When a brand post comes up in one of your social feeds, what’s the first thing you notice? It’s probably the image or video, but where do your eyes go next? If you’re like me, I’m betting it’s to the name of the company sponsoring the post. In fact, that’s often the first thing I look at.
Why? My guess would be that we automatically put brand posts through a tougher vetting process than we do posts from our friends. We are more resistant because we know these posts have a specific ultimate motivation: to part us from some of our hard-earned money. So we take note of the company name to help us decide whether we are going to give this content any of our valuable time.
The main point we’re most likely evaluating when we note the brand name behind a post is our perception of that brand’s reputation. Is this a brand we trust? Have they proven to provide accurate, useful information? Are their claims credible? Are they worth even a few seconds of my time?
Social media’s role in brand reputation
Since for many consumers, social media is one of the primary means by which they encounter brands and their messages, it follows that social media has an important role in shaping brand reputation. A business’s social media posts are an opportunity to emphasize those things that people find most commendable and relatable about a brand, and also to help to counter any negative perceptions that may exist.
Of all the media and outlets through which people learn about brands, social media is the most interactive. It is the easiest place for people to interact with businesses, and social media users have shown themselves to be anything but shy about doing so! Therefore, it’s not just the content of posts that helps with reputation maintenance and enhancement but also how a business handles conversations with consumers in the comments and replies to those posts.
So, good social monitoring is essential to online brand reputation management. Do you regularly check notifications for all your social networks? Do you make use of any social listening tools to catch mentions of your brand outside of your own posts? Those are just the basics of social monitoring. The real work of brand reputation management doesn’t begin until you start regularly and quickly responding to those comments and mentions and learn how to do so in positive ways that don’t hurt your brand.
Understanding the dimensions of online reputation
We’ve established that your brand’s reputation is critical and that social media has a frontline role in establishing and enhancing that reputation. But how does online reputation actually work? What are the factors of reputation that people use in evaluating a brand, whether consciously or subconsciously?
There are different ways to answer those questions, but an approach that I’ve found very useful is the Reputation Quotient (RQ) developed by the Harris Poll. The RQ is “designed to understand how a company is perceived in modern culture” rather than evaluating it in a vacuum.
First, the RQ conducts surveys to determine the most visible brands online, whether for good or bad reasons. In other words, these are the companies that are most likely to come to consumers’ minds because of the reputation they have formed in those consumers’ minds.
The brands that surface from that survey are then evaluated according to six dimensions of reputation. The six dimensions of RQ are:
- Products and services.
- Emotional appeal.
- Workplace environment.
- Financial performance.
- Vision and leadership.
- Social responsibility.
In the remainder of this post, I will explore each of those dimensions in light of how you can use social media to build a better reputation in that area. The companies with the highest positive consumer reputations score well in all six dimensions.
You should use this framework to evaluate where your social media campaigns are both strong and weak in terms of reputation management, and then think through how you can work harder at the weak dimensions and capitalize more on the ones where you are already doing well.
The six dimensions applied
1. Products and services
As with all six of the Reputation Quotient dimensions, social media can’t do much unless there is already some positive substance with which it can work. That is, social media can’t make up for any real, substantive lack or weakness in that area within the company. In this case, if the general perception is that your products or services are inferior, then glowing social promotions will be met with mostly derision and negativity.
So the prerequisite for social media reputation-building in this dimension is simple: Strive to provide good value and quality with your products and services. Of course, that’s something typically beyond the scope of most social media teams.
That being said, if your company has something of a bad reputation for what it offers, your social media can provide some help climbing back up to a better place while you’re working to improve what people dislike.
One way we’ve seen companies like this — those that had inferior offerings that they were trying to improve — make use of social media is through embracing radical transparency. Radical transparency means not only not hiding your deficiencies on social media, but being proactive in acknowledging and discussing them, noting. of course, what measures you’re taking to improve quality or performance.
An example of radical transparency consistently applied in our own industry of digital marketing is in the social interactions of SEO software provider Moz. In fact, such radical transparency is written into their very corporate culture, in the form of their ubiquitous brand values acronym “TAGFEE” (Transparent, Authentic, Generous, Fun, Empathetic, Exceptional).
At some point in the past couple of years, Moz realized its keyword tool was lagging behind those of some of their competitors. Moz’s chief spokesperson at the time, Rand Fishkin, as well as others from Moz, were open about this online and regularly updated customers on what they were doing to improve their tool. As a result, they held onto most of their customer base through a challenging time.
One final way a brand’s reputation is built on social via products and services is by how well it handles customer service. Is the brand responsive and helpful when customers have complaints, problems or suggestions? Remember that for every person with a problem properly helped online, many more are watching and storing away the impression they got from the interaction.
2. Emotional appeal
The role of emotions remains perhaps one of the most undervalued aspects of marketing. It’s often acknowledged, but how many of us actually attempt to design emotional impact into our marketing campaigns? And yet study after study shows that human decision-making is far more influenced by emotions than by cognitive thought.
