A survey by the e-tailing group, an online consulting firm, shows that 92 percent of Internet users read product reviews written by other consumers, and 89 percent say those reviews influence their purchasing decisions. While positive reviews can help a company, negative reviews, whether true or not, can be devastating. That’s just one example of why executives must pay attention to how the company is discussed online.
Those discussions can occur in many places on the Internet, including reviews, blogs, and other social media sites, any of which may contain mentions of a company’s brand and products, along with detailed information (which might be inaccurate). Management can learn a lot from studying all of this data. In addition to gathering intelligence, companies also need to be on the lookout for counterfeits hawked online. And, of course, they must look more broadly at anything that can affect their reputation on and offline.
There are services that can help companies with these challenges, among them Trackur, MarkMonitor, and RepTrak.
Trackur. “Social media is free market research. It really allows you to put your finger on the pulse of what your customers and business partners and competitors are saying,” says Andy Beal, CEO of Trackur, an online reputation monitoring tool. Beal is also coauthor of the book Radically Transparent, which outlines how businesses and individuals can manage their online reputations.
There are “all kinds of reasons for using social media monitoring” to protect a company’s reputation, Beal says. “Reputation monitoring is really inexpensive for what it provides for a business because it can be tailored for everything from crisis communications to competitive intelligence to product improvement.”
Trackur allows the user to choose keywords to plug into a Web interface that works as a platform for reputation management. Trackur then monitors review sites, social media sites, and blogs. Trackur allows customers to add customized RSS feeds for sites that the tool does not normally monitor.
For all of the sites, the software looks for mentions of whatever words or phrases the company has selected. These words would typically include the company name, products, names of executives, as well as any common misspellings to catch those references as well. The program determines the sentiments of the words mentioned by scanning emotional or other indicative keywords, telling companies whether the online feedback is positive, neutral, or negative.
From the Web interface, users can click to automatically respond to the review or mention, send the post to an e-mail address, and make time-stamped notes about how they have interacted with that mention or review.
Companies that want to use the Trakur service pay a monthly fee. The basic plan costs $27 a month and allows for five saved searches on keywords; only one account profile can be created, but those login credentials can be shared, Beal says. The next level plan at $97 per month allows 50 saved searches, and the premium plan, at $197 a month, lets the user have 250 saved searches. The full-service package costs $447 a month and does not limit how much users can do or how many accounts can be created.
MarkMonitor. When it comes to protecting a company’s reputation, few things can be as harmful as counterfeit products. Apart from the loss of profit, the low-quality or failures of those fake products can come back to haunt the company.
“People identify with your brand based upon what you produce,” says Richard Widup, Jr., CPP, senior director of corporate security, who has responsibility for brand protection at Purdue Pharma LP, a pharmaceutical manufacturer that also sells its drugs online.
Purdue Pharma often finds counterfeit drugs being sold online with the company’s name. The company works with MarkMonitor, a digital brand protection service, to troll the Internet for mentions of its product name that could lead to counterfeit drugs. Once a counterfeit drug or ad promoting that drug is identified, there are legal actions that Purdue Pharma takes with partners, like the Federal Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Administration, such as sending cease and desist letters to make sure the Web sites are shut down.
“We’ve been successful; we’ve taken down well over 7,000 sites,” says Widup. What’s more, Purdue Pharma refers information to federal law enforcement and criminal prosecutors, says Widup.
MarkMonitor also assists by sending notice to the site, or sites, ripping off a client. “We can automatically fire off an enforcement notice, whether that’s a cease and desist letter, whether that’s a notice to the particular platform that’s hosting those listings,” says Te Smith, vice president of communications at MarkMonitor. “And then of course we can follow up on those enforcements and make sure that they’re actually carried out.”
Fighting the problem online is especially challenging because counterfeiters are adept at marketing their ersatz goods. They use online marketing channels, paid search ads, and social media postings. Counterfeiters use the same best practices that legitimate online marketers do, Smith says.
RepTrak. The Reputation Institute takes a more holistic view towards reputation management than the other two services discussed. It works with large businesses globally on building and maintaining reputation through its patented system called the RepTrak model.
“If you talk about measuring reputation, it’s actually pretty simple,” says Kasper Nielsen, managing partner at the institute. Nielsen explains that identifying who the stakeholders are for any given company is the first step to that reputation measurement. “In today’s world, we know that for companies to be successful, they need support from their different stakeholders,” he says. While that differs in some ways for each company, key groups that generally matter include employees, customers, local governments, the investor community, and the media.
After identifying the stakeholders, the company holds focus groups and conducts other types of interviews to gather data to apply to the RepTrak model. It asks four basic questions: Do you trust the company and to what extent? Do you admire and respect the company? Do you have a good feeling about the company? Do you think the company has an overall good reputation?
Once the data has been gathered from interviews with stakeholders, Reputation Institute then gives the company a score that lets management know how the company’s reputation measures up against a number of criteria. “Based on those four questions, we can tell you the strength of your reputation from a zero to 100 point scale, and because we’ve done it across all these different stakeholders, we can actually tell the company how well they’re doing against industry peers, best in class, etcetera,” Nielsen notes.
Reputation Institute has also identified seven dimensions of reputation that companies must work on to maintain a good reputation. “If you deliver on these seven dimensions, you will be in a situation where each stakeholder will be willing to support you,” the company’s press materials state. Those seven areas are: products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship (which the institute defines as “good corporate citizens that support good causes and protect the environment”), leadership, and financial performance.
“So when we break down reputation, and we work for companies, we want to understand how people perceive them on these seven [dimensions], and also what matters most,” he notes. Then the institute can better advise companies on which areas they need to improve to boost their reputation.
On average, in the United States, stakeholders care most about products and services (19 percent); governance, innovation, and citizenship (tied at 14 percent); and workplace, leadership, and financial performance (all tied at 13 percent).
Nielsen highlights the importance of building and managing trust among key stakeholders when it comes to reputation. “For all of those stakeholders, for them to support the company, there is one thing that they all want, which is to be able to trust that this company will deliver on their promises,” he says. “Trust is at the heart of reputation. If you think about companies that you trust and admire and respect, they would probably be companies that you also want to buy products from.”