How to manage online reputation

The well-known advertising agency SapientNitro recently experienced a strong reality check about what it means to manage an online reputation. The company uploaded to its Facebook profile a self-promotional video called Idea Engineers, with the aim of showcasing the creativity of its employees. However, the repercussions were completely negative, and dozens of users published comments ridiculing the company and wondering how an advertising agency could have done such a bad job.

the worst was yet to come. Instead of responding to the criticism and
coping with the situation, the agency made the worst possible decision:
to eliminate the video from its Facebook profile and delete the critical
comments. Automatically, the “affaire SapientNitro” took on much
greater significance through Twitter, and specialized websites echoed
the company’s mistake. SapientNitro was forced to publish a note on its blog responding to the users’ criticisms, but by then, its image on the social networks had been heavily damaged. 

Criticism as an opportunity

is a recurring fear among companies that want to develop a social
network positioning strategy—how to deal with negative comments. The new
communications paradigm presented by the online social platforms
creates for corporations an unprecedented scenario: they must deal
publicly with users who are unhappy with their products and services and
with the way they develop their communications strategies.

it seems contrary to common sense, companies must understand that a
comment from an unsatisfied customer can become an opportunity. A recent study (pdf) from Harris Interactive shows that a negative criticism can be converted and even translated into a sales increase.

research, carried out in the United States, showed that 68% of the
customers who published negative comments on a social network, related
to a product purchase during the previous holiday, were contacted by the
sales company. Surprisingly, after that contact, 34% of the users
deleted the negative comments; 33% modified their positions and
published positive comments; and what is more important, 18% purchase again from the brand he/she had initially criticized. 

Knowing to identify the users’ needs 

first question that a communication professional asks himself when his
brand gets negative feedback on the social networks is, “How do I hide
it?” This might seem to be a logical reaction. However, the question we
should ask ourselves when this situation arises is, “What is the user
looking for when leaving a negative comment?”

question is quite simple to answer, although it does not seem so. What
the complainer is looking for is a response, nothing more, nothing less.
An authorized voice that, in the name of the company, shows willingness
to solve the problem that the customer is facing. And, if necessary,
has the humility and the intelligence to admit that mistakes have been
made by the company.

aforementioned study by Harris Interactive adds that of the 32% of the
users who did not get a response to their negative comments, 61% would
have been surprised if the seller had contacted them. Here lies the
opportunity provided by social networks to deal with the negative
comments of consumers. Surely, a large portion of the customers who did
not expect a response to their complaints would have changed their
initial position if they had received a response. 

Learning from mistakes

The social networks have forced companies to accept a level of exposure that did not exist in traditional media. These problems, developed previously in this section,
present brands with the challenge of handling their reputations in an
environment where consumers have an unprecedented exercise of power. 

the other hand, the companies have an opportunity that must not be
wasted. They can know their customers’ opinions in real time, respond to
them, and if they handle them appropriately, revise the negative
impressions. Under no circumstances should they try to hide or eliminate
critical comments. 

recent case of SapientNitro shows that companies have to manage their
images in more complex environments. In this respect, public discussion
of a brand is not directed unilaterally by its promoters. Customers have
more and more influence, and companies must provide room for their
expression, listen to them, and respect their opinions. Otherwise, a
simple critical comment can become an authentic crisis.