The Relationship Between Reputation Management and Social Media

Learning from the United Airlines fiasco to ensure the same doesn't happen to your brand and your business

In today’s world of online, fast-paced information sharing, the reputation of a company can be completely determined online. How often do you do something because you read about it online? How many times have you read restaurant reviews on Yelp or movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes? Have you ever looked up a doctor online before your appointment? People search all kinds of review sites before buying cars and appliances, going to restaurants, and seeking a medical professional.

Besides review sites, many people will ask their friends on Facebook or Twitter for advice or recommendations and will go to a restaurant because of an amazing Instagram food photo of the food. The opposite is also true. Bad reviews, bad photos, and bad social media posts can be permanently damaging to a company.

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Understanding the depth and reach of social media as well as the impact it has on society is the first step to managing it effectively. It cannot be ignored because people are talking whether you like it or not. Large companies have dedicated teams who manage their social media 24/7 to diffuse potential negative situations before they can become viral. They also respond to positive reviews and comments.

In the past, companies and celebrities had publicists. That role has become so much more. Your publicist, spokesperson, advertising agency, and marketing department all need to be in sync with what to do in a negative situation. Before social media, the saying was “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Today, with social media, there’s still no such thing as bad publicity – until the bad publicity takes on a life of its own on social media. A good example is the most recent United Airlines fiasco. If there wasn’t social media, that situation may have been a story on the evening news. But because of social media, United Airlines was a trending topic for over a week, giving everyone an opportunity to vent their frustration with the airline and talk about their bad experience.

Previously, when people felt the need to vent, it would be to a family member or co-worker.  Now it’s to their “follower base” which could be hundreds or even thousands of people. In the United Airlines situation, everyone just needed to add the #UnitedAirlines hashtag to offer their opinion or comments on the situation and everyone could see it. It is too soon to see the negative impact it will have on the airline, but if you’re given the choice to fly that airline or another, which one would you choose? This is where reputation management comes into play. The actions and how they are rolled out online from the marketing, publicity, and executives at United Airlines will determine where this situation will go.

“Today, with social media, there’s still no such thing as bad publicity – until the bad publicity takes on a life of its own on social media.”

Social media does not only impact large companies like United Airlines. Ask a small restaurant owner their opinion on Yelp or one of the other review sites. If not managed properly, it can destroy a small business. Of people who have a bad customer service experience, 80% want to tell people about it, and 75% of those people will talk about it online starting with review sites. On the other hand, only 20% of people who have a good experience will actually post about it online.

How should reputation management be handled? The objective of anyone working on reputation management, whether it’s an in-house team or outsourced company, should be to respond to and reduce the frequency of negative reviews and comments while promoting and publicizing the positive ones. If someone can respond to a negative review within two hours or less, it can usually contain the situation and sometimes even turn a complainer into a regular consumer. Having a response by someone other than the owner or manager is always best because they come from an outside perspective and don’t take criticism personally. Also, there may be some validity to the complaint. It’s always important to acknowledge that someone took the time to write it, listen, and potentially validate what they said.

Nike, Southwest, and Taco Bell are just a few of the larger brands that are doing reputation management right. They quickly respond to both positive and negative comments and even answer questions from customers when they can. Some large hotel chains have even created a specific customer service Twitter account separate from their main account to handle customer service issues. Social media is all about engagement and being social; therefore, responses to comments, praises, and concerns are vital to the reputation of the businesses.

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The bottom line is that people want to be heard, give their opinions, and talk about experiences. When they do, a business should be ready to respond. People will be more forgiving, come back, and spend more money when they get stellar customer service.