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Online Reputation Management Part Seven: Dealing With Negative Consumer Generated Content
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Throughout our series on online reputation management we have discussed the importance of monitoring/analyzing your brand in the search engine results, participating in forums and social communities and we have looked at tools that can be valuable in monitoring your online reputation. A new area of concern for those interested in brand awareness is in the form of user generated content or consumer generated content.

With the recent popularity of blogs and social networking sites, consumer generated content is becoming increasingly more common in search engine results. Take the numerous anti-Wal-Mart blogs out there. Blogs such as Wakeup Walmart, have been around for a few years and are a common visiting place for those who are anti Wal-Mart. This is one of many blogs started by consumers who have no doubt had a negative experience with the large discount box-store. Whether it's Wal-Mart or your own brand, consumer generated content is beginning to become a top trusted resource for consumers looking for information about various organizations big and small. Perform a search in Google for "anti blogs" and see what shows up in the results. There will no doubt be blogs, consumer review sites and other web properties that can damage your brand and reputation. So just how do you deal with all of this consumer generated content? What can you do to monitor all of the feedback that consumers are saying about your product, your service or your brand?

Dealing with consumer generated content is a full time job. Really if you are a large corporation, you should have a mechanism (or person) in place to monitor consumer generated content that pops up all over the Web. The thing is, is that you will never be able to keep up with everything that is being said about you and your brand all of the time. You cannot please all of the people all of the time. However a successful business should always listen to the needs of their customers and work towards providing exceptional customer service. A positive customer experience (whether online or offline) may entice positive consumer generated content that can promote your brand and organization. The problem arises when the consumer generated content is not so favorable.

In the past, I worked as a customer service rep. in a large retail chain. Providing exceptional customer service proved to be difficult with this retailer as the company was too concerned about the bottom line and as a result did not always factor the needs of their customers first. Quite often they would not have sufficient staff to serve their clients and customers. A common complaint was that there was never any staff on hand to ask questions of or to provide assistance with a product. It was not uncommon for the store manager to receive letters from dissatisfied customers. Consider this as a form of offline consumer generated content if you will. The chain rarely did anything to accomodate these customers as they had this attitude that for every dissatisfied consumer that they had, they would get a couple of new consumers to offset the unhappy one. It was never written as such, but that was the mentality of the management team. Very rarely were the complaints followed up with and dealt with in a professional manner. The end result was not a couple but many dissatisfied customers, and lower staff morale as the customer service department became a place where verbal abuse from the customer was not uncommon. The retail outlet you ask? Rona Hardware / Home & Garden. I would suspect that if you polled the staff at various Rona's about customer service and morale, the scores would be low. Poll the average customer and the score would probably be even lower.

While the case of Rona represents a real life example, in the online space, consumer generated content can be an easy means for an unhappy customer to post about a negative experience with your brand. So what can you do to control this consumer generated content? Well the fact is you simply can't. As mentioned you cannot please all of the people all of the time, but here are a few hints that you can use to deal with consumer generated content.
  1. Examine the Consumer Generated Landscape - Identify the top sources including blogs, review sites, industry forums etc. that your users and consumers tend to frequent then frequent them as well. Know what is being said about your brand. Know where people go to praise you and more importantly know which sites users go to "knock" your brand.
  2. Encourage Consumer Generated Content on Your Web Properties - provide your consumers with a feedback mechanism on your existing web properties to voice their opinion. Include both the good and the bad (providing that the bad isn't so bad that it will influence others' perception about your brand.) If users are going to talk about your brand, the first place they should do it is on your turf not somewhere else such as on a competitor's site.
  3. Avoid Major Scandal and Poor Service - don't add fuel to the fire by giving your consumers something negative to right about. The best way to deal with negative consumer generated content may be to not contribute to it.
  4. Provide Exceptional Service & Value - the fact of the matter is that if your organization is innovative and ethical and you provide the best possible service, you shouldn't have to worry about your online reputation. Listen to your consumers and satisfy their needs in conjunction with marketing your brand and you will experience success and life-long value.
Consumer generated content is not going away. In fact it is becoming more commonplace. Dealing with negative consumer generated content means knowing where this content resides, working to avoid poor customer service and providing a feedback mechanism on your web properties to allow you some control over the user genrated content about your brand. Being in control of what is being said about your brand can be a helpful step as part of your online reputation management strategy.

SEO-Space Online Reputation Management Series

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posted by Jody @ Thursday, August 30, 2007  
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