Earlier this summer, I wrote an article about the need for companies to focus on online reputation management as part of their search engine marketing and branding strategy. I've even talked about how some companies have run up against some serious critism online and why it's so important to keep tabs on what your customers are saying about you.

The issues of blogs and branding are back in the news again, but this time, its with a focus on brand evangelists. Brand evangelists are customers that love you so much that they build web sites or blogs devoted to your product. These fans tend to pour tons of time and effort into creating a virtual shrine to the products that they love. Great examples include ChipotleLovers.com, Hacking Netflix and Lost-TV. These sites basically serve as free advertising for the companies they emote about and the viral marketing capabilities are endless.

From The New York Times:

But some companies are starting to pay attention to blogs, using them as a kind of informal network of consumer opinion.

For these bloggers, intertwining their personal stories and commentaries gives them a stake in defining the brand's image while linking them with fans of similar mind across the country.

"They feel like they own the brand, that it's theirs," Jackie Huba, author of the book "Creating Customer Evangelists," said of the bloggers. "They feel they're doing the world a service," she said.

Savvy companies that are putting time and effort toward online reputation management shouldn't simply smile at these sites and then move on to deal with the "problem" sites or posters, they should be figuring out how to work these sites into their marketing campaigns. If you've found a well-read blog that pays a compliment to your company, take the time to send them a thanks. That might be an email, it might be a snippet of news or info that they can feature on the site, or it might be a free sample of your product.

The folks at Chipotle could likely offer up free 'potle for life to the three college students that evangelize through the ChipotleLovers.com site. There's no way that the cost of the food would outweigh the free advertising and branding that they're receiving from the site. ABC could make use of high-profile fan sites to leak storylines and premire news clips.

But it's important to remember that even small businesses can offer up a word or token of thanks for free online marketing. A small bed and breakfast that finds a glowing review of their inn on someone's blog might offer a discount off a future stay. A small family theme park could send free tickets to the writer that posts a detailed trip review and photos on an amusement park discussion forum.

Find the people that love your product and feed their warm fuzzy feelings. It will pay off down the road.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
October 26, 2005

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.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Taking Advantage of Brand Blogs for Online Reputation Management