Digital Reputation Management for Franchisees: Why it’s important and why YOU need it

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In today’s society we are well beyond just online marketing and advertising. Thanks to Web 2.0, social media, search engine optimization (SEO), Google, Ask.com and more, it is crucial for business success to monitor not just what you say about yourself online, but most importantly, what others say about you.

Many business owners shy away from embracing online marketing, social media and more because of the vulnerabilities it opens up. However, whether or not you have an online presence, your customers will undoubtedly talk about you, both positively and negatively, so it’s in your best interest to embrace the digital age, be present on these digital networks and effectively manage your reputation through these online channels. As a franchisee, you have the support of a bigger brand with a local appeal. As you develop an online presence with your local community, it’s important that you manage and maintain your brand representation and franchise reputation effectively. Here are a few tips to help you manage your digital reputation.

  • Just as in any business venture, it’s crucial that you know your market. Who is your audience and what websites are they using to provide feedback, reviews and comments? Is it Facebook, TripAdvisor, Yelp? Do a little homework to find the top sites where your customers are talking about you and vigilantly monitor them.
  • Bad reviews and comments only fester if left unattended. People tend to feed off of them and a conversation can become destructive very quickly. However, some customers just like to complain for the sake of complaining. Ensure that you respond to every negative comment or review where you can provide legitimate and positive feedback. Choose your battles and decide which ones will redeem your reputation and help your business in the long run.
  • Encourage your customers to voice their positive experiences online. Whether that means heading to your Facebook page to rave, writing a review on Yelp or rehashing their visit on TripAdvisor, tell your customers where they can go to let others know about positive experiences. Many businesses offer incentives such as coupons, free products/services or other perks to enhance participation. See what works best for you and your customers.
  • As a franchisee owner, chances are high that you conduct all marketing efforts, in addition to the overall business management responsibilities. Trolling websites for reviews and comments isn’t another task you can afford to add to your growing to-do list. Thankfully there are many online and software options ranging from free to very pricey that can help you manage your online reputation more effectively and efficiently. Hiring an agency is also an option to better manage your digital efforts. We, as an agency, are very good at what we do and if hiring us allows you to better manage your business, then it’s a win-win partnership.

In today’s economy, 65% of buyers are checking out reviews before making a final purchase for services and/or goods. It’s inevitable that there’s chatter on the internet about your business, it’s how you manage it that makes the difference.

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Strayer University Grows Their Online Presence: A Case Study

Strayer U Blog

Strayer University is an educational institution with over 80 campuses across the nation. The University provides a quality education to working adults in both online and offline atmospheres. In 2009, Strayer University came to The Cyphers Agency seeking to increase their online presence and lead generation numbers.

Challenge

Strayer University’s only online presence was on MySpace, and that presence wasn’t in tune with their overall University brand. Even more so, their web site didn’t serve prospective students but rather, existing students. How could they grow their student population if their potential students couldn’t find out any important information? This, married to poor search engine optimization, resulted in low numbers of leads, ultimately impacting the University’s growth. That was where we came in.

Plan of Attack

We focused our efforts on blog creation and social network development. Our goal was to create an active online community by engaging with existing and potential students on our blog and social sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Strayer U Blog

The blog was built as part of a microsite created specifically as a lead generation tool. All of our online ad efforts were directed to that site, helping potential students locate any necessary information they might need to learn about Strayer and the opportunities they could grasp there. Students were also able to input information about themselves should they want a Strayer University representative to contact them. The blog provided a chance to create fresh content (helping with SEO), as well as give users valuable information about being a student at Strayer University. It didn’t hurt to have content to share on social networks, either.

Strayer U Facebook

In addition to sharing this blog content, we were active on Strayer’s social networks, especially Facebook. Students were (and still are) able to get their questions answered, whether it’s something as simple as needing to know who to contact to sign up for classes or a more crucial issue like financial aid. While we were charged with maintaining the page, we focused on grooming a community that interacted with each other. Students were always happy to answer each others’ questions, diffuse a difficult situation, or just cheer each other on.

