How You Can Stay in Control of Your Brand's Reputation

Even If You've Done Nothing Wrong, One Nasty Complaint Can Taint Your Name

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Keith Goldberg
Keith Goldberg
My initiation into reputation management took place during fourth grade in Mr. Timberlake's class.

For some reason, long since forgotten, I wound up in a scuffle with another boy and, though I don't believe I instigated the dust-up, Mr. Timberlake wasted no time in grabbing me by the neck (I remember that clearly) and marching me down to the principal's office.

As I sat in the seat of shame outside of Mr. Stern's office (what a perfect name for a principal, don't you think?) the teachers and students who paraded by me cast cold eyes that betrayed their thoughts. "Hmm ... the Goldberg kid, thought he was all right but I guess he's a troublemaker." By the next day, news of my predicament had spread like wildfire throughout the school.

But I didn't start it! It wasn't my fault!

Too bad.

Fast-forward more years than I'd like to admit, and, as a CMO of a major brand, I was so proud of how we were optimizing our search results -- especially given the money we were spending. Then, one morning, I logged onto my Mac and was stunned.

There on Google, sitting solidly in the fourth position -- right below three killer, above-the-fold search listings for my brand -- was a listing titled "customer complaints." Customer complaints about my company.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Keith Goldberg is senior VP-client strategy at EWI Worldwide. He was previously leader of creative and innovation for George P. Johnson Experience Marketing and senior VP-CMO, GMAC Direct.
I quickly clicked. The list of complaints were unsubstantiated, even comical, and the company they were blasting didn't sound at all like us. But there was our name, plain as day. Were these really unhappy customers? Was this a sabotage campaign from a competitor? I didn't know. It didn't matter.

The most frustrating part
I kept thinking about the dollars we spent to optimize traffic to our website. I couldn't believe we had worked so hard to attract thousands of eyeballs and now, when we should be connecting with and converting this treasure trove of customers, a rogue listing was going to raise a red flag to each and every one of them. The most frustrating part was, given human nature, I knew exactly where the vast number of viewers would click first. Argh!

I also knew that if there was a way to measure the amount of marketing dollars wasted, goodwill squandered and customers lost by this negative word-of-mouth, the numbers would be staggering. That was the day I became a believer in reputation management.

Today, when I deploy a reputation-management protocol for clients, it is usually a four-part program (as outlined by the chart below) that begins by analyzing a brand's true reputation in the marketplace, identifying what reputation mode the brand is in (build, maintain, repair), deploying the appropriate tools to achieve the objective and evaluating success to optimize methods moving forward.

The other key ingredient is vigilance.

In this back-to-the-future, word-of-mouth world made possible by the internet, it only takes one incident to ruin a reputation.

Even if you didn't do it. Even if it's not your fault. Too bad.

I learned that the hard way back in the fourth grade.

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