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Reputation Management in the Age of Social Media

Without a doubt, social media has dramatically changed the speed and impact at which a corporate crisis can develop and escalate. In healthcare particularly, social media has changed the rules of engagement about how a crisis is managed. Now that social media drives a 24-hour news cycle, patient problems can become crises and go public within an instant. This means that organizations must be prepared to manage a crisis on the spot.

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Before a problem escalates into a full-blown crisis, it is wise that an organization take steps to manage its reputation so that, if eventually faced with a crisis (and sooner or later, everyone is), they are in a better position to weather it.  And, one of the best ways to manage your reputation is to monitor what is being said about you on social media, otherwise known as “listening.”

A study from the London School of Economics revealed that a two percent reduction in negative word of mouth boosts sales growth by one percent. Case in point: according to computer giant Dell, their average customer is worth $210; their average online detractor costs them $51, while their average online promoter earns them $32.

Regardless of how these numbers were arrived at, what they show is that negative comments posted online have almost double the impact of positive ones. And, while traditional media good news tends to be a byline while bad news resonates and spreads, the difference with social media is that the “spread” is almost instantaneous. 

For those organizations who want to start tracking their social media buzz to manage their reputation (and who wouldn’t), following are some simple steps to take:

  • First, decide what you want to track – what are the primary keywords relating to your company that you want to monitor in online conversations?
  • Set up accounts that monitor social media – while there are hundreds of available options, Google Alerts is a great tool for general mentions. Other tracking resources include SocialMention, Monitter and BoardTracker, to name just a few. The best part is that these resources are free!
  • Establish alerts and searches…and set up alerts or RSS feeds that notify you when your keywords are mentioned. Having an RSS reader or home page where all the information collected can be aggregated makes it easier to read, review and evaluate.
  • Set up company accounts on social media – when a comment appears online that your organization should respond to quickly, your own social media sites provide the ability to respond directly to your detractors from that same interface. Set up these accounts on all major social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Flickr, as well as any industry-specific or consumer forums where your organization is most likely to be mentioned.

Healthcare providers need to pay attention to what their patients are saying and respond to problems immediately. Even a vague response is better than none at all and shows your community that you are on top of the situation and seeking to resolve it. 

So – you’re tracking social media and notice comments about your organization that are less than complimentary. What do you do? 

As a rule, it is always important to respond to comments and posts that could turn hostile and eventually, become fodder for escalating a crisis by following these guidelines:

  • Act quickly – social media is a real-time resource so the quicker your response, the better. You can minimize or curtail stakeholder misconceptions and fix problems instantly through a quick, smart reply. Remember though, that blog posts and forum comments remain in search engine results forever, so it is critical that your viewpoint receives similar air-time.
  • Be cordial – avoid being angry or threatening in your responses. Instead, be reasonable and rational with detractors. Try to understand their point of view. By demonstrating that you’re listening, it’s likely you’ll win respect and support from others. 

Also, when online discussions arise that relate to your industry, involving your organization early on by communicating your perspective is beneficial. This encourages promoters to support you and de-emphasizes detractor comments.

Of course, the best way to get started in managing your reputation is by developing a crisis management plan that outlines specific roles and responsibilities and is shared across the entire organization, and is tested at least twice annually.