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01 Sep 2010

Online Reputation Management Expert Interview with Andy Beal

In just over a week, I’ll be presenting the Vertical Measures Webinar, “Protect Your Online Reputation While You Still Can!,” on September 9 at 11:30 a.m. EST (8:30 a.m. PST, 10:andybeal-new-closeup30 a.m. CST). I’ll discuss why you must protect your good online name, and simple techniques to do so . In preparation for my big day, I reached out to the very individuals who shaped my approach to Proactive Online Reputation Management. I even had the pleasure of speaking with the Andy Beal, CEO & Founder of  Trackur, an internet marketing consultant, award-winning blogger, professional speaker, and coauthor of the critically-acclaimed book Radically Transparent: Monitoring & Managing Reputations Online.

Elise Redlin-Cook: What’s the best way to prevent reputation crises?

Andy Beal: 25 x 25 twitter iconThe best way to prevent a reputation crisis is to make sure that you are always delighting your stakeholders! Stakeholders, you may ask? Yes! We all know the importance of keeping your customers happy, but your stakeholders include your customers, your employees, your employees’ families, your business partners, and your investors. A reputation attack could come from any of these sources, so you need to make sure that for each of these you are exceeding their expectations of your business.

Elise: Can you give an example of a company that would qualify as an ORM Fail? How about an ORM Superstar?

An ORM Fail has to go to BP for the recent Gulf oil spill. What the American people wanted was the spill fixed, transparency in how it happened in the first place, a heartfelt apology, and assurances it will never happen again. What we got was a cover-up, carefully crafted PR soundbites, BP executives complaining about wanting to “get their life back” and reports that BP enjoyed a record quarter of profits.

An ORM Superstar? I’d give that to FedEx. During the recent launch of the iPhone 4, I impatiently waited for my shiny new phone to be delivered. Apple had promised it would be delivered early, but FedEx’s tracking system had crashed under the strain. Would it be delivered as promised? Should I still stay in? I, like many Apple fans, were freaking out. Fortunately, FedEx has a strong Twitter presence and their agents quickly jumped in to help me out. They offered a real contact email and delivered real action. Within minutes, I had assurances that my iPhone was out for delivery and would be in my hands by 3pm that day. Not only did FedEx save its own reputation, but you could argue that it saved Apple’s too!

Sidebar: When we think of reputation, we often mean its global perception. However, we forget about the personal experience. For example, me not receiving my iPhone on time would not have hurt Apple’s (or FedEx’s) global reputation, but in my subjective little world, their reputation would have been very-much tarnished.

Elise: So true! When a reputation crisis arises, where should one start?

Andy: The first, and most important step? Take a deep breath. When we learn of a reputation crisis, it’s all too easy to switch to what I call “Chicken Little” mode. We start panicking and run around like the sky is about to fall down on us…and sometimes we run around like headless chickens.

One of the reasons I built Trackur was to provide companies with an early alert to any pending crisis. Even if you are using something more basic–such as Google Alerts–simply becoming aware of a crisis, as it unfolds, gives you a head start. Instead of being alerted to that scathing newspaper article or blog rant only when your customers start canceling their orders, by monitoring your reputation, you buy yourself some valuable time. Time which you can use to collect the facts, meet with your key people, and plan how you’ll respond.

If you do determine that this crisis warrants a response, it should be one that is sincere, transparent, and consistent. Sincere means apologizing right away. The longer you delay in saying “sorry” the more damage will be inflicted on your brand. You then need to be transparent about how this event happened, what caused it, and what steps you are taking to ensure it’s an isolated incident that will never happen again. Then, you need to be consistent in your future actions–prove to your stakeholders that you have learned your lesson and that they can trust you again.

Elise: Great advice! Are there any kind of companies that simply can’t be helped?

Andy: Yes! Corrupt, lazy, apathetic companies that don’t care about their stakeholders. 25 x 25 twitter iconYour reputation can never be better than the character of your company, or as Abraham Lincoln put it: “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

Elise: Can you tell us a little bit about how you find out what people are saying about you online?  How do you monitor what others are saying about you?

Andy: First, you need to understand your own brand–or, more precisely–brands. What is it that people type into Google, when checking out your credentials? Take, for example, the drug giant GlaxoSmithKline. How many brands should it monitor? It’s company name? That’s a given! But, what about variations of its name, such as Glaxo Smith Kline, Glaxo, or simply GSK? What about its product brands? Which ones might be prone to side effects? Then you need to consider that drugs in the UK are often given different brand names than the US. Then you have trademarks and patent infringements to monitor. Potential animal activists and, lastly, important executive reputations such as these folks: Gsk.com

25 x 25 twitter iconOnce you know what to track, you can figure out what tools to use. Of course, Trackur does all the heavy lifting for just $18 a month, but there are many free tools that can provide a great safety net of monitoring. I posted my favorites in this Slideshare presentation:

Elise: I heard Trackur recently underwent an upgrade. What can you tell us about that?Trackur-Logo-2010-flattened

Andy: I can talk about our awesome upgrades all day long! :-) I’m not saying it’s powered by Steve Austin (under 30? you may want to Google that reference), but we did completely rebuild Trackur. Unfortunately, faster, cleaner code is hard for most people to get excited about. So, along with the new infrastructure, we added Facebook monitoring, improved our influence metrics and reporting, and added Klout.com scores, so you can see how much influence that Twitter users exerts on your brand. There are lots of other small enhancements and we have some more coming over the next month or two.

Elise: I personally loved your book Radically Transparent! Just what inspired you to put it together?

Andy: Thank you! Hearing that people love the book is a greater reward than any sales statement I get from my publisher!

To answer your question. I needed to write Radically Transparent for myself just as much as I needed to write it for all those that wanted to learn about online reputation management. I had been consulting on reputation management for a few years, but my advice was located across many posts, my strategies were inside my head, and I had never blue-printed a complete tactical campaign on paper. Writing Radically Transparent allowed me to organize what was swimming around inside my head and provide the definitive book for those seeking to build, manage, monitor and repair their reputation. Even to this day, I find myself referencing my own book! ;-)