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Managing brand reputation in a social world

By Thomas Costello - August 15, 2015

Earlier in August, we were lucky enough to invite 100 of our customers to Google’s London HQ where we ran a conference aimed at helping people improve the way they do business online. We would have loved it all of our customers could have joined us at the event, but for that to happen we would have had to tour football stadiums across the country. Instead, we’re going to be sharing the presentations from 123Conf right here on our blog. That way, you get to learn the same things as the people who attended the conference in person.

This first video deals with how small businesses can manage their reputations in a social world. It’s presented by me, Thomas Costello and I’m head of PR and communications at 123-reg. I hope you enjoy the video and if you have any questions, leave them as a comment and I’ll get back to you.

I’m going to be talking to you about brand reputation and social media. The thing about brand reputation, the thing about social media is that we could probably have a full conference today on just these two topics. So 25 minutes is a really kind of quick way into it. However, I’ll be around throughout the day if there are aspects that I haven’t covered that you do want to talk about. So hopefully we’ll get a lot out of today.

So who am I? So as Nick said I’m the head of PR and communications at 123-reg. I’m also a qualified journalist. I have a history degree where I specialised in media and how historical events were being covered by media throughout time. So media is where I sit, it’s what I’m really interested in, it’s kind of exactly what I wanted to do. I’ve worked at publications including the Independent, and the International Business Times. On top of that also, I’ve worked for a financial consultancy creating work for them as well.

So really the thing that I’m really interested in is, about three years ago I lived in Berlin for one year. In that time I did a little bit of investing in small businesses I also worked in a number of startups, in a really cool industry in Berlin. So hopefully I understand what you guys want from this, what’s interesting for you, the challenges that you face and hopefully we’ll get through some of those. I wanted to start by just showing you a quick video. For those people who don’t really understand what this topic is all about just to show you a quick clip to get things moving.

*video plays*

Ok. So a kind of funny way of looking at things, but certainly a lot of those aspects will ring true from what I’m saying. So we will be talking about brands, your reputation is at stake, to any small business your brand is probably the most important part of what you have. The tools with which you can find out what people are saying about you, engaging with and then as Nick said we’ll move on to some crisis management. Which hopefully will be better than the clip we just saw.

So, to start with let’s look at a quick example of what we’ve dealt with. I know there’s probably a lot of people at 123-reg at the moment probably with their hearts in their mouths “thinking what’s he doing?” But I think this is actually really important example to show you. So in May 2012, 123-reg was hit by a large scale DDOS attack. I’m not going to into the details of the DDOS attack, because fundamentally maybe I don’t understand everything about it. But fundamentally it’s a traffic surge that brought down our servers. It brought down our services which meant paradoxically it brought down our customers’ services, like yourselves.

This was only the third day of my tenure at 123-reg, so this was something that I was dealing with. At the same time I was working at the social media team and the PR team at the same time. So, working together, so we had a lot of dealings with this. And as I said this was a very severe attack that brought down your websites. It brought down our website. Although within 15 minutes we rerouted the traffic, our site was back up, customers were seeing their sites back up we did have some periodic issues for a couple of hours which meant our reputation was at stake and the way that we went about it and the way that we engaged and communicated to the customers and to the media was very important.

So, there was a lot of media attention. Probably the biggest news source in if not the world, certainly the UK had written this article. I haven’t shown you the article but I assure you the article was not negative about 123-reg. It talked about DDOS in an industry capacity and what the industry had to do and security companies need to do to prevent this. Now, this article could have been a lot worse. It could have spoke about how 123-reg wasn’t supporting small businesses and didn’t have the infrastructure to do that. However, it didn’t. It was a very positive news story. Not a positive news story, but we managed to turn it around.

And the way that we did this was through a couple of things. So we have some fantastic customer support staff that were talking to customers and they were talking and engaging with customers. We also had a very strong social media strategy where customers couldn’t come on to our website and ask us issues so they were tweeting us. So we had a very strong team replying to customers and keeping them informed.

And then kind of moving on from this, so media article weren’t that bad, they gave us some good positive light, customers were starting to get their websites back up. We also won a social media crisis management award for the way that we dealt with this crisis. So your brand at any time is under threat through lots of things you can’t control. The way that you react to things, the way that you proactively engage with things is very important. So I’ve spoken about what we’re going to talk about I guess at the moment what’s it actually going to mean for you?

The first thing is you’re all small businesses. You are going to hear today about loads and loads and load of different things that you need to do. You must be thinking why on Earth does this matter to me? So we’re going to really be talking why reputation does matter. The second part is the tools that you can use to really understand what people are saying and to engage and react to those conversations. So we’re going to show you a couple of free tools that you can use that really get to the heart of what people are saying. And thirdly, obviously, how do we deal with crisis?
So I wanted to talk about brand first to kind of set up the brand reputation and what brand means to us all. Ok. So this is a very convoluted sentence but read it out together. Brand is considered as a reflection of the spirit and soul of an organisation. This proclamation proposes that brand is not a representation of a company’s product; it is name, logo trademark and symbol of firm that distinguishes it and that is where the core brand loyalty takes its position. Brands show loyalty of end users. After continuous usage of brand, consumers feel it as part of them.

And that was written by David Aaker in 1991.

So I think there are two very important parts of this sentence. And the first one is that it’s what consumers feel for that organisation. And the second is that in some way there’s an acceptance that brands lose their ownership to end users, to the consumer. That it’s the consumer that owns that brand. Maybe that’s too far, but I think that’s a really important part. And I think two of my favourite brands at the moment kind of in 1991 David Aaker wrote this, maybe it still stand true. So the first one is AirBnB and the second one is Uber. So there brand is actually in the control of their customers and their users. If AirBnB has an issue with one of their hotels or a customer using one of the hotels that issue is then actually put on top of AirBnB, it becomes their issue. But actually they’ve given that assurance out. That’s where reputation really does take into an issue of its own.

