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Friday, February 11, 2011

“Time is of the Essence...”

We’ve probably all used this expression at some point in our lives, but it is truer today than ever before, especially in the business world. Consumers have a tremendous amount of influence, and their voices are more easily “heard” everyday thanks to social media. They can be your best advocate or cause damage to your reputation. Your response model must change.

In the past, large firms typically had defined processes for handling consumer correspondence, complaints or suggestions for future products. In today’s environment, businesses that have not moved to a more immediate response mechanism are struggling. As an example, think about the huge Toyota recall that took place in 2010. From all indications, the acceleration issue had been going on for quite some time. When the story hit the national news, Toyota was unprepared to handle the public outcry; indeed, their slow response has been used in case studies on ways NOT to handle a business crisis.

There are several keywords that can guide you in defining a response plan:

  • Monitor – it’s important to know who is talking about your firm and staff. You cannot address an issue or thank someone for an endorsement unless you know it is out there. Has someone mentioned your firm, staff or product in their blog? Was a staff member quoted in the online news? You need to know. It’s also good practice to monitor your industry keywords and your competitors. You may find great ideas for a new product or service by listening to what those interested in your industry are saying.
  • Involvement – the more involved you are in activities related to your industry, the higher your “expert” quotient will be in the minds of your clients and prospects. As you monitor articles related to your industry, you can quickly respond and gain exposure for the firm. Some businesses have monitored consumer discussion boards for product feedback, and when a consistent enhancement is requested, implemented it quickly to please customers. Others have contacted their local media when a relevant story appears to go on camera with a response or follow-up information. Timeliness is again key.
  • Responsibility – it’s difficult for one person to monitor and respond to all mentions of your firm. Setting some base rules and empowering all employees to watch for and respond to activity will expand your reach (business footprint) and make your staff members feel more a part of the team.
  • Now – you cannot delay in responding to comments or issues that concern your business. Timeliness is critical. This is true for both publicly posted and private comments (which can easily become public-Wikileaks, anyone?). If the comments are negative, you have an opportunity to immediately address and resolve the issue. And if you do so in an effective manner, most clients and prospects will applaud your efforts. If the comments are positive (maybe a great mention in a news article), you can push these out to your client and prospect base, who may then share with their friends, giving you some positive “viral” activity.

Our reality as business owners and managers has changed and there is no going back. It’s important for all of us to move forward. Those businesses that find ways to take advantage of these changes will be the ones that succeed. We'd love for you to share your tips for managing your online reputation. Let us know what works for you!

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