So it is with reputation management. Whether trying to build a reputation-enhancing campaign or one to counteract negative reputation, our primary efforts probably go toward amassing and publishing facts and arguments to support our case. However, forgetting the emotional elements cuts us off from one of our most powerful tools.
In my previous Marketing Land column, I gave examples of three brands that are still doing very well organically on Facebook. While the campaigns of all three definitely employed emotional appeal elements, the “Mirnavator” by REI stands out in that regard.
REI has earned phenomenal devotion from its customers in part by consistently identifying with their passion for the outdoor life. In their Mirnavator video, they took this a step further with an inspiring and heartwarming story of a woman overcoming multiple challenges (including online bullying) to pursue her passion for running.
Social media content and campaigns that associate your brand with your customers’ and prospects’ positive, relevant emotions go a long way to cementing positive sentiments around your brand. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people comment, after seeing that kind of content, that they were going to become customers of the brand without any further consideration!
3. Workplace environment
Workplace environment might seem like the least important factor to emphasize on social media, but don’t discount its impact. First, and most obviously, portraying a positive work experience at your company is important for recruiting. When people consider applying for employment at a company, they often start their research by investigating its social media feed. Obviously, if they get cues there that your company is a great place to work, it can influence their decision.
But publicizing positive things about your company’s workplace can also be a component of reputation enhancement in the eyes of customers and prospects. These days people are more conscious than ever of the power they have as consumers. With more choices than at any time in history, people look beyond your products and prices. Socially conscious consumers will stay away from companies that are known for treating their employees badly.
To promote your positive and beneficial work environment on social media, don’t shy away from posting about things like:
- Improvements to company policies.
- Fun or meaningful events sponsored by your company.
- Volunteer efforts by employees.
- Candid photos around the office.
- Accomplishments of individual employees outside their work responsibilities.
While none of these seem like they have anything to do with marketing or driving sales, they help reinforce that your company cares about people, and that makes consumers feel better about doing business with you.
4. Financial performance
Financial performance may be the trickiest of the six dimensions to promote well on social media. It also risks being the most boring, but it doesn’t have to be. How transparent you can be on social about the financial health of your company will vary depending on your culture and management’s policies. However, there are circumstances where some disclosure about finances can help with overall reputation enhancement.
Most obviously, if your company has a great, profitable year, social media can be an appropriate place to crow about it. People like being associated with winners and like brands that are successful, as they probably assume that such success equates with superior products and services as well as customer satisfaction.
Being as transparent as you can with your financials also projects an image of honesty and authenticity that can reflect upon you positively. Beyond that, if you are a public company, there is also value in keeping your investors informed on your financial health.
5. Vision and leadership
Because of fast-breaking internet news and social media, executives and management at known brands are under more scrutiny than ever before. Most of us can probably name companies in recent memory that took substantial reputation hits because of highly publicized scandals or ill-chosen words from top executives. Conversely, people admire corporate leaders who are seen as visionary, selfless, generous or outspoken on important causes, and their reputation is associated with the companies they run.
Therefore, brands that want to be proactive will seek to make heroes of their leadership. One way to do this is by encouraging the heads of your company to become online thought leaders, regularly publishing insightful content or even interacting via social media.
Of course, this has to be done with wisdom and discernment, and an executive new to exploring the thought leadership realm would be wise to consult with her social media team for guidance. But done well, such efforts can go a long way in making consumers feel more connected with a brand.
6. Social responsibility
This is an area many larger companies once viewed with much fear and trembling, but in the social media age, the evidence is overwhelming that companies able and willing to identify themselves with important causes can gain rich rewards as a byproduct.
Often the causes can be relatively “safe” — things a majority of people see as good — such as concern for the environment. Another example from my previous column is the household products brand Seventh Generation, which makes and sells environmentally safe cleaning products. They also are very active in funding and supporting environmental initiatives, which obviously resonates well with their target customers.
But more and more, we are seeing brands take what might be considered more controversial stands and benefiting from them in terms of reputation and even increased sales. For example, I’ve been following the explosive growth of an online mattress seller.
Coming into a highly competitive market they were little noticed. Then they began quietly featuring images of diverse couples lounging on their mattresses, including posts with a few different gay couples. As might be predicted, these posts attracted a few negative comments, but they were overwhelmed by positive reactions from people who support equality.
As a result, the brand’s Facebook posts gained huge organic traction, and their follower counts shot up exponentially. I’ve seen a great many comments on their posts similar to this one:
As you can see, taking a strong stand on a social issue, even a potentially controversial one, can result in actual sales and new loyal customers. A growing number of customers seem to want to be identified with brands they believe are making a difference in society and will vote with their dollars, even when there might be viable competition.
How have you used any of these six dimensions to enhance the reputation of your brand in social media? Let me know on Twitter at @marktraphagen, and be sure and tag @marketingland into the conversation!
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