The downside of social media was recently featured in the Nation newspaper. The central issue was the freedom of persons to misuse social media for malicious ends. What prompted the news stories was a comment that proved to be untrue that was left on the newspaper’s Facebook page. This comment held the reputation of two companies up to public scrutiny — the newspaper and the company that was misrepresented.
However, how does one go about managing a company’s reputation in the wild, wild West that is the Internet and the wasteland of social media? Believe it or not, you have to tackle this task both the old-fashioned way and the modern way.
The old-fashioned way is not to put perfume on dirty skin. Companies must ensure that they are good corporate citizens who have their houses in order. A company must conduct business with all its stakeholders in mind, investors, staff, customers, suppliers, and the environment. With good relations intact, the company is ready for the newer intervention — joining the conversation online.
Some companies believe that if they bury their heads in the sand, then persons will ignore them and have nothing negative to say. This is a fallacy. If you do not join the online conversation and push positive messages about your company, then you are setting the company up for its name to be taken hostage online. That's not just the ownership of the company’s name as a domain owner, but also its search profile. Imagine that you have a dormant website that you launched because it is the right thing to do, but you do not post regular messages about your company online. Someone posting about you negatively will dominate the Google or Yahoo search results, such as when a customer is searching for your services online.
Using social media to monitor the online activity of both competitors and customers gives a company invaluable market intelligence cheaply. It also allows companies to respond to customer queries in real time, thus offering them a higher level of customer service than was previously possible while keeping pace with real-time issues and market demands.
There are a number of compelling reasons for companies to operate their business both in the physical and virtual world. As with the store front, running the online side of the business comes with responsibilities. You have to ensure that your online communication is professional – not just your messages but those of your commenters.
Companies have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that the comments on their pages are truthful and in good taste. It is, therefore, not censorship but good sense to approve comments before they are published, in the same way that call-in radio programs use a delay system for airing comments.
There is no innate downside to social media, but there is blatant abuse by users who are often cowards who hide their identity. Companies should, therefore, not cower but rather use the upside of social media to promote their products, services, and community involvement online, as well as create opportunities to respond to customers in the broadest sense possible. It has often been proven that the companies that rebound intact from reputation risks are the ones who make a habit of doing the right thing.
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