For as long as there have been web sites, people have posted their thoughts, opinions and rants about people and companies and for as long as there have been search engines, consumers have found and read those thoughts. While it's been several years since companies began to realize the value of tracking and managing their reputations online, the explosion of social media has made online reputation management more complex and necessary than it's ever been before.

In this six part series, I'll be exploring six valuable lessons you can learn from the classic story of Pinocchio and offering up some input on how to apply it to your own marketing plans. If you are just joining the series, catch up on past articles:

Six Lessons from a Wooden Boy: Part One: Search Engines Want to be Real Boys

Why Online Reputation Management Matters

bizmeeting.jpgLet's think about why the things people say about you online matter. Back in 2005, I wrote a post called "Online Reputation Management, Are You Doing It?" In that post, I explained it like this:

Imagine that you've just left a business meeting with a potential client. You've pitched your services, impressed them with your portfolio and given them a competitive pricing bid. You've all but sealed the deal and are confident that with a follow-up call, you'll have them signing the paperwork and faxing the contract over to your office.

Now imagine that you are the client. After a great meeting and a proposal that sounds great, you decide to run a quick search online for the company that just pitched you. You run their name through Google or Yahoo! and there, just under the company's web site is a link to a message board. You click the link and find a posting by a disgruntled customer that claims to have had a bad experience with the company you are considering hiring. Is that search result going to taint your opinion of the company you were ready to sign a contract with? Chances are high that it will.

Of course these days it's never as simple as one web page with one opinions. No...these days what we find are blog posts with long strings of comments, or daisy chained blog posts that refer to the original complaint and pile new complaints on top. We see these posts getting picked up and tossed around social media services like Twitter and Facebook and we see companies rise and fall in hours as the social media hordes decide whether to worship or vilify the company of the moment.

For Better or for Worse...

Sometimes, managing your online reputation is about slowing down or stopping negative momentum before it reaches the mainstream press. The makers of painkiller Motrin learned this lesson just last month after posting a fairly controversial ad aimed at baby-wearing mothers.

You can get a great recap of what happened from Laura Fitton, including a video with the compiled Twitter posts on the topic. The impact, though short lived, was huge. Jeremiah Owyang breaks down the numbers on his blog.

Granted, the story did get picked up by the New York Times parenting blog and by USA Today and both of those results now show in the top ten for a search on "Motrin" but the results could have been far worse.

Of course the impact of positive talk about your company can be just as strong. I've written in the past about the I Heart Zappos blog post and the impact a single post by a single person had on spreading the word and increasing good will about an online company.

So Where Does Pinocchio Fit In?

pinocchiolie.gifSo at this point you're thinking "that's nice Jen, but what does Pinocchio have to do with all this?" Well, let's consider Pinocchio and that fast growing tree branch of a nose he had. When Pinocchio told a lie, his nose grew longer. The more lies he told, the bigger (and more obvious) his nose (and the lies) became.

That's a valuable lesson for companies looking to be involved in the conversation online because one of the single most important qualities any company needs to succeed online is honesty. Whether it's being transparent about who you are and what your motivations are when contacting bloggers or owning up to the mistakes you've made and doing your best to correct them, honesty will get a company further in social media than just about any other tactic out there.

Tell a lie, misrepresent reality or fail to address legitimate concerns and the problem will grow as noticeable and become as much of a nuisance as Pinocchio's nose.

People Are Savvy

reputationscale.gifConsumers are becoming more and more savvy these days. They have the resources to research almost anything they want to and they have legions of other consumers to gather input and opinions from. Self appointed watch dogs can bring a company to its knees. On the other hand, self appointed evangelists can send a company soaring.

Look at Dell and Walmart and how each company has handled themselves online. While Dell started off shakily, their turn-around is one of the most well documented social media success stories on the history of the web. Why? Because they understood the value of being credible, authentic and consistent. On the other hand, brands like Walmart have failed to find social media success time and time again because they continue to rely on self-centered, manufactured messages that are inconsistent and ultimately prove the company to be untrustworthy.

In the next installment in the series we'll take a look at the realm of social media and why Pinocchio's experience of growing a donkey tail and ears can teach you a valuable lesson.

Flick creative commons license photo credit: Llawliet

December 30, 2008

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


Wonderfully wriiten article! One other important way to build your reputation is to give credit where credit is due....Thanks to morningpapers for tweeting this!

Jennifer, Great Post,
For our own small business, and to your point above, we have gained the most powerful feedback when we have dropped the ball. While a simple "I am sorry" does not fix all problems, it is a good start. But most importantly, there is no longer any place to hide. Business must face the truth when slip, and does anyone really expect perfection? I am not in anyway indicating it is OK to be mediocre, it isn't, but sometimes, things just go awry, and when they do, perhaps the most significant piece is how we react, That is what everyone is watching, and may well be your true opportunity to shine.

Certainly telling the truth is an important part of managing online reputation, but you don't have much control over misrepresentations made by others (that *sound* reasonable unless someone does some actual research to discover the truth... which people are not likely to do).

learn to meditate

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Six Lessons from a Wooden Boy: Part Two: Online Reputation Means Straight Talk