When social media impacts search – 3 areas to think about

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Search button - now more social and influenced by word of mouthToday I attended an event hosted by WOMMA UK which covered the ways that word of mouth is impacting search and looked at how search and social media are overlapping more and more.

Search and social are becoming increasingly intertwined, especially with the arrival of Google+, a clear indication of the search giant’s intention to further develop and improve the social nature of search results.

There are several important areas brands should consider when thinking about how word of mouth affects their performance on search engines. Here are three areas that brands should keep in mind when looking at their social and search strategies:

1. Word of mouth drives search traffic - be ready

  • People that “hear” about your brand (online, face to face, or otherwise) will want to search for you, for convenience, for education and for learning about new opinions. This means you need to cater for all the various different ways people will search for your brand and cover all the possibilities that  misspellings or misperceptions may cause.
  • “Reviews” is a very popular search term, so hosting these on your own site is a great way to generate authenticity and long-tail search terms.

2. Social and your online reputation

  • Consider the implications for reputation management. Is “scam” a prominent result on the suggestions for your brand in Google? Nobody wants to see that, but instead of covering it up, ask yourself why this is such a dominant sentiment. Maybe there is a miscommunication and customers are not fully informed as to what your provide? Treat this as an opportunity to intercede and communicate.
  • You can be proactive by using third party sites such as Yahoo! Answers, which generally ranks well and gives you a neutral platform to respond to negative sentiment.

3. Conversions and social media

  • Retailers – price is no longer a USP. Your customers will be seeking deep content, such as user reviews and friend’s recommendations. It is important for users to trust your site, or they will go elsewhere to research and/or purchase.
  • Remember that peoples’ decision making can be rational, but is predominantly emotional. Having social recommendations appear in search results and on page will appease the latter.

5 examples where social media jeopardised online reputation

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CEO and shot elephant social media backlashAccording to Warren Buffet “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it”. With the rise of social media it feels like it can take  less than five minutes to potentially damage your online reputation. Here are five cases where social media either created or amplified a potentially damaging situation for a brand:

1. Urban Outfitters - copied products exposed by a small “tribe”

A small producer of jewellery on Etsy.com discovered that fashion retailler Urban Outfitters had copied her work and was using similar language to market it.

The story spread widely on Twitter and Tumblr, starting from a knit of highly engaged craft enthusiasts. These users might not have had massive followings but the quality and unity of their social networks resulted rapid, heightened awareness, eventually even gaining celebrity support with a tweet from Miley Cyrus.

2. GoDaddy.com - CEO posts elephant hunting video

Bob Parsons, founder of the American domain registration and hosting company GoDaddy.com, blogged and tweeted a video of him shooting an elephant while on holiday in  Zimbabwe.

The graphic video featured Zimbabweans stripping the elephant for meat, while wearing GoDaddy baseball caps, with AC/DC’s Hells Bells as the soundtrack - it’s hardly a shining example of positive branding.

Parsons received an extremely negative backlash from social channels, especially from animal rights groups such as  PETA who closed their GoDaddy account and encouraged sympathizers to do the same. Parsons responded to the criticism on the grounds that the hunt was on humanitarian grounds to stop elephant-caused damage to crops.

While there may be legitimate reasons for keeping elephant numbers in check, it would probably have been more sensible to distance this kind of debate from the company’s brand, especially considering that Parsons is no stranger to blogging.

3. Amoy - ‘Asianate Yourself’ Facebook app

Unlike the other examples, this misguided use of social media featured an entire application which probably went through several stages of approval before being released.

Crude and offensive in both taste and execution, the Amoy ‘Asiante Yourself” Facebook app clearly wasn’t very well thought through and shows that you should always consider the global scale of the audience when implementing your social media strategy - what may be acceptable in one market can provoke strong, negative sentiment elsewhere.

4. Chrysler - personal tweet sent from corporate account

Unlike the GoDaddy situation, here an employee with access to Chrysler’s twitter account mistakenly sent a a tweet under the @ChryslerAutos account thinking that he was using his own. The fact that it was critical of Detroit drivers and also featured an expletive made the case much worse.

5. Paperchase - plagiarised artwork leads to twitter storm

Another case where social media amplified a message to reach a massive audience.  Once Twitter user Neil Gaiman, with 1.5million followers was made aware of Paperchase’s apparent plagarsim,  a single tweet was enough to launch this into a UK trending topic on Twitter. The sentiment even carried over onto Paperchase’s Amazon reviews, meaning that potential shoppers who may’ve otherwise been unaware of the discussion would be exposed to words like “boycott”, “stolen” and “plagiarised”.

Managing your reputation online – responding to criticism

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online_message_reaching_wider_audienceYou’ve probably heard how a Greenpeace attack on Nestle’s business ethics resulted in a social media encounter that damaged Nestle’s reputation worldwide.

Or, more recently, how BP has been facing daily attacks from a fake BP Twitter account about the oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico. Both situations highlight the importance of online reputation management.

A recent article about social media and online reputation management, published by Director magazine, suggests that businesses are weary of using social media for fear that it’s like “giant focus groups” but with two crucial differences - ”the questions can’t be controlled and the debate takes place in public.”

That’s not to say that businesses should avoid using social media. Quite the opposite in fact, given that the benefits of using social media far outweigh the concerns that organisations have about safeguarding their online reputation. After all, even if your business chooses not to engage in the online conversation, people are talking about your products and services whether you like it or not. Surely it’s far better to acknowledge the presence of these conversations rather than ignoring them to the potential detriment of your business, especially given that any business would be adequtely prepared to enter the world of social media without fear with the right social media strategy and social media policy in place.

In fact, brands who take on board the criticisms they hear on Facebook, Twitter or through social media monitoring, and then try to improve on them, will be the ones who continue to grow and prosper. Every single piece of information that is picked up online, be it good or bad, is a valuable learning. As Twitter co-founder Evan Williams stated, businesses need to work on their “ability to embrace criticism as well as praise” when it comes to social media.

A good example of a brand that has taken Evan’s advice is Domino’s pizza. Instead of cowering in shame or responding angrily to negative online reviews and comments about their products, Dominos pizza met the criticism head on. They made a documentary describing the extent of their problems and the efforts they were making to improve their products and services. They posted the documentary on YouTube, including the fairly harsh responses from a focus group which deemed the pizza “devoid of any flavour”. The cameras then followed the chefs as they made improvements to the pizzas and then asked focus groups to re-test the new and improved version. They also added a completely un-moderated section to their website to allow people to say whatever the hell they liked about the new offering.

What’s refreshing about this reaction is that it’s completely transparent and wholly honest. Dominos acknowledged the shortcomings their customers highlighted and made every effort to address the issues.

Even more intelligent is the fact that Dominos clearly thought about their long-term business strategy rather than the immediate need to quell any negative comments. They openly addressed the issues that their customers were complaining about so that these same people would  spread word of their proactive response via the same fast-spreading medium. In other words, if you act on negative comments and turn them into positive experiences then the people who you’ve listened to are likely to become your biggest advocates and will start doing your marketing work on your behalf.

To find out more about manging your reputation online and responding to criticism come to B2B Marketing’s seminar about online reputation management.