Thanks for being a part of Thought Leader Thursday and sharing your insight with us today Andy. For those that don’t know, you are an author, speaker and reputation management guru, to name just a few of your talents. Can you tell us a bit about how you ended up where you are today, and what it took to get here?
One part luck, one part hard work, and the remainder a blessing from God!
I’ve spent the last ten years of my career focusing on Internet marketing–particularly search engine optimization. A few years ago, I started getting requests to help clients “clean up” their Google reputation–pushing down negative items when you Google their name. Between 2005 and 2007, that expanded to other areas and I found myself helping businesses manage all aspects of their online reputation. I coauthored Radically Transparent, which was released in 2008 and that really helped to shift my focus from SEO to online reputation management. Soon after, I founded Trackur.com and since then I’ve found myself firmly planted in the world of reputation management and social media monitoring.
Your feature-rich online reputation monitoring service, Trackur, has created quite a buzz. Can you tell us more about it?
After writing Radically Transparent, I realize that there was a huge void between the rather basic Google Alerts, and the rather expensive social media monitoring solutions–some of which cost thousands of dollars a month. I felt there was a need for an online reputation monitoring tool that offered sophisticated features, yet was easy to set-up and didn’t break the budget. Trackur launched in February 2008 with a plan that started at just $18 a month and took just 60-seconds to set-up. Since then, more than 11,000 accounts have been registered and Trackur’s not only helping the small business owner monitor their reputation, but it’s also used by many large companies and PR firms.
You’ve consulted on reputation management for a wide range of clientele, ranging from small companies all the way up to Fortune 500 companies that we’ve all heard of. Do you see any common trends when it comes to the reputation challenges that companies find themselves in or their responses to them?
The commonality is that both small and large businesses need to ensure they have a positive reputation. After that, it somewhat divides. Small companies lack the budget to build flashy blogs or invest in infrastructure to monitor and manage their online reputation. However, they tend to be in a position to make faster decisions and are able to work one-on-one with the customers–it’s usually the business owner that participates in the management of their online reputation.
Fortune 500 companies have the opposite problem. They typically have the financial resources, but they tend to be such large, complex organizations that any information collected is often silo’d and it takes weeks to get approval to implement strategies that would benefit the company’s online reputation.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen people make when it comes to responding to a reputation management crisis, and how someone salvage the situation if they’ve already made one of these mistakes?
The biggest mistake is simply not having official channels in place to allow your customers to complain. Most disgruntled customers post to blogs and Twitter because they feel like they are not being heard by your company. They get frustrated with your lack of customer service and they think to themselves, “I’ll show them, I’ll post a negative review on Yelp/Twitter/Blog.” If companies would simply look at how they’re listening to their customers, and how they escalate and resolve customer service complaints, many of the reputation problems you see would never make it to the web.
Perhaps the second biggest mistake is not apologizing soon enough. We tend to get too defensive, when we screw-up. We want to try and resolve the problem without accepting blame and without putting our hands in our pockets. When your business faces a legitimate complaint, move quickly to resolve it. Don’t think about the few dollars in refund demanded by the customer, instead think about the thousands of dollars in lost revenue, if the customer creates a reputation headache for your business!
Obviously, being proactive is always the best approach, so what are some things that companies can do to help protect their reputation ahead of time?
First, be honest with yourself about your company’s weaknesses. You need to know what your Achilles’ heel is, so you have a better idea of where a complaint is going to surface. If you can’t improve your product or service, then you should at least be aware of the issues. Second, simply listen. If you did nothing else than listen to what’s being said about your company on the Internet, you’d be ahead of your competition. Listen to complaints, praise, product features–heck even listen to what’s being said about your biggest competitors!
Lastly, figure out your company’s “centers of influence” before you start any social media engagement. If your customers aren’t the type to use Twitter, it’s pointless investing in a Twitter strategy–no matter how trendy it is! Once you know the best channel for reaching your customers, focus on it like it’s another one of your products or services. Don’t just launch it, then forget about it. Invest the time and resources into making it a success!
If a company does find themselves in a crisis, what are a some things they can do to minimize the impact it has on their business?
We have an entire chapter about that in Radically Transparent, but I can distill my advice down to just three words.
Sincerity, Transparency, and Consistency.
Be sincere in your apology. Let your detractor know that you acknowledge your mistake and are truly sorry. Next, be transparent in how this situation arose. Was it poor customer training? Or, perhaps a problem with your manufacturing process. Whatever the issue, be open about it and be equally open about how you plan to resolve the situation. Lastly, be consistent in your future actions. Your customers will forgive you the first time, but they’ll look to make sure that this situation doesn’t happen again. It can take 2-3 years before they fully trust your company again, so you have to be consistent.
Can you recommend any free tools that people can use to streamline their reputation management efforts?
For listening, I would start with Google Alerts–it’s free. If you outgrow that–or need something more powerful–then Trackur’s just $18 a month. As far as engagement, WordPress, Twitter, Facebook and most of the other social media channels are completely free. Typically you don’t have to invest hard dollars in technology, you have to invest your time. It’s that personal connection between you and your customer that truly helps strengthen your online reputation.
Do you have anything new on the horizon that you’d like to tell us about?
Right now I’m focusing my time on adding new features to Trackur. I’m extremely proud of what we’ve built and I want to continue adding value to those that trust their reputation monitoring to us!