Results

In less than a year, we were able to make real progress and establish some positive results for Strayer University. Awareness levels increased, as evidenced by the nearly 33 million impressions we delivered. Even more so, leads generated from our efforts have converted at higher rates than any other initiative or ad program within the University.

We are continually growing Strayer University’s online presence. Their social networks have grown – over 8,500 and growing – to become beneficial, if not crucial, spaces for students to interact.

There’s No Hiding in Social Media

Whether it’s an embarrassing video of one of the NBA’s leading players getting dunked on, or the trailer for a highly anticipated movie, some leaked videos should remain…leaked.

When brands try and control social media (which goes against the whole idea), they can end up hurting their brand image, and the two most recent social media blunders were no exception. For the record, this does not mean companies should let libel/slander/copyright issues abound on the web.  But recently, there were two instances where videos surfaced that Nike and Disney didn’t want anyone to see, and their curmudgeon-like responses sparked some intense brand dissonance (we’re writing an entire blog entry on it, for goodness sakes!).

When cameras caught  Xavier’s Jordan Crawford dunk on LeBron James a few weeks ago, Nike made sure to confiscate the footage (as rumored, per request of LeBron). As LeBron is a huge endorser for Nike, obviously they didn’t want the Nike image to be damaged by the superstar’s slip-up.  Of course, two phones with the capability to take video caught the dunk, and the video got out anyway.

Sweeping an error under the rug does more harm than good in the age of social media. Instead of a quick laugh about how the LeBron got dunked on by a college player, the talk was all about how Nike (or LeBron) tried to hide the video. Now both reputations are tarnished. Honestly, most people (myself included) don’t even think the dunk is that big of a deal. I only saw the video because of Nike’s response; I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Nike wasn’t the only one to generate negative buzz by trying to hide video content. When video leaked from Alice in Wonderland, Disney forced YouTube to take the videos down. The videos were already creating an immense amount of viral buzz, and could have really pumped up promotions for the movie. As the end-user, I wouldn’t have heard of this debacle if Disney hadn’t chosen to play big brother. It just made it harder for me to find the trailer online (booooo).

In social media, the best thing you can do is roll with the punches, take whatever you’ve had thrown at you and work with it. The worst thing you can do is try to eliminate a problem by pretending it didn’t happen. The word will always get out, because it already did!

Because Disney pulled the trailer, it missed out on days of momentum building for its new movie. Basically, Disney sabotaged it’s own WOM campaign. Nike may not have gotten a lot of promotional use out of the LeBron video, but by the time Ben Roethlisberger was making headlines, every one would have forgot about LeBron’s debacle anyway.

Digital Reputation Management

Last night I had the opportunity to attend an event held by the Advertising Association of Baltimore about Digital Reputation Management. There were speakers from companies such as Google/YouTube, Pandora, and Wieden + Kennedy, and they provided useful tips for shaping the way we look at social media.

One of my favorite examples of an excellent use of social media and word of mouth was from Kris Hanson at Wieden + Kennedy. He gave this example of how they used integrated communications and fresh ideas to promote a different type of movie.

I found this example especially poignant because often clients come to us to “get into this social media thing” and  give them a Facebook page and a Twitter account. We are happy to help them enter this sometimes-ambiguous and ever-increasing opportunity for communication (and we’re pretty darn good at it if I do say so myself), but we encourage a more holistic and integrated look at communication with audiences. Take the example above: if W+K had just sent the boxes to bloggers and that was the entire promotion of the movie, it would have helped, but it wouldn’t have had the epic effects of the more integrated approach that they actually used. Social media is growing, and clients do need to enter the conversations, but not as a seperate effort from traditional advertising and PR. And don’t worry, that doesn’t always require storefronts, newspapers, and TV promotions – just some creative thinking!