E-REPUTATION: An Achilles Heel for Businesses?

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CORNERSTONE OR STUMBLING BLOCK?

In my first article for Windmill Networking, I wrote that new Web technologies made it possible for anyone to become an influencer within their network. I mentioned the case of Canadian guitarist David Carroll and his dispute with United Airlines and his “United Breaks Guitars” viral video that turned him into a celebrity. (Read: Social Media Influence: How a Nobody Can Become a Somebody).

Inversely, there is no shortage of examples of professionals who have had their careers destroyed by an online reputation gone wrong. Many companies, even some of the bigger ones, have lost a lot in the wake of poor online management. The reputation of a professional or an online brand in some ways reveals their digital DNA, or the imprint left after each movement on the Web and/or within social media.

However, although e-reputation is not the only value index of an influencer within the social Web, it is certainly one of its main pillars. And, if it can prove itself to be a cornerstone, it can also reveal itself to be a stumbling block. An e-reputation’s generosity with knowledge and the proximity with subscribers that it’s able to achieve can lead to the best of recommendations. But it is also a transparency and authenticity that a professional or brand will know to reflect faced with criticism that will allow them to save their e-reputation.

Today, in the mobile phone and social media era, it is said that more than 85% or consumers rely primarily on the recommendations of their peers before adopting a brand or product. A recent study conducted by Reevoo/GMI Research in France puts the number at closer to 90% (89%). A recent infographic from the British firm Brandify reveals that over 83% of consumers consult user comments and recommendations to evaluate companies.

WHY SHOULD SME’S BE CONCERNED ABOUT THEIR E-REPUTATION?

Recently, Morgane Geffroy, a young French student, asked me to answer some of his questions about e-reputation in order to complete his university thesis. Here, in essence, are my answers to his questions on how and why the optimization of an online reputation can become a commercial asset for both professionals and businesses:

1) Why should SME’s now be concerned with their online reputations?

SME owners, as well as professionals from all sectors, realize they must adopt new marketing approaches to reach their customers and communicate messages to them. Within this context, they have to focus on the impact of their brand online. Their e-reputation will therefore be a crucial issue for the success of small businesses and professionals within social networks.

2) What kind of e-reputation problems do you see most often?

Faced with the new powers of the connected consumer (Generation C), companies must adopt a new corporate culture that requires a change in mentality. Businesses can no longer control their brand image like they used to, and this is what scares them. They are forced to adopt an attitude of transparency and authenticity to gain the confidence and commitment of their customers. It’s important they learn to react in the right way to sometimes negative comments from some users. It’s often at this level that slippage in social networks is observed.

3) Do you think e-reputation is a more important issue for the B2C or the B2B companies?

E-reputation is an issue that concerns all companies and professionals, both in the B2C and B2B sectors. Both should give equal importance to their digital identity in order to enhance their brand image and preserve the integrity of their online reputation. However, whether they aim at consumers directly (B2C) or turn to other companies or professionals (B2B), they must learn to adopt appropriate strategies and choose the tools and distribution channels that best suit their audience. This is why Linkedln is used by professionals more than Facebook, for example.

4) In B2B, at what level does e-reputation concern professionals and businesses?

With Linkedln or Viadeo, businesses and professionals in B2B find several advantages; most notably in the area of employment and human resources recruitment, which are their most common uses. However, today, we see more and more B2B companies use the professional aspects of popular social networks (like Twitter, Facebook or Google +) to develop new leads. Eventually, these new relationships turn into business relationships, or even real partnerships.

5) What bad habit(s) do you encounter most often among B2B professionals and businesses?

Jobseekers often tend to embellish their resume, or exaggerate their expertise. In the same way traders and small businesses must adopt a new approach to consumers, professionals need to find new ways to enhance their expertise when dealing with potential employers. For their part, companies regularly confuse a job candidate’s e-reputation with his or her performance within the social media networks. Yet, a person’s authority in their field is not solely based on their presence within social media circles and their social score, but also on the level of engagement and exchanges he or she can elicit from his or her entourage.

6) What is your advice to professionals and SME’s in B2B who want to optimize their e-reputation and their social media presence?

To stand out and position one-self effectively within social networks, B2B companies and professionals must build on a strategic corporate social presence, which will both enhance and preserve their e-reputation. As with B2C consumers, professionals must first gain their partners’ trust before being able to establish commitment. They can no longer rely solely on the quality of their products and services, but must rather offer some form of added value to their peers based on the quality and relevance of their content. Learn to become more “social” and to give before receiving…

7) In your opinion, how important will e-reputation become for professionals and businesses?

In the coming months, the concept of e-reputation will become of central importance to professionals and businesses on the Web. In the near future, the majority of commercial businesses (B2B as much as B2C) will come online and the rapid evolution of mobile technologies and cloud computing will foster better online collaboration between professionals and businesses. The importance of an e-reputation will become even greater than what was seen with the convergence of social networks and mobile technologies: professionals and businesses will re-establish a strong bond of trust with their customers. In many cases, they will have to learn how to manage slippages and critical user reviews internally while continually proving themselves to be transparent and authentic. This is probably the biggest challenge facing them!

What do you think? Do you believe an e-reputation can be a commercial asset or is it the Achilles heel of businesses and brands?

Raymond Morin
Raymond Morin contributes a monthly column on Social Media Influence. Raymond is a francophone author and speaker who has 20 years experience acting as a senior strategic consultant and coach for organizations, SMBs and independent professionals. Author of the books «Culture Web à la portée des PME» (2001) and «Comment entreprendre le virage 2.0» (2010), he has also contributed to several magazines and bloggers platforms over the years. His upcoming new book in French, entitled «Generation C et l’influence des consommateurs branchés», is prefaced by Neal Schaffer, and will be also published in English and Spanish during the next year. +Raymond Morin
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