January 21, 2011

Is social search impacting your reputation?

It has often been written that your reputation is what Google says it is. A fact supported by search statistics showing that over 2/3 of all internet searches transit via the Mountain View giant’s servers. However, that would be missing one major point: conversations between internet users are one of the highest sources of influence on buying decisions and reputation factors.

Flickr image by Lee Haywood

Google may not always dominate search

Social consumer are using their networks more and more to ask for and share recommendations about companies and their products. Much as the more traditional internet goers, they use traditional search (read Google, and sprinkle a pinch of Bing, if you don’t live in China) to find information. But once initial awareness of a product has been gained, much word of mouth is exchanged on forums, Facebook and other social networks. Quora seems poised to become a crucial actor in this field, for instance.

Of course, Google has added many social features to its social search and integrated social presence to its social search results. But Facebook sees things differently and, as the Palo Alto rival approaches the demographic limits of new user acquisition, its strategy for future expansion seems to suck discussions about the world’s brands onto its own turf. “Like” buttons and Fan page serve exactly this purpose and while some Fan pages have rapidly become enormous, some (many?) have not grown fast enough to compensate for the corresponding decline in traffic of corporate websites. That alone can constitute a threat to your reputation management efforts. But if Facebook succeeds in attracting the world’s brand-centric conversations, its search may well dethrone Google’s as purveyor of image and reputation.

Influencer engagement and social CRM

This interesting post discusses whether you should embark on the much hyped real-time route and, since social has gained so much momentum, the question is certainly valid for reputation management. The author argues that influencer engagement is a selective PR exercise, at the risk of seeming biased, while the latter requires a more profound transformation of the company, particularly if you wish to engage in interactions, not simply provide asynchronous responses to questions and issues.

For reputation management purposes, it makes sense to focus on influential stakeholders and on answering the most representative issues rather than engage in systematic real-time interactions (marketing and crisis management are different, of course).

So how do you manage your reputation in a social world?

First, integrate offline, online and social in your monitoring plan. Social may be the new buzz-king, leading surveys (see for instance Edelman’s 2010 Trust Barometer) indicate that top influencers are industry experts, who do not express their views through a “XXX sucks” Facebook update.

Second, use engagement best practises to identify stakeholder groups and their respective issues.

Third, feed your social CRM with reports of your interactions to enrich it as you go and create a priceless engagement repository that will let your plan campaigns with far greater accuracy and confidence.

SO, is social search impacting your reputation, and how are you addressing that? Please describe your experience in comments.

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