How Search Engine Marketing Can Assist in Your Online Reputation Management (ORM)
By: Chrissy Lynn, Search Account Manager
Search engines provide a great venue for consumers to stay on top of hot and trending topics, because of their ability to quickly index news articles, blog posts and more. When searching for a recent developing story, searchers find value in seeing results that were posted '7 minutes ago.' However, when negative information about a business comes to light, the speed of search engine indexing can quickly tarnish a brand's reputation.
With the influx of user generated content over the past few years, it has become essential for companies to not only understand online reputation management (ORM), but also know when and how to use it. In addition, with consumer reliance on search engines to find timely information, it has become necessary for brands to focus on their within the search engines specifically. It is also critical to understand how to utilize tools that can help advertisers recognize opportunities for improvement in brand reputation.
What is ORM?
Before diving into the why, when, where and how of ORM, we should first define what it is. In short, ORM is the act of monitoring and responding to the reputation of a brand within search engines, online media, and other content on the Web, with the goal of decreasing the visibility of negative listings within search engine results pages (SERPs). This can be successfully done through SEO and SEM techniques. These efforts assist in pushing negative listings further down the page and increase rankings of results that provide positive content about the brand.
Generating and optimizing press releases in response to negative publicity or public content is a great first step, but it is not the only way to manage your online reputation. When deciding how to build online reputation management strategies, it is important that marketers understand three things: 1) when to roll out a full-blown reputation management campaign, 2) where to send traffic and 3) how much information should be disclosed.
How Do You Manage ORM?
It has become easier to monitor your brand's reputation online due to the emergence of many tools that allow companies to get a pulse on their brand. Google Alerts and Yahoo Alerts allow you to track web results, news, blogs, videos, feeds and more. Technorati allows you to find mentions of your blog or specific keywords across other blogs. Social Listening tools, such as Social Radar, can be utilized to get a pulse on your brand in the social space. Below are two ways to utilize these tools and tactics for ORM.
- Social Listening Tools: There may be circumstances in which the need for an ORM strategy is obvious. Leveraging social listening, or the monitoring of brand sentiment within social media, is a great way to identify this need. These tools can help you gauge attitudes and opinions of not only your brand, but competitors as well. They can help identify where there is too much negative tone about your brand so that you can react appropriately. It also helps you identify competitor weaknesses that can open opportunities to capture their customers.
- Monitoring SERPS: Monitoring first page results on SERPS for top keywords is also another step in gauging your brand's online reputation. For example, ensure that negative blog postings or other user generated content do not appear prominently in the SERPs for queries related to your brand. If you notice negative reviews or news articles about your brand, you can quickly react through better SEO tactics that decrease the rankings of this negative content, as well as create content that specifically speaks to the negative news/reviews/etc. In addition, if a crisis has occurred, you can heavily monitor keywords that would be used to learn more information about the situation. Paying attention to negative tone in the results can help you gauge just how serious the crisis is.
When to launch an ORM campaign?
First, how can you be sure you need an ORM strategy? There are certain situations where it may be obvious, for example a large product recall. In these cases, it is important to be proactive with dispersing information, usually in the form of a press release or media statement.
In situations where it is not so obvious, it is important to use the tools described in the previous section to make an educated decision. If there are many negative postings related to a similar problem or topic, or if negative listings are found on the first page of search results for your brand, it may be time to take action. If negative listings are found above the fold, it is definitely time to take action.
After realizing a need for an ORM campaign, what should the timing of the launch look like? While it's important to react quickly and proactively for more serious situations, it's also critical to not react too quickly and without key pieces of information. For example, during the BP oil spill in 2010, BP launched a proactive ORM strategy, but did so prematurely and insensitively, withholding key details and undermining and underestimating the severity of the issue. It is critical to understand the importance of acting quickly, while simultaneously ensuring that facts are gathered before a campaign is launched.
For less serious situations that involve diluting negative content and reviews, it is important to remember that the search engines take time to crawl sites and make necessary changes within search results. If you notice negative content surrounding branded keywords, it is better to act early, rather than later, as to ensure the negative sentiment within the results does not become overwhelming.
What ORM Strategy Should You Use?
ORM strategies depend on the extent of the situation. If it is a PR crisis, like the BP example, than you want to take a direct approach. If the situation is minor, an indirect approach is best.
