Online Reputation Management & Owning the Message: My Presentation from SMX Israel 2012

I recently spoke at the 2012 SMX Israel search marketing conference, which took place at the Inbal Hotel, Jerusalem. I wanted to expand on my presentation here, as although the slides are on slideshare, I tend to put most of the content in the narrative.


As this was part of a panel (with Shira Abel of Hunter and Bard, Jon Sumroy of National Positions and our fearless moderater Sam Michelson of Five Blocks) I wanted to focus quite specifically on reputation in the search results, rather than the social media sphere, in order to prevent too much overlap.

My perspective on ORM in the search results (and therefore the wider content/reputation messages these results point to) is not about trying to "control" search results but more about a strategic approach to message-management; with content-strategy, message position and communication tools being the essential stages to managing a campaign.

Online Reputation Management: Owning the Message

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Slide 1 - The "anti-hero".
When starting an ORM project it is critical to understand and define the qualitative descriptions, feelings and associations that may be attached to the person, product or brand you are managing. After this, such qualitative descriptions need to be classified into some form of taxonomy which categorises positive, negative and neutral sentiment. Whilst there are some sentiment analysis tools out there, such as SocialMention, there is a layer of intelligence, understanding and subjectivity attached to "message position" that as of yet, I've not found a tool to understand this completely.
As an example, if I'm managing an independent stockbroker, terms such as "bolshy" and "aggressive" may be the perfect positive associations for that reputation. On the other hand, if I am working for a pop star, whose primary audience is seven year old girls, these terms would indicate an undesirable sentiment.
Slide 2 - Cultivating Bad-Ass Publicity
Managing reputation can also mean cultivating notoriety or associations that might be generally viewed as renegade or controversial. Managing reputation is not about painting a whiter than white reputation but about promoting the position that will be business-driving for the brand or individual, regardless of what that position may be.
Slide 3 - Ryanair
As an example the low-cost airline Ryanair often communicate stories that are controversial or may be generally considered bad taste. Whilst this would not be a suitable positioning for almost all other airlines, in this case Ryanair's positon in the marketplace is very clear. Customers know what to expect and the volume of publicity such examples generate seeks to amplify their brand to extraordinary levels.
Slide 4 - Bad-Ass Links
In addition, strategies that deliberately involve controversial communications may also act as extremely successful linkbait.
Slide 5 - Shamone!
In terms of pushing brand awareness such tactics can be highly successful for generating interest and in fact Ryanair beat "Michael Jackson" for search volume in 2011.
Slide 6 - Poor Message Management
Of course tactics that deliberately court notoriety can backfire, as can any reputation strategy that is poorly managed from a message perspective.
Slide - 7 - No Such Thing...
That said, I generally believe that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Many seemingly disastrous situations can be turned into a positive as long as the response is timely, well-handled and widely communicated.
Slide 8  Weinergate
Take the example of former Congressman Anthony Weiner. Not the first or last public figure to be caught in a situation that suggests (ahem) indiscretion. Weiner tweeted a picture of his "manifesto" to all of his followers, presumably instead of a Direct Message to a private individual.
Whilst this isn't the worst example of a public figure implicated in a moral transgression, I'd argue that Weiner sealed his own fate by first denying any fault, and then on a live TV interview blaming "the hackers".
People have very short memories, and if handled differently a "cheat" is not a huge spin away from a "lovable rogue".
Slide 9 - Tools
Once you have your messaging strategy clear there are still tools of the trade that are essential for communicating. I wanted to detail just a couple of mine.
Slide 10 - Spindoctors
Apologies to PR professional friends who dislike this nickname, however, there is a good reason that PR professionals are often referred to as "spin doctors" and that is because it is these professionals and their grasp on message positioning, brand impact, wider implications, the art of communication, leveraging relationships, understanding human motive and more - who are best placed to help you define the original message; or mould a response that emphasises the desired points.
I would strongly recommend that if you do not already work alongside experienced PR professionals in ORM campaigns, then it's a great idea to establish working partnerships with specialist PR agencies and freelancers. Their skills will help you immensely.
Slide 11 - Online News Distribution Services
Services like PR Newswire (as shown in the example slide) and BusinessWire both offer news distribution services that include online circuits, either as part of a general newswire service, or targeting online media only. In the example shown a PR Newswire service is used to great effect by the Rainbow Sash Movement, in response to a comment from Cardinal Francis George, who referenced the Chigaco gay Pride March as having common rhetoric to the Ku Klux Klan. As news of the heinous analogy spreads, the SERP results for "Chicago gay pride" and similar, of course contained many references and reports of that interview. In response The Rainbow Sash Movement, quickly issues a statement via PR Newswire, calling for a demonstration and apology.
As of today there are 670 results in for that exact statement alone, discount any additional media re-writing and reporting of the original statement.
A couple of days after the statement and mounting media pressure, an apology was issued from Cardinal George.
Slide 12 - MyNewsDesk
Another useful tool, MyNewsdesk allows communicators to create their own social news hub. Acting as a kind of central repository for any type of message "from" the organisation; the service has both push and pull mechanisms for getting [your content] to media; plus is an authoritative content-hub, and additional brand result that often features well within the first pages for brand-related queries.
Slide 13, & 14
To summarise the presentation:
1. Quantify the issue - is there a genuine reputation-risk in your client SERP, or is this actually an opportunity that can be used to our advantage?
2. Call in the wider teams. If you don't have dedicated ORM and PR specialists in-house, then develop third-party partners to assist in message-positioning.
3. Define and own your message.
4. Use the tools available to online communicators to assist with fast and broad response.
Fellow Panellists Perspectives
Shira Abel of Hunter and Bard shares her thoughts on the panel and her presentation. If I can track down presentations from Sam and Jon, I'll link to them here in future.
Jan 19 2012
Nichola Stott
Nichola Stott

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