How do we get more people talking about us?
We have hundreds of franchise locations and most of them don’t have any reviews. How do we get more?
Someone left us a scathingly negative or unfair review. What do we do about it?
These questions come up every day, and tie back into that essential business function: Reputation Management. Small businesses often centralize the function of managing reputation or brand. But for larger organizations, especially those who operate on a decentralized model with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of locations, it can feel like a daunting task. How do you manage your brand’s reputation in an increasingly fractured local social ecosystem?
This five-step method works for any kind of business with a local presence, from consumer packaged goods to the service industry to B2B:
1. Define your desired reputation.
What do you want people to think about you? This goes beyond “positive” or “negative” and gets into brand attributes and personality. In a decentralized organization, dozens or even hundreds of different people could be posting and responding in social media on behalf of your brand. The customer deserves and expects a unified experience. That means going beyond basic platitudes like “be nice” and setting out brand guidelines for the use of social media. Everyone who posts, from the marketing vp to the local sales agent, should be on brand and on message, using the right tone, voice and language. This doesn’t mean limiting authenticity; on the contrary, a well defined unified brand voice for social media can help differentiate you from the many corporate-sounding brands out there and give you a voice that is truly identifiable and unique.
2. Identify your actual reputation.
With so many social strategies focused on generating content, it sometimes feels like we forget about the essential first step: Listening to our audience. What are people saying about your business at a local level today? To find out is no small feat: Businesses need to effectively monitor reviews and ratings across dozens of social channels times hundreds or thousands of locations. To do this, businesses need to start by making sure that all of their local information online is accurate, consistent and visible, and then they need to know who is saying what, where. There are many tools on the marketplace that monitor what people say about your brand, but surprisingly few that can effectively monitor social media at the local level. (In the interest of full disclosure: DAC Group has developed one such tool, and we offer this as a solution to our clients.) But ultimately, whatever solution you use, it starts with truly listening — with an open mind — to what people are saying. Yes, there are those who will complain for the sake of complaining, and those who will leave unfair reviews. But there are also people who will provide valuable business feedback, and they need to be validated and heard. If they’re talking a lot about a specific location, region or service, that’s telling. And if they’re not talking about you at all, that’s telling too.
3. Empower your local representatives.
Your local agents on the ground are the closest to their individual markets and customers, and thus in the best position to be your brand ambassadors in social media. This means providing them with the tools, knowledge and desire to engage in social media, as well as the framework in which to do it. Simply telling local franchise owners, agents or employees to go ahead and do social media can be daunting for them and potentially dangerous for you. The more knowledge and tools they have at their disposal, the better for everyone. Provide them with training, a content library or provider, a dashboard and method to monitor and respond, and — most critically — the desire and will to engage. If you can convincingly show your local representatives the concrete advantages of spending time in social media in terms of metrics that matter to them — sales, leads, return on investment — then you’ll increase the participation rate. And if you provide incentives in the form of recognition or benefits to the star performers, you’ll do even better.
4. Think beyond crisis management.
A social media crisis is to social reputation management what the “viral video” is to social media marketing. Both refer to events that could have a major impact on a business, but whose chances of happening are infinitesimally small and, moreover, nearly impossible to predict. But, just as it’s possible to have a very successful social media marketing program without a single thing going “viral”, it’s also possible — critical, actually — to manage social reputation beyond the threat of crisis. Reputation management needs to cease being solely the domain of the PR or legal teams and needs to live within the umbrella of marketing. It’s not just about mitigating the negative; it’s about reaping the benefits of encouraging the positive. Have a plan in case of a crisis, by all means. Make sure that everyone in the organization knows how to respond quickly to mitigate issues before they blow up. But, more importantly, spend every day driving small, incremental reputation and conversation gains, because ultimately, the small steps are going to be what creates success for your business — and what provides you with a goodwill cushion if the worst happens and a crisis does occur.
5. Measure and optimize.
Local reputation management is an investment. Measuring its return is critical. Key measurements for local social media can be hard to define; after all, many of your locations may have little or no reviews or responses, and the actual tie-in to sales can be tough to make. The best measurement strategies will focus on incremental gains — have we moved the needle since we started — and will also look to identify star performers at the local level within the organization. These metrics and tie-ins will then help encourage more people to get involved. It starts with a clear definition of success — and then constantly moving the needle to get there.
With these five steps, businesses can make great strides in the essential practice of local reputation management.