What to Expect From Online Reputation Initiatives

Brands, across the world are now waking up to the importance of setting “Reputation” targets instead of focusing only on “Revenue” targets. They now realize that building a solid, sustainable, positive reputation brings much more long-term benefits than merely trying to meet revenue targets. Customer-facing entities like restaurants, hospitality industries, and professional services are faced with the daunting task of “listening” to a very active target audience that initiates discussions about them. Remember, every brand has a loyal set of customers, who contribute anything between 40% to 70% of a brand’s earnings in a particular time interval. These customers are loyal, because the brand has successfully managed to leave a lasting, positive impression in their minds, and they automatically become 1st choice. The most reputed brands in this world are the ones that elicit the fastest and most accurate top of mind recall.

Increasingly, brands are allocating a respectable portion of their digital budgets towards not only reputation “sustenance”, but also reputation “building”. According to a recent Columbia University student research study – brands(which earlier did not consider “ORM” as a line item in their budgets) are now allocating anything between 2% to 4% of their overall marketing budgets towards managing reputation on and off social media. Now – that is a start!

A recurring question during my conversations with industry peers – What will I get out of investing x amount in ORM?

Well, to start with, it is a very pertinent question, but it cannot be answered in terms of quantified, numerical values. What companies need to understand is the overall positive branding value that ORM brings to the table. So – what should they be expecting?

  1. Establishing Positive Presence Online – Till yesterday, if you were present on ‘x’ number of platforms interacting with ‘y’ number of users – your reach will be measured in terms of xy. After the ORM campaign, your brand presence with extend to (x+a) relevant properties, interacting with (y+b) targeted users, taking your total reach to (x+a)(y+b) – this is true of a branding initiative also – but here, we are not talking about “broadcasting information” alone, but also about creating avenues for current & prospective customers to interact with the brand. So simply increasing brand presence is not the key – it is to expand to those online destinations where a captive target audience is present – hence we call it – extending a brand’s reach.
  2. Improvement in Search Result Sentiment – ORM was never about using crash-and-burn techniques to bury negativity on search engine result pages. It was always about giving space to the brand’s point of view also, in the face of customer rants on high traction platforms. It is a fact that people usually muster up time to highlight a negative experience about hotels/restaurants/professional services, online. Very few people have the patience and will to highlight a positive experience. In this case, is it not unfair to companies that only one perspective gets pushed? Isn’t it prudent that companies get to share their side, on verified brand channels? Creation of brand spokesperson channel offers companies windows where they can present their side of the story. Such brand channels also help customers get the right avenue to engage in a meaningful conversation with the brand. Overall, it takes a lot of time to organically improve search rankings of official brand channels, when someone searches for the brand name. Would urge companies to give their reputation mgmt. agencies a longer rope here.
  3. Value Driven Through Assisted Conversions – As I mentioned above, companies expect each cent of their marketing budget to give them a 2x return. While this is justified universally, I would advise companies not to discount ORM just because it seemingly give you direct monetary benefits. Given the vastness of the web, and the range of technologies used on websites, it becomes difficult to tie back each digital marketing activity, to an improvement in the lead numbers. Brands need to integrate backward, and also look at how Reputation Management, introduces the brand to a potential customer – thereby ushering him into the 1st stage of the purchase cycle. This is something that cannot be quantified easily, and falls under the “Assisted Conversions” category – if you were using Google Analytics as a tracking method. Isolating data and attributing it just to ORM is impossible, but you can be assured that the benefits are there – because your ORM specialist shortlists only those platforms that are most relevant to your business, and contain the same TG as yours.
  4. Opportunity for Market Feedback – Addressing negativity entails any ORM provider to monitor conversations around a particular brand name. With evolved tracking tools like Iristrack™ & Social Mentions customer sentiment across a range of geographies and lifestyles can be easily tracked. Market research firms would charge you a bomb, for the same kind of coverage, and their sample set has been a subject of many debates. So, you have to look at the “listening” value that ORM gives you, and helps your brand get into a conversation with a customer. Your customer feels empowered, and is likely to act as a brand advocate for you. 2 Problems Solved – Customer Loyalty & Sales Growth :-)

Brand managers are accustomed to seeing numbers as a measure of the return on investment in a particular activity – hence, the adoption of ORM as a mainstream digital marketing discipline has been rather slow. However, with social behaviour getting replicated online these days, companies have understood the implied value that an online reputation management campaign – one that cannot report cold, hard numbers – but can create immense online opportunities for a brand. In the next year or so, companies should start looking at reputation building in the same light as they used to see billboard advertising 20 years ago. If they ignore it now, they are going to lose out to other companies who set reputation building as a priority. Remember, in a world increasingly cluttered with product and service brands, differentiating yourself from the market, and ensuring top of mind recall is going to be the saving grace – and ORM offers you exactly that.

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