There are a number of key services that are hot in the industry at the moment (and no, we aren’t talking Twitter or social media services here), but online reputation management must be one of the hottest.

While it is enjoying somewhat of a boom in popularity, it is something that has been talked about within the industry for quite a while. However, it is one of those unfortunate services that sits as a hybrid.

To explain further; PR Agencies have often seen themselves as brand ambassadors; ‘guardians’ of the brand, in effect.

While often this is the case offline as well, many PR agencies have been slow in embracing online technologies, creating a window of opportunity that search and digital marketing agencies have embraced and brought into their ever-increasing range of services.

However, who is better placed to exploit such opportunities?

This was the subject of a recent conversation I had with Sandra McDowell (managing director of Connectpoint PR), where one thing was agreed. In order to work effectively, PR and digital marketing agencies need to work better together, rather than in isolation.

It is worth, therefore, exploring how potential reputational issues manifest themselves online, and how to start addressing such issues. However, before we start, one thing needs to be set in place, and this is where many search agencies tend to have had a head-start.


Understanding what your audience is saying about you is so important. There has never been a medium as transparent as the internet, in terms of understanding how and where your clients are talking about you.

Nearly everything you do online has a footprint somewhere. Over the last couple of years, I have had the privelege of assessing a number of tools, including (but not limited to) Buzzmetrics, Market Sentinel and Brandwatch. However, the key is getting the solution that’s right for you, both in terms of coverage and price. Research here is fundamental.

Now you have the tracking in place, it is worth assessing what type of comments you should be looking for online – and how to address them.

Dealing with bad press in a public domain

On his blog, Matt Cutts recently highlighted a fantastic example of this being done well. A disgruntled Comcast user posted a gripe about his HD TV reception on Twitter.

Almost instaneously, a response from Comcast Cares was received and within 24 hours a technician had been sent to his house to fix the problem. Now, there are very few people who can respond that quickly – but I would certainly suggest that Comcast has a brand advocate for life given the level of response shown above (We will get onto Brand Advocates later).

Regularly checking forums and blogs is advisable in many of these cases. For example, Company X have had some issues as regards negative publicity both offline (Watchdog – TV) and Online. There has recently been a number of posts on various forums, which in turn have been picked up by a number of blogging sites and forums highlighting potential issues, thus raising the profile of both the individual case and that of Company X in general

Regular monitoring, and addressing the more serious issues early, could potentially have benefited Company X in various ways:

  • Time – Having to sort many of these issues out via offline sources on an ongoing basis.
  • PerceptionCompany X spend a fortune in above the line and below the line advertising. However there is an old saying; it is more expensive getting a new client than keep existing ones.

    Many people use online to research their products (not only for price but for quality as well) before they buy, and thus those essential first impressions are so important, particularly given that many users will remember Company X (NOT the web address – and thus those early brand experiences are going to potentially shape that purchase decision)

  • And probably most importantly,
    Money – It’s all well and good spending thousands on advertising, but all channels are essentially judged by ROI.
    Imagine increasing your conversion rate by just 1%. For someone like Company X, that could potentially mean millions upon millions of pounds. With such a negative public perception, conversion is bound to be significantly affected, particularly if Company X’s price is similar to that of its competitors.

It should be highlighted here that Company X is not alone here; one of the higher profile examples of this type of situation related to Kryptonite bike locks.

Following a blog post in 2004, in which someone showed how to unpick the locks using just a ballpoint pen, the organisation got involved in a PR frenzy. From a small blog post, the story evolved onto major blogs such as Engadget and Boing Boing right up to the mainstream press such as the NY Times and Seattle Times.

So what do you do in such instances?
One person in an organisation obviously cannot respond to every single comment out there regarding his/her company, particularly in mid-crisis. 

What you should be doing is researching and tracking before a potential crisis hits, and getting the right people around you that are able to respond. They could/should include your PR agency, your digital marketing agency, traditional media as well as recognised, credible bloggers. The worst thing you can do is nothing.

There are a number of examples of online reputation management done well. Dell is very good at responding to potential issues online (as, it seems, is Comcast), and such good practises only serve to encourage positive brand perception and increased share of voice online.

One thing is for certain. The internet is here to stay, and embracing digital PR techniques in order to protect your brand is more important now than it has ever been.

If you don’t know what your customers are saying about you – isn’t it time you started finding out?

Peter Young is the SEO manager at Mediavest.