Is the Internet Talking Behind Your Back?

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NEW YORK -- Brand marketing is a whole new world online, where Internet users can do a search on a company and find numerous results not produced by that company and which, in some cases, are negative.


Many traditional marketers ignore the issue and hope it will go away, but there are ways to monitor and manage your reputation online, according to speakers at yesterday's reputation monitoring and management session at the Search Engine Strategies Conference and Expo, being held this week at the New York Hilton.


Search engines are really reputation aggregators, gathering information generated by consumers -- i.e., blogs, the mainstream media and various enterprises -- about a brand or product, according to Rob Key, CEO of communications agency Converseon.


If you doubt the power of search engines to influence consumers, just look at the new TV ad for Pontiac, in which the company directs viewers to search its name on Google to find out how good Pontiac's reputation is, the speakers said.


Blogs, in particular, can affect a brand's reputation. On Nov. 29, a blogger had a bad experience with the brand PriceRitePhoto and noticed online similar experiences by other consumers. The blogger posted a negative blog, and by Dec. 4 there was a "blog swarm" that caused four of the top 10 search results for PriceRitePhoto on Google to be negative.


Dell had a similar experience last year that resulted in the phrase "Dell Hell," which was coined by a blogger, being picked up by the mainstream media.


To prevent something like this from happening to your brand, Key and others said it is important to know what is being said about your brand on the Web. If possible, you want to lead the conversation by becoming a content producer and creating authentic content that engages your audience, Key said.


Bloggers really want to hear from the companies they write about, said Nan Dawkins, partner at RedBoots Consulting. Engage them for feedback on your products, as bloggers tend to be early adopters.


"If they think you're listening to them, that can work in your favor," Dawkins said. Companies also can create custom RSS feeds using sites such as feedster.com, technorati.com and icerocket.com that monitor keyword searches on blogs, said Andy Beal, president/CEO of Fortune Interactive.


If a blog is factually incorrect, send the blogger evidence and ask for removal of the blog or a retraction. If it is true but negative, explain how you're addressing the situation, Beal said. But don't ignore it or hide, he continued, as this will make the problem worse.


Chantal Todé covers catalog and retail news and BTB marketing for DM News and DM News.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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