For most organizations social media monitoring and reputation management are concepts that have yet to be integrated into their corporate communication departments, much less into their operations. But for those firms that have chosen to ride the social media wave and begin listening and engaging, it could mean going from industry follower to industry leader.
One would think that with the growing influence of citizen journalism and almost universal access to social networks, online reputation management would become a 24/7 concern for organizations and brands; yet, recent surveys show that not to be the case (with the exception of some of the largest corporations).
One explanation is the inherent difficulty in defining a measure for social media’s ROI. In a time of scare resources and abundant options executives look for tangible proof of the benefits associated with a particular decision. Effective online reputation management implies changes to how an organization manages communications internally and externally and it implies investments in real-time listening and analysis. The absence of clear, credible and generally accepted social media metrics leads many to avoid the subject altogether and rely entirely on traditional reputation management and communication strategies and tactics.
But to paraphrase Bob Dylan, the times they are a’changin; and they’re a’ changin fast.
Corporate mishaps that remained unreported by traditional media a decade ago today risk being amplified and distorted by a multiplicity of voices and perspectives playing out in real time. Issues that once might have been framed in favourable fashion by corporate PR flacks can now snowball out of control as the pace of comment can easily overtake a company’s capacity to respond. And that’s without accounting for the growing interaction between traditional and new media that adds an additional and complex dynamic to the public affairs mix.
But perhaps even more damaging than the issue-management problems associated with avoiding social media monitoring are the missed opportunities to engage proactively with clients and audiences. The online conversations about a company’s products; a government department’s service delivery; or an interest group’s lobby activities represent as many focus groups that can be tapped for unvarnished opinions, perspectives and ideas not only on how well one is doing, but on what one can do better.
Organizations should look at their sector and the lag that still exists in embracing social media monitoring and engagement as an opportunity to seize a competitive advantage because of the real time market interaction it provides. They should look at organizations that have already embraced this approach and learn from their experience, including how to re-engineer their business model to ensure that real-time customer interaction is integrated effectively in their operations and decision-making.
They should strive to become leaders in their field by engaging proactively with their clients to fine-tune their product, service or value proposition. Most importantly, they should turn every product malfunction or service failure into an opportunity to showcase their commitment to continuous improvement and responsiveness.