In the old days, capturing sentiment about your brand was slow and expensive and primarily under your own control. But in these Web 2.0 times, information overload from myriad sources stares us in the face. Customers, competitors and employees have public online outlets to vent their praise and frustrations about your brand. The popularity and accessibility of social networks, blogs and customer complaint sites have sent the visibility of these outlets into the stratosphere. Strategies for managing your online reputation via all this information abound and are ever-changing. Instead of lingering on consequences, let's boil things down and focus on what not to do.

Mistake #1: Monitoring everything. Some organizations throw a lot of money at monitoring, but they consistently come up short. They assemble large teams of market researchers, data architects and Web developers to look for references to the company, competitors, partners, their industry and even regulators. They buy hardware and software, acquire subscriptions and custom-build entire solutions that store the data, aggregate the information and help users to visualize the results. Their goal is to efficiently monitor all Internet channels for anything that sounds or smells like a reference to their brand that may negatively impact their reputation. But should they? The Internet is full of nonsense flowing at maximum capacity. For all the cream that rises to the top of the search results, a mountain of garbage follows. Identifying each and every reference creates unnecessary noise that distracts from discerning the true message or potential crises.

Too many channels change too frequently to be able to monitor them all effectively. Instead, be choosy. Use popularity to determine which outlets to monitor. Channels with high usage levels and growth rates naturally have far-reaching capabilities to share and spread messages that can impact your reputation. Keep in mind, however, that the popular status of channels change, so stay current and agile to react to channel status.

Mistake #2: Waiting. Your legal department is likely struggling with requests from marketing to begin social networking activities. There is also a good chance the legal department has a newly published social networking policy that makes you question if you are even allowed to send emails. You could wait for legal and marketing to come to some agreement. You could also wait for IT to get involved so they can help gather requirements, design a solution architecture, provision hardware and eventually deliver a reputation-monitoring application.

Additionally, you realize the importance of sentiment analysis in reputation management. Sentiment analysis engines mine unstructured content, such as a reference to a brand, and determine the positive or negative attitude in the author's message. Sentiment analysis algorithms have a reputation for being insightful but still imperfect. You could wait to leverage algorithms until they become 100 percent accurate.

Alternatively, you could take steps today to manage your online reputation. While you wait for legal to assess the risks of fan pages and tweets, monitor these channels in parallel. While IT plans a roadmap for a custom-built reputation-monitoring solution, check out the functionality of some of the free Web services available, such as an account on CoTweet or Trackur, and social search sites like Social Mention and Monitter. Finally, while you wait for the kinks to get worked out of sentiment analysis algorithms and the sites that use them, use the sites anyway, because they are better than nothing. These actions will not ruffle too many feathers. Besides, all that waiting can happen in parallel so as to not create any pesky productivity bottlenecks. There is no need to wait when reputation management can begin today.

Mistake #3: Desktop staring. We have jobs. We have work to do. Some of us even have lives away from work (lucky ducks). Our responsibilities often steal us away from our desks. To assume someone will monitor online activity that might impact your reputation via a single Web or desktop application, continually staring at that screen waiting for something to happen, is preposterous. Crises arise without regard to where we may be at any given moment. In fact, they have a historical knack for showing up at the absolute worst time, when our collective attention is focused elsewhere.

Instead, use sites/tools that aggregate RSS feeds from available channels, and set up news alerts to receive notifications when results match search criteria. Sites like Google News Alerts can be configured to deliver the notifications via email, SMS and smartphone applications, so that your reputation can be monitored while you're away from the desktop.

Don't be Doomed

Strategies for monitoring brand references will continue to change, especially during these times of social media infancy. However, you can avoid reputation doom by avoiding these mistakes. Ground yourself with the knowledge of how to sidestep common pitfalls and reduce the chance that your online reputation will be mismanaged.


Editor's note: At time of authorship, Aaron was a consultant with Hitachi Consulting.

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