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3 key steps when conducting an online brand reputation audit

The way businesses approach marketing has seen a lot of shift in recent years. Internet has made it possible for new brands to market themselves online to an audience which was not available for them earlier. With the help of internet marketing, it’s easier and cost effective to acquire customers.

Consumers are constantly making buying decisions. But because they are also making informed decisions by vetting the brands and companies they are dealing with before them make their more. This makes it important for you as a marketer to ensure that you present yourself and your brand in a positive light encouraging trust. No matter what your brand’s goals are, you will never want to be associated with anything negative.

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It’s important that you conduct your online brand reputation audit. Good news is, it’s not complicated. The basic brand reputation audit will not require you to be a wizard.

Step 1 – Step into the shoes of your audience

The first and very important step is to think like your audience and customers. When they are making a buying or engagement decisions they want to know that they are dealing with the right company. If the promoters & key executives of the company are involved in anything bad. Prepare a list of phrases. It may be simply the name of the company and a combination of your product/service. Assuming a company name ABC Inc that sells gym equipments is run by Jim Cook. These are some of the possible phrases people might search for:

  • ABC Inc
  • ABC Inc USA
  • ABC Gym Equipments
  • ABC Jim Cook
  • Jim Cook
  • ABC Inc Reviews
  • ABC Delaware (feel free to add the city/state if your business is local)

Follow this for your business and you’ll come up with such phrases. You can also use a free excel template to help you with this.

Step 2 – Find out how your brand is perceived online

Now that you’ve your list of phrases, you’re ready to conduct a search on how your brand and key executives are perceived online. Start searching for the phrases one by one in Google. We do not necessarily look into other search engines as Google dominates (Google’s marketing share is 65.44%). Other search engines like Bing and Yahoo mostly mirror a subset of Google’s results. The top 10 results that you see on the first page will be the most important, as most users will not click past page one of search engine results. Look at each result carefully and find out what they say about the phrase you searched for. Let’s mark them as

  • Positive (1)
  • Negative (-1)
  • Neutral (0)

If the result has positive sentiments about your search phrase. Enter one against the search result column for that key phrase. Enter -1 against the search result column for that key phrase if it has something negative. If it does not talk about you or has neutral views, give it a zero.

Repeat this for all your phrases. Once you’re done repeating this for all your phrases listed in the sheet, you will have a decent overview of how your brand is perceived online. You would like to see most of them green (positive) or gray (Neutral). Anything red (negative) should raise an alarm. Even if there is one negative listing in the top 10, it’s something you seriously need to work on getting fixed. I will talk about some of the fixes later in this article.

Step 3 – Monitor your phrases

Third and most important is monitoring the web for any negative mentions connecting to your brand. You do not have to do this manually. There are various tools that can come handy. You can use Google’s free tool — Google Alerts.

This tool allows you to add the phrases you would like to monitor. Every time Google’s search engine finds a match that mentions the phrase, it sends you email alerts (based on your frequency setting). All you need to do is to review if the sentiment of the content where it was mentioned is positive, negative or neutral. Anything negative should be noted and an action plan should be developed to fix this.

Analyzing the results

If the result looks all positive, you have nothing to worry about. However make it a routine to repeat the check on a regular basis. I recommend doing this on a weekly or at least every month. You should consider the nature and scale of your business while setting your calendar for audits. Any bad press or mention can dangerously affect your business.

Analyze what kind of negative mentions you’ve attracted. It could be most likely one of these:

  • A disgruntled employee
  • An unhappy customer
  • A competitor
  • Someone who does not like your product or service
  • An independent review article

Corrective Actions

If you found out negative mentions, it’s a reason to be concerned without panicking.

Once you analyze what kind of negative mentions you’ve attracted, it’s time to follow one or more of these actionable steps to bury them. It can easily be overwhelming and require someone to work on it full time.

These steps however can be your guidelines for rescue.

  1. If the page where the mention was found, allows you to post your reply, offer a sincere apology.
  2. If you think the negative mention was not genuine, contact the website owner/support team indicating the same and if they have proof of its authenticity.
  3. Generate good press to bury the bad.
  4. Wherever you’ve an opportunity to respond, be polite.
  5. If this was one of your ex employee or customer, speak to them directly, apologize and request them to give you an opportunity to fix what went wrong.

Online brand reputation management is an essential aspect of your business which you must stress on (if you have not already been doing that). You may want to hire a full time employee to manage this or even consider hiring an external brand reputation agency that specializes in this. A specialized brand reputation management agency will have effective strategies to battle the negative results.

Do let me know if you find this helpful. Feel free to add any other approaches you have followed that has proved effective in the comments below.

Feature image: Simon Cunningham via Flickr / Lendingmemo.com

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