brand. Because you don’t know about these 3,001 people, you carry on thinking that your brand has a totally untarnished reputation and this is the point where an unrealistic image of your brand begins.
How Do You Find Out Your Online Reputation?
The fact of the matter is that you need to monitor mentions online of your brand to establish its current reputation. There are numerous ways of doing this and it’s important that you choose a combination of methods to yield the greatest number of mentions possible.
Start by setting up Google Alerts. To do this you need to head to http://www.google.co.uk/alerts and this is the page you will see. Simply type in your brand, choose how often you wish to receive alerts (you can choose the option to have alerts sent you in real time, so as soon as Lucy’s blog post went live, you would know about it).
You can then go ahead and set up alerts for variations of your brand name (perhaps it is also mentioned as Cookies 4 All along with Cookies for All) to make sure the net is being cast as far and wide as possible, collecting up all those mentions and feeding them back to you.
Social Monitoring is extremely important and smaller brands can do this manually. Setting up Hootsuite will help you to monitor Twitter mentions of your brand so start by adding in your brand by clicking “add a stream”. Then type in the search term you want to follow in order to track who is saying what about your brand (remember to include the variations of the brand name and common misspellings too).
If your brand is large and time is in short supply, you may wish to consider a paid tracking service that will do all of the leg work for you and report back on all social mentions. Trackur is used by many brands and packages start from $27 a month.
What Do You Do With The Information You Collate?
So let’s get back to Lucy. You set up Google Alerts so you’ve read this rather negative review of your beloved brand, what happens next? This brand is your baby so emotional investment is a given, but these emotions can often cloud your judgement and cause you to react in a less than desirable fashion. It’s important to take a breather and get some perspective in order to regain control of the situation. You may want to bite the reviewer’s head off, but a huffy response will never lead to better online brand reputation. Just take a look at the Facebook page of Amy’s Baking Company (not for the faint hearted, expect strong language at the very least!), a restaurant featured on Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares to see how far retaliation to negative comments gets you.
Once you have found a negative comment about your brand, you need to get in touch with the person quickly with a polite message. If I was contacting Lucy, I would send a message along the lines of “Hi Lucy, we are so sorry to hear that you were not happy with your cookie delivery. We value all feedback and certainly don’t want our customers disappointed by our product! Do get in touch with your details and we will be more than happy to send get another batch out to you”.
Where possible make the response public so that Lucy and her followers can all see that you have contacted her. Offering a small gesture of good will often goes a long way, so even if you believe that the review is unfair, sometimes you just need to bite your tongue for the greater good. If I was the owner of Cookies for All, I would probably send a small batch of cookies that cost me pence to make, but I would include a personalised cookie for Lucy or a little note to send along with them.
It may be that offering something isn’t necessary, people often just want their complaint to be recognised and a simple apology can make all the difference. By saying sorry to Lucy and being extra friendly, those 3,000 people that saw the negative review are much less likely to judge your brand harshly as a whole.
Monitor your online reputation closely and should you find negative comments, deal with them in a friendly and proactive manner. If you don’t listen to public opinion, you will never truly know your brand. Avoid being blinkered as a brand through listening to the opinion of others. Of course, when you find positive reviews it only takes a second to thank someone for their praise and helps to strengthen the fact that your brand is both strong and personable.