It was 105 degrees in Los Angeles. My car, with the 3 car seats for my children, was parked outside in the scorching hot sun. I didn’t think twice of it; I’ve left it out in the sun a million times before. That evening, before going to bed, I went downstairs to the car to grab something and opened the door to be shocked by smoke coming out of the car. After inspecting everything, I found that one of the car seats had burst into fire! It burnt all the way through the fabric and plastic.
Stunned, my first thought was to alert the company that manufactures these car seats. I went to their Twitter page, and left a note, linking to a picture of the burnt car seat. Next, I left a message on their Facebook fan page. My intent was for them to know of the potential safety hazard to children that use and own these car seats. Within a couple of days, the company had tracked me down, found my cell phone number and email address, and contacted me directly. They were very keen upon investigating the situation and seeing what they could to do protect themselves and other children.
This kind of situation illustrates how social media has changed the face of customer service and branding. It’s essential for corporations to be keenly aware of their branding and to protect their brand and identity.
Recently, one common request that people ask of me is what to do when a negative article about them or their company appears at the top of the search engine rankings page. Often, the criticism is written by competitors wanting to degrade their brand. Sometimes the critcism is a valid opinion. No matter how hard you try or how hard you work, everybody has different expectations and along the way you are bound to disappoint. With the advent of social media, that criticism has the potential to negatively harm your brand or business.
So what can you do in a situation where there is negative criticism in the top of the SERP’ for your name or brand?
In the same way that social media gives users a voice, it can also be used to protect your brand. Below are some steps you can take to protect your reputation>
1. Create profiles on the most popular social networks:
Additionally, you can also create your profile in a few Tier 2 or secondary social media sites:
And many other sites. When creating these accounts, you want to make sure to use the name that you want to be known by, whether that is your given name or a moniker that has become your identity. If you fail to do this crucial step, the URLs for these sites will not reflect the accurate name and consequently they will not show up in the top 10 as easily. For example: If your name is John Smith, you will want to secure http://www.facebook.com/johnsmith and http://www.twitter.com/johnsmith as your usernames and URLs if possible.
If you can’t make this happen, you may need to use a middle initial or use a different variation of your first name. If you’re unfortunate enough to have an extremely common name, securing your online reputation is going to be very difficult due to competition.
If you are interested in protecting your company’s brand name, then you should take advantage of services that allow you to customize your page’s URL. Most web 2.0 sites will request you to sign up using your first and last name. Make sure you search for services that allow you to customize your URL so you can properly brand your company’s name.
“Ghost” accounts do not create a positive brand image. For your social and web 2.0 accounts to rank well, you need to actively participate in those communities. It may be overwhelming to think about posting actively to all of these sites. This is where automation becomes a necessity.
Services like IFTTT.com, OnlyWire.com, HootSuite.com, BufferApp.com, Google Reader and TwitterFeed can help to keep all of these accounts populated. Here are steps to follow to add content to your social accounts regularly:
1. Add your favorite blogs to Google Reader
2. Find influencers in your industry and follow them on all the main social media sites.
3. Every day, scan through your social media profiles and open interesting articles. Buffer them to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and +1 them on Google.
4. If you really like the articles, you can also Stumble them and distribute them to many other services using OnlyWire.com
5. Scan through your social feeds and comment on a few posts every day. Like a few more posts every day.
6. While you are engaging with other users, send a few people direct messages and connect with others by commenting on their content.
7. Every day, add a few friends to all of your servcies.
Be careful not to overdo it as Facebook has filters if you try to add too many people that you don’t know directly at once.
8. Use IFTTT.com to cross post content. For example, you can have it take your pictures fro Facebook and post them on Flickr. You can also have content that you star on Google Reader republished to Posterous, Tumblr and WordPress. There are many other ways to create automation, so these are just a few examples.
If you do this properly, you will gain followers and brand recognition that could allow you to outshine whoever is currently dominating the search engine results for your name or brand. You will gain authority as a content producer and as Google detects your constant activity, your profiles will rank higher.
Guest Blogging is also a valuable way to protect your brand. Many sites will create a page dedicated to each of their contributors, with a bio and a picture. By guest blogging for sites with high authority, you will also create other channels that have the potential for ranking well. Additionally, you create positive content about your name or brand and can write articles that exhibit your knowledge and authority.
A key benefit to this strategy is that it protects you from future negativity. If your profiles are active and continue to grow, your social channels will become more and more powerful over time. Even if there aren’t any negative comments found for your name or brand at present, it’s likely that in the future there will be. However, by actively working on your name or brand your pages will have so much authority that they will become very difficult to push down fro the top of the SERP’s. Your pages will be grandfathered into the top 10, with high rank, authority, and popularity.
BONUS Tip: Have you heard of Empire Avenue? It is a social game that connects social users and rewards social engagement. The more active social channels you have, the more points (or eaves, as they are called in the system) you can earn. WIth these eaves, you can run “missions” where you reward other social media users to socially engage iwth your customers. By having as many active accounts as possible, you will be promoting yourself on Empire Avenue which will help you promote your social channels simultaneously. You can also earn eaves by running missions for other social users.