Bob DeStefano: A Brand is a Terrible Thing to Waste

How to change your company's online image.

Bob DeStefano is STAFDA’s online marketing consultant and a member of the University of Industrial Distribution faculty.

Word of mouth is not what it used to be. Just 10 years ago, an upset customer or a raving fan could only spread their opinion about your business with their family, friends, neighbors and work colleagues. Now, thanks to social networking and the infinite publishing power of the Web, customers can share their rants and raves instantly with a worldwide audience. And, in this wired world, your online image is EVERYTHING!  

So, why should you care? You should care because if your online image is tarnished, the following key business functions will become much more difficult:

Marketing: Ongoing demand generation is critical for growing your business. If your Google results are soured with negativity when prospects search for your business, you will see your lead generation pipeline dry up.

Selling: With your marketing and demand generation waning from your negative online image, you will see your sales start to tank as well. Not only will prospects not want to do business with you, but existing customers may get spooked and look for another company to work with.

Recruiting: You need a great team of employees on the bus for your company to be successful. If your online image is tarnished, the rock star employment candidates may want nothing to do with you.

Financing: Finally, your negative online image may make it more difficult for you to raise capital. Investors and creditors have integrated online research into their due diligence processes. If your search results look iffy, the much needed dollars will be harder to come by.

Now that you know why it’s important to have a positive online image, let’s put in place a proactive brand monitoring strategy to track and enhance your online image.

How will you monitor?
Once you know what brand phrases you want to monitor, it’s time to put in place a monitoring process. Proactive brand monitoring will help you identify a communication crisis from its start, providing ample time to react and take action. You can do this manually, performing Google searches on a regular basis to monitor your image.
However, I strongly recommend you take advantage
of one or more of the following monitoring tools.

  • Google Alerts ( Google offers an easy to use tool to monitor your brand online. Simply enter a few phrases that focus on your brand and Google will e-mail you each time it encounters these brand phrases on the Web.
  • Social Mention ( This social media search site aggregates user-generated content from over 80 social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Digg, etc. In addition to displaying social posts related to your brand, it will also display the sentiment (i.e., positive, negative or neutral) of the conversations.
  • Hootsuite ( Hootsuite is a social media dashboard that allows youto connect to multiple social networks from one site. In addition to providing great tools for managing social media marketing campaigns on Twitter, Facebook,
  • LinkedIn and Google+, Hootsuite helps you monitor your brand reputation in the social media world.
  • Klout ( While not focused on reputation management, Klout is a great tool for monitoring your influence on the popular social networks. As you create and share content online, Klout will assign an influence score based on how many people you reach and engage.
  • Twitter Search ( Twitter is the most fast-paced social site, with over 10 million tweets flying by every hour. Thankfully, Twitter offers its own robust search engine to allow you to keep track of tweets about your brand.
  • Viralheat ( If you are looking for a social media monitoring system with robust analytic reports, then definitely check out Viralheat. The service offers a feature set that rivals systems that cost thousands of dollars per month for under $30 per month.  
  • Sprout Social ( Sprout Social is another inexpensive, fee-based social media monitoring tool worth checking out. The service offers a great toolset to help you publish, monitor and analyze your brand content on the popular social networks.

Once you have the right monitoring tool(s) in place, set up a reasonable process for managing the tools that are managing your reputation. It’s easy to go overboard if you check on them all day long, so set aside a realistic block of time each day and stay disciplined.

How will you respond?
With an effective suite of monitoring tools in place, the next step is to create a plan for responding to your mentions and improve your online image. The following ideas will help you get started:

  • Proactively publish “good” content through online public relations. One of the best ways to preventa negative online image is by proactively spreading a positive one. Leverage online public relations tactics to publish educational content (e.g., articles, press releases, whitepapers, videos, presentations, etc.) on relevant websites and social networking groups that focus on your area of expertise. This “good” content will bubble up as people perform searches.
  • Monitor your mentions and feedback to determine if they are positive or negative. This is where the tools mentioned above become invaluable. Is it a customer complaining about the quality of a product or service? Is it a disgruntled employee ranting about working conditions? Is it a customer request for a product or service enhancement? Determine the sentiment of your mentions and prioritize them based on the risk to your reputation.
  • Create a response plan. Based on the mentions that require your attention, create a response plan to deal with each one individually. Based on the severity of the mention, determine an acceptable turn-around time. Also, determine the proper channel of communication for your response. Should it be on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, direct e-mail to the poster, or all of these channels together?
  • Execute like a professional. This is not a time to get emotional, angry or defensive. If you respond defensively when your feelings are hurt, you may make the situation worse. Involve colleagues you trust in the response loop. Run your response by them to make sure it will help your cause rather than hurt it.
  • Listen — you just might learn something. I know your reaction will most often be to defend yourself to protect your online image. However, make sure you listen carefully to each mention and keep track of feedback trends. If customers are continually complaining about the quality of your product or service, you may have a bigger problem on your hands than just a negative online image.

A brand is a terrible thing to waste. Make sure you proactively manage your online image to ensure you will effectively compete as more business moves online in
the future.  CS

Bob DeStefano is STAFDA’s online marketing consultant and a member of the University
of Industrial Distribution faculty with more than 18 years’ experience helping manufacturers and distributors. Contact Bob at or call (877) 786-3249.