Monitoring what people are saying about you and your company on social networks, forums and blogs is an important first step towards engaging people meaningfully to develop your brand and business online.
Online Reputation Management Software
There are a number tools that can make automate this process for you to some extent. The most basic are probably Google Alerts, BoardTracker and a couple of Twitter Search feeds. These tools are fine if you aren't getting an overwhelming amount of mentions online every day, but can time-consuming because none of them offer a comprehensive reporting dash-board.
For companies that are talked about online more regularly, online reputation management (ORM) software can be a worthwhile investment. Typically this software tracks mentions related to your brand and assigns a influence score and a positivity (or negativity) score to each mention. Some of the best ORM tools that I've tested are Buzzmetrics, Radian6, Trackur, BrandsEye and SaidWot.
Prioritizing your responses
The next step from listening to what people are saying about you online is to start engaging with people.
It's not always clear what you should respond to online, as you'll find that you get a whole range of communication from customers on social media -from rave reviews, neutral statements, to scathing reviews - the range of company contact is far broader than what companies are used to getting through traditional customer support channels.
It is tempting to prioritise engagement with critics, who demand response, while ignoring your fans and evangelists. This makes some sense because influential critics can wreak havoc on a brand unless their wrath is contained. However, dealing with individuals in this way is to pick at the leaves of reputation management without tending the roots.
What you really want to do is build up reserves of goodwill among your online stakeholders ahead of any potential crisis, which will make people more understanding (and less volatile) in the case that you make a mistake. This is kind of like building an reputational immune system online, where your fans are your white-blood cells who will help you deal with threats.
The graph below illustrates the order with which I believe you should prioritize your responses and engagements.
Proactive ORM Response Matrix
Once people are speaking about you online, they're already more influential and engaged than ordinary customers and so they should be given priority treatment.
1. Complimentary Influential people: They may choose to defend you in the case of a complaint by other influential people. Offer them real benefits like product previews, event invitations and priority service. Try put together a list of 120 of the most positive and influential people connected to your business.
2. Complaining Influential people: These people can cause a lot of damage if not dealt with swiftly. Firstly, you need to respond directly to their complaint online to explain the status of your response (we're reviewing your case etc), then follow-up very quickly with Direct offline engagement (a phone-call, meeting, email etc.) is often the best way to engage with influential people who are being negative about your brand online. If you've done your work with building up your Positive Influencer community, then they'll jump in to help you here.
3. Positive but not influential: Obviously you want as many people as possible to speak well of you - so encourage and reward people who do so. Acknowledge these people where possible, but be aware that amplifying and responding to every positive mention of your brand online can also make you seem desperate, so do it selectively.
4. Negative and not influential: Not everyone who complains is credible. Firstly, check that you're not dealing with a "troll" - someone who criticises and complains about brands simply to draw attention to themselves - trolls are best ignored. If they're not trolling, then pay attention to what they're saying and try resolve issues their issues quietly and quickly.
In their report, entitled “Social Business Readiness: How Advanced Companies Prepare Internally,” the Altimeter Group found that social media crises are increasingly making their way into mainstream media. The report also outlines what companies can do to prepare for crisis. Notably, they identified internal education as the most important factor.