Many online reputation problems begin because a company isn't effectively communicating a problem or issue, and therefore searchers go to other channels to gather information (i.e. Twitter, blogs, news sites, etc). Transparency and honesty are critical in gaining and maintaining consumer trust. If crucial details are fluffed over or covered up, a company can seem flippant and dishonest. In addition, if these details are later released, consumer trust will be lost. In addition, by providing all relevant information, the searcher is then less likely to search for less reliable user generated content within the social arena.
Let's look at the BP example. If the company had provided all the information up front and showed more empathy within their campaigns, their brand reputation may not have been tarnished to the extent it was during this environmental disaster.
BP could have created Paid Search campaigns leading to content that spoke to their proactive approach. In addition, they should have updated this content regularly to provide consumers with the most up to date status on the situation and breaking news about the progress of the disaster's resolution. They could have also directed Paid Search campaigns to third party sites that discussed how to help the animals and people affected by this disaster, or simply to a page on their site that directed people to these organizations. Display ads, as well as social media campaigns could have also been created to increase awareness about these organizations, and to increase the brand's image through empathetic messaging.
ORM strategies don't always need to be direct in nature. Simple paid search ad copy to combat negative sentiment is a quick and less direct way to address problems and persuade people to think more positively about your brand. It is important in these situations to not draw negative attention to the problem for customers that may not have even been aware of the issue.
For example, let's say a brand is seeing a lot of negative comments on Facebook related to slow customer service. The brand should first address the problem, identify the reasons for slow customer service, reach out to those users on social media sites that commented on the issue to provide a promotion to counteract their inconvenience, and discuss actions being taken to correct the issue. Next, the brand could create online campaigns to highlight the new, faster customer service solution. The campaigns could include Paid Search ad copy messaging that tailors to both the content surrounding the problem and its resolution, as well as promote faster customer service. In addition, if slow customer service is an issue with the entire industry, not just this particular brand, Display ads and social media campaigns that discuss their new, fast customer service, could be a great way to stand out amongst the competition. By mixing the message surrounding the issue, between messages about addressing the issue and ones that highlight the solution without calling out the issue itself, the brand is less likely to call out a problem to customers that aren't yet aware of it.
In addition, the company could take advantage of social listening to address specific social media posts by consumers having customer service issues. The company could directly message these individuals apologizing for the inconvenience and providing them direct responses to their issue, if called out.
Where Should You Send Traffic?
The final step is to determine where to send traffic. For less extreme crisis situations and user sentiment situations, sending traffic to a company press release can be a great way to show that the brand recognizes the issue and is taking actions to correct it.
In harsher crisis situations, it might be better to send searchers to a reliable, third party source that objectively states the facts, but also doesn't put your brand in a negative light. Many people who were researching or trying to obtain news about the BP oil spill didn't feel comfortable getting the news from the source of the offender, particularly after that offender released details that were only partially true. If BP had created Paid Search campaigns that drove traffic to third party neutral sites, it would have helped push more consumers to neutral information, instead of extremely negative messages. One of the great things about Paid Search is the ability to set up multiple search campaigns with ads that send searchers to several third party sources. This is a great way to get top positioning within the SERPs, as well as push down potentially negative content.
It is always important to remain sensitive to where traffic is sent. During the BP oil spill crisis, reports of ads overlaying videos about the oil spill that promoted users to "friend" BP on Facebook came across as extremely insensitive. For any reputation situation, it is important to first fix the problem, address it and use listening tools to ensure sentiment is becoming neutral/positive before looking to expand your social networks. If BP had done a good job managing their ORM, they may have been able to create a successful social media push after the situation was resolved.
Online channels and Search in particular, are a great way to not only monitor your brand's reputation, but also manage it in a way that is quick and effective. It's also important to be strategic with ORM initiatives. Let's recall the key learnings from this white paper:
- Ensure that the extent of the situation is evaluated and taken into account when creating an ORM strategy.
- Leverage tools to launch not only reactive ORM campaigns and messages, but also campaigns that piggyback on positive brand sentiment and provide an advantage against competitors.
- For more extreme situations, send traffic to third party sources when available, in order to increase the number of top positions, while also increasing credibility.
- Ensure that all online and PR specific strategies are done in a truthful and tactful way.
- Finally, be creative!