EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 278 - January 09, 2011 - ISSN 1528-6703     4 of 7

Using Twitter To Monitor Your Online Business Reputation

By Mark O'Neill

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As any online seller worth their salt knows, reputation is everything. In fact I would argue that your online reputation is even more important than your offline one because your online business is visible to a global audience of potentially hundreds of millions of people.

If your reputation is damaged, it's very hard to reverse that damage, and it can often be fatal. Since customers often don't and can't see you in person, they have to rely on online comments and search engine results to decide if you are someone that can be trusted with their money.

If you have had a previous misunderstanding with someone, and that person has spewed their anger online, that can blacken your good name for a very long time, if not forever.

So what is the answer to this problem? Well there is no "one size fits all" solution, but one thing you can do is monitor the online areas where these customer complaints are likely to take root and spread. A complaint against you is bad enough, but what's even worse is when you don't even realize it and don't defend yourself. Silence can be wrongly interpreted as guilt.

One website where complaints tend to spread fast about an individual or company is Twitter. The site has definitely moved on from the initial early days when users informed the world about what they had for breakfast. These days, disgruntled consumers vent their frustrations against companies in 140 characters or less. Followers can copy and paste (called retweeting) these comments to their followers in a viral-like way, until it potentially becomes unstoppable and the PR damage to the company is done.

A lot of companies whom I have regular contact with have absolutely no idea of the immense power Twitter has to inflict serious wounds on a company. One company noticed that its profits were down and its events not being fully attended. When I looked into it, I immediately checked Twitter and discovered that a rumor had started that a customer had been badly mistreated. Her angry followers retweeted her allegations and, in the usual viral-like way, they spread through the Twitterverse, wreaking havoc on the company's reputation and ultimately affecting their bottom line.

The allegations were later proved to be false (she was unmasked as a disgruntled former employee who had been fired), but this story just goes to show the damage that can be done if complaints and allegations like this are not nipped in the bud with swift company responses. Their silence had been wrongly interpreted as "oops, we've been caught! Better keep a low profile!"

Create a Twitter Account
If you sell online, you should build and maintain a presence on Twitter as part of your online public relations strategy.

Go to Twitter.com and sign up for an account. Make it the name of your business.

Go to the Twitter settings and customize the Twitter page to make it your own.

Upload your company logo.

Add the website URL.

Fill out your bio (this is indexed by the search engines so make it as descriptive as possible).

Twitter only works if a, people know your page is there, and b, you follow people. I will be going more into finding suitable people to follow in the next article, but for the moment, let your customers know that you are on Twitter and invite them to follow you. Then follow them back. Find people in your chosen industry and follow them too. Also don't forget to follow eBay, Paypal and AuctionBytes. I am on Twitter too if you want to follow me for pithy daily observations - link.

Monitor Your Brand
Now you need to set up the monitoring of your company name, brand, and product. Using Twitter Search, do a quick search for your name and company name to see if there is anything there. As an example, I will search for AuctionBytes.

A busy site like AuctionBytes has a lot of results, so you can narrow it down in the Advanced Search section. You can specify whether you want links, the location of the Tweeters (good for monitoring your local reputation), whether you want to filter out the retweets, and finally, you can specify tweets that are either positive or negative.

To save your searches, you can have all future results sent to an RSS reader, or you can bookmark them in your browser. Make sure you run those searches on a regular basis.

If you find any complaints or comments that you wish to address, just start your tweet with a @ and then the person's Twitter username (even though you are addressing something to a particular user, your tweet will be visible to all). To address something to me, you would start with @MarkONeill. Replies are restricted to 140 characters, so keep your answers short and concise. Respond to the person's comment, but try to avoid getting into confrontational flame wars that will only aggravate the situation.

Next time, we will look deeper into using Twitter as a reputation management tool for your online business. In the meantime, why don't you set up your account, then run some searches to see if anyone is tweeting about you?


About the author:

Mark O'Neill is Managing Editor of the popular tech blog, MakeUseOf.com. He is a Scotsman, now living the ex-pat life in Wurzburg, Germany. You can also find him on MarkO'Neill.org.


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