No brand should underestimate the importance of its digital reputation, especially in this era of Google-first, buy later culture, not to mention the prevalence of review sites and social recommendations.

Although it is practically impossible to completely avoid negativity (just look at the comments of any YouTube video), it is how a company controls its surveillance of and response to these mentions that will help determine how it is perceived. By confronting issues as they arise, the impact that negative mentions online will have can be contained, helping to prevent a snowball effect from occurring.

Ensuring a brand is seen in the most positive light possible is essential for establishing and maintaining trust for customers, regardless of what the brand sells.

Take, for example, the finance sector, in which reputation plays a hugely significant role. The ramifications of the 2008 banking crisis however, have shaken the industry and trust in banking has dropped considerably. Combating these types of trends can be difficult, but ignoring discontent is not an option. 

Monitoring for negative activity allows brands to be alerted to issues quickly and through effective response, can present an image of a caring and reactive organisation. 

Going beyond the mainstream: forums 

When tracking the activity surrounding a brand it is important to think beyond the main channels of conversation. Twitter and Facebook – although often generating a huge volume of mentions – may not be as influential as other social platforms for some sectors. 

Consumer forums have grown to become a cornerstone of digital peer-to-peer advice. Negative mentions in these communities can have a significant impact, due to the amount of importance that consumers place in other users’ opinions and the ‘shared expertise’ nature of these sites.

By allowing such issues to continue unresolved and discussed at length, the problem could very well grow and affect the views of future consumers. Therefore, by maintaining a responsive, helpful and ongoing presence on different consumer forums, a business can not only mitigate any damaging comments, but can also generate relevant traffic to its site. 

Some brands place such a high value on forums that they treat them as they would their owned media, like Twitter or Pinterest, such as the case with E:On’s customer service agents on Money Saving Expert, a popular consumer advice forum. 

So being active on these accounts will allow customers to receive direct feedback and a relevant response in an environment that they may not normally expect. 

By using a social media monitoring tool, a company can take advantage of several key features to keep on top of online conversations happening on forums.

  • In automating the process, rather than trawling through native forum interfaces, brands can be quickly alerted to any negative activity detected online.
  • If results are filtered by page type, a company can then specifically focus on forums allowing for certain threads to be analysed in-depth, and separated from the other social media noise.
  • By looking at influence metrics, a brand can determine the importance of a forum (or even the specific author on that forum), allowing for the most suitable reaction and for the brand to assess which mentions are the most crucial to respond to – and when.

Exceptional service from Laterooms.com  

A real use case where social media monitoring was implemented to identify and adapt to negative mentions of a brand on a forum is that of LateRooms.com. I’m describing this case as it was conducted using my employer’s software, but there are plenty of tools – even free ones – that can perform some of the same functionality. 

Anyway, LateRooms monitored the mentions surrounding its brand across the web. While doing so, in one particular case the social media team picked up on a disparaging forum thread where a customer was displeased with the company and was advising others against buying with the LateRooms service.

The team decided to contact the customer directly after finding his details in the system, right there on the forum. 

This led to the issue being resolved quickly, while maintaining the good reputation of the brand. In fact, the customer was so pleased with how LateRooms.com handled the situation he removed his previous comments from the forum and the entire thread was eventually deleted. 

If the team had not been using a social media monitoring tool, the thread would have remained undiscovered, potentially continually damaging the brand’s reputation.  

A solid internal infrastructure

By implementing a structured plan which focuses on the many different types of crises which can occur – and on the many different online places they can occur – a brand can be well prepared for a variety of situations. 

However, it’s really not the case that all businesses must follow the same strategy when it comes to addressing their online reputation. Instead, it should be a personal process that each company should tailor to their specific market and brand. So sorry, not so much specific advice on the ‘what next?’ part. 

I’ll leave you with this: if you’re responsible for marketing a brand, you’re ultimately responsible for its reputation. It’s therefore your responsibility to maximise the opportunities you’re given to enhance it, and to prepare to limit any potential damage to it.