‘Reputation Optimisation’ is the new SEO

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We have been running Social Media for Business programmes for a while now. As well as training businesses to understand this exciting new way to communicate with their customers and prospects. we are also using the opportunity to understand more about their views of the social media space. What has been interesting is that we are able to use the sessions as a laboratory in some ways, seeing how people have found unique ways to use social media, both from a personal and business perspective and all of this adds new dimensions for all of us.

Before the session begins, we take feedback from the delegates about why they want to use social media and what they would like to achieve through using it. The two main reasons that businesses that keep coming up are firstly, to drive more traffic to websites and therefore generate new customers, but also, interestingly, people want to be perceived as thought leaders in their respective industries. It may be possible to map these drivers to a hierarchy of needs, in terms of self actualisation, esteem and so on, but the want for people to do these things, combined with a lack of understanding of how to do them, seems to be creating a big dilemma for many businesses.

The future of marketing.

As a result of the changes that are occurring, we are all starting to realise that the future of marketing is going to be different from how it works right now. For the last 100 plus years, companies have basically decided what they want customers and prospects to think and feel about their brands. Core messages based around these are advertised, marketed and generally ‘pushed’ to prospects, who then react accordingly and enquire, purchase or ignores the product.

If we communicate with a large enough audience, it is likely that we can produce enough return on investment to cover the campaign investment. Even if we can’t, we can try lots of different channels for pushing our message and those which perform best, self-select themselves for greater re-investment.

So why is that about to change?

The foundation of the internet is partly based on a concept called ‘Collective Intelligence‘. This is a very grand term, which describes the ability to share knowledge and information in a collaborative manner. As well as enabling the sharing of knowledge, we can share many other things. In fact, if you start to think about the websites that have defined the history of the commercialised internet, pretty soon, you start to see some fascinating trends.

Without collective intelligence and shared knowledge, ask yourself the following questions. Which product would you purchase from Amazon? Which seller should you trust on eBay? Which app would you buy from the AppStore?

If Google didn’t rank more relevant web pages using your votes, (your backlinks to other pages), would web based searching still produce irrelevant results? If Mark Zuckerberg hadn’t created Facemash, allowing you to share your opinion about two people’s suitability as a partner, would Facebook exist? These are all examples of ‘collective’ platforms that used their collaborative functionality to gain competitive advantage and succeed, from the masses of others in their space.

Most if not all of the platforms we are using to do business on the internet are actually crowdsourcing in some way and then using this information to inform the opinions of other people and induce purchasing. The difference with this information in the future is that this information might just stick around forever and it will inform our future customers’ purchasing decision, even if it is wrong.

So why does this lead to ‘Reputation Optimisation’?

In the future, we will have to consider our reputation from a wide number of perspectives. As consumers, we need to be careful about how we separate our social networks – something the networks are very keen for us not to do! Surely it would be simple to keep business, pleasure and leisure separate, but this is not the underlying philosophy of Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. They are all about openness. We aren’t necessarily saying that openness is a bad thing, but a number of scenarios could occur. Here’s one you might sympathise with, either now or in the future.

Consumer Reputation

Recently Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, suggested that young people may need to change their names in the future to escape their digital past and this is primarily in the context of the social networks. The problem for the networks, is that if we do that, the marketing information, which is how they need to make money, becomes worth less, or actually, worthless. They will either need to connect our new identities to our previous ones or lose that valuable information. We aren’t sure which route they will take, but if we look at credit referencing, because they derive their revenues from this and so do their customers, they will be keen to keep track of us.

Surely, in the same way, if it is true that 95% of employers and recruiters actively look for their candidates background information online, couldn’t this be manipulated in a positive way to improve your likelihood of getting the job?

Business Reputation

We have a successful client who had some problems with deliveries due to snow and ice last year. In Canada or Germany, no doubt they would now be laughing at the problems caused by 4 inches of snow and -10 degrees, but trust me, here in the UK, that means lockdown. Our client, unfortunately, can’t do much about this, but as they generate quite a lot of transactions, they have a minority of customers who suffered as a result. Within the space of a few weeks, some of their customers went online to see what was happening. They came across some reviews for a US based company with a similar name and there were a few negative reviews of that company. Feeling a bit let down, because others are openly showing their dissatisfaction, they added their own frustration and before long, the ‘Company’ in the reviews, which is actually a combination of two totally different companies operating on different continents, has only 1 star out of 5 on the ‘collective intelligence’ platforms. But remember, these are two totally unconnected companies, who nowhave a shared reputation!

Let’s imagine that a new customer is looking for a product, so they search on Google. First on the natural search listings is our client in the UK. They have done some good SEO work and also because they are hedging their bets, they are sponsoring the PPC results. With the changes in Google’s algorithm, more focus is being placed on human input – their +1 button is just the start of this change. Sites can already be blocked at the user level if you are logged into a Google account and let’s assume that at some point, this is also absorbed into the algorithm. Yelp and similar also rank highly, while real-time info from the social networks is moving up the list and so on. Our customer is now accompanied on his listings by the 1 star rating – it’s in second place! Not only this, but Google also shows some nice little golden stars next to the other listings for their competitors, drawing attention to that, rather than their own links. Surely, this is Relevance Turbo.

How much is the client losing? We don’t know, because they can’t measure non-purchases very easily.

What can they do about it?

Well the short answer is no-one is really sure. They could complain – but to who? The review sites are based in the US. The reviews aren’t Google’s, they just index them. There is no real way of assessing if they are genuine dissatisfied customers, or a competitor in a different country, so it is difficult to answer or resolve the issues. This raises an interesting future scenario, in that whereas click fraud costs your company money today, ‘reputation fraud’ could cost you your business tomorrow!

What happens if ‘collaboration’ works the other way and your competitors collaborate to ruin your reputation?

The next generation of marketing is not about working out the message and the way you want your customers to think about your product, it is about making sure that your positive reputation is available in the places where you are likely to have more engagement with your customers and your negative reputation is managed to ensure that it doesn’t overwhelm the positive. One thing is for certain, as a business, you will have both of these.

One thing we encourage our Social Media clients to do is to start to encourage positive feedback, from your satisfied customers. As the Brits are a reserved bunch, this is no mean feat for many UK based businesses. If you have a positive reputation first, evidence also suggests that dissatisfied customers are more likely to give you a chance to do something about it, as they will recognise that it may be a blip. One area to address is to understand where the sources of feedback are and how you can encourage your customers to contribute to these. Social media is the connection between many of these sources of information, so it is important that you address these first, as your audience is already there and yes, they are already talking about your products and services and in many cases YOU.

Ultimately, engagement is not simply a case of tweeting, liking, or sharing, it is about managing and optimising the information that people will be using in the future to make decisions about buying from you. One piece of advice you need to listen to is don’t wait until it is too late to get started, and someone else controls your reputation, as you can’t wind the clock back in cyberspace.


About the Author:

KnowledgeBank work with Companies to develop their data driven marketing solutions to generate profitable new customer relationships. We also deliver social media training, consultancy and strategy to hundreds of businesses across the UK. If you would like further information about how you can develop your own marketing activity or social media, please contact us on 01772 978 101.