So I now I want to talk a little bit about social media and the importance of where social media is lying within brand reputation. So there’s no halt to social momentum. Source Kissmetrics reports that Facebook usage is up 40% 2013, Twitter apparently is adding 300,000 users a day, 2.5 billion photos are uploaded to Facebook every single month and of UK consumers 78% of those consumers trust online social media recommendations.

So the chances are if you’re a brand or if you’re trading, social media is going to be a massive part of what you do. But those stats on their own their just stats. They’re just large scale pieces of information that mean very little. But I think this is where it really matters. So in the same survey what topics do consumers often discus on social media this is consumers: 69% of all discussions are about what consumers feel about a product they’ve just purchased. 55% of conversations are about the company’s customer service and 45% of that is specific companies’ treatment of their employees. All brand reputation issues. Consumers are talking about them. But then let’s move on to what companies are talking about on social media. So 88% of companies are talking about the quality of their products. Of course, that’s a brand issue. And 85% are talking about reputation of the whole of their business. So there is an absolute connect between what consumers are talking about and what brands are talking about. And how reputation management and the reputation of that brand is being spoken about on social. So does your reputation actually matter? Well of course it does. Consumers are increasingly using social media, social word of mouth, online reviews and other online content to form a judgment about your business.

Now the question their asking before they do anything when they go on to Google is “should I trust you”?. Now you can think for a couple of seconds or as you kind of go through the day are there any choke points in your business where you think “hmmmm maybe that’s causing do they trust me because of that, have I put my website link on to my social media do they know where to go? Is that the choke point? Have I got lots of negative reviews or such. Is there a choke point? “. Are people when they’re coming to your site thinking “I don’t trust this person, I don’t trust this business”. Lots of reasons why how we can get into that, but hopefully as we go through that will become a lot clearer.

It’s about creating a positive web presence. It’s to make your brand one that people trust. To an online consumer it doesn’t matter fundamentally how great your product is. If people don’t trust you, they don’t care. And that was shown in the slide before about what consumers are talking about. They’re talking about the quality of products. If they don’t and the customer service that they’re receiving. If those two aren’t correct. If that’s not happening, then it doesn’t matter how good the product is. People aren’t going to use it.

So what may you have to control? So I just wanted to open it up to you guys and ask what kind of issues you think you may have to control in your business. Anyone?
Reviews. Yes. So negative, positive reviews. From social media, from review sites. Anybody else? Ok that’s fine. You may have a supplier issue. A supplier may have let you down. But your customers are going to come to you and ask you what have you done about that? You may have a disgruntled customer, whatever issue has arisen you have to deal with that. A negative social media comment, you might have someone coming on to your social media asking you very probing questions you have to react and you have to have to deal with that. In a more large scale firm you may have a data or an information loss. Quite scary to think about that might happen, but it’s something you may have to deal with. Or you may have a major website error. You may have a copy error, you may have a pricing error that you’re going to have to deal with. So these are just a couple of examples to get you thinking about are any of those things could they happen to your business. If this happened tomorrow could you deal with it? Would you know how to deal with it? Would you like to deal with it or would you not want to? I think if you start thinking about the examples that could happen in your business then you start to work back and work out can I deal with that? Who would deal with that? Is it me or is it another member of my team or is it somebody else who would deal with that? So it’s about jumping over a crisis.

So we kind of just want to move on to the tools that you can use to monitor these conversations. So it’s been quite clear running through this that brand reputation and the management of it is absolutely key. But where are these conversations happening? Well, they’re happening on social media. They’re happening as an all-encompassing question of social media. So as we said early about online reviews as well it’s kind of the mainstream social conversations. So the first really good tool to use, and this is of no to Google. Google Alerts. Absolutely brilliant. We use it. I use it. It’s a fantastic way of getting conversation that are happening online through to your inbox so you can start reacting to them. If you go to Google.com/alerts, fill in your brand name or your search queries, the things that you think people are talking about that are considered to your brands, set up a few alerts, start getting some alerts in, see whether you’re missing any of these conversations and then you can start learning how to deal with them. To begin with you may start getting hundreds and hundreds of alerts because maybe the keywords are too broad, but you’ll get the hang of it and you’ll start bringing it down to actually what your brand is about.

Social Mention is another great tool. Very easy to use, you find out about mentions that are happening on your social media channels and you can engage with them and start looking at them.
Twitter. Creating a search on Twitter just for your brand name. Do you know what people are saying about you? Are they saying? If you don’t have Twitter have you looked to see what people are saying? Maybe it’ll push you into the need of actually having a social media account. But Twitter is a fantastic resource for just search for what people are saying.

And another great tool to use is Tweetdeck. Where you can have all of your social media profiles in one and you can start engaging with customers across the social media platforms that you have. The most important thing about all of these tools, in some way or another they’re free. All it costs you is your time and your effort to put into these. So protecting your brand, knowing what’s happening on social , it actually doesn’t cost any money. All it costs is your time. And it’s important to make sure you put those hours in.

So I wanted to just put two examples in front of you of moving into now we’re thinking about so something may have happened we’re thinking about conversations that we’ve dealt with and now we’re looking at we now need to do something.

Does anybody have any idea what this relates to? BP oil crisis and the famous quote from the CEO “I’d like my life back”. I think a really important part of this and I think what is missed in all of this is 11 rig workers died on the Deepwater Horizon rig. Within all of these cartoons that are created they always mock the CEO but 11 people did die. As a public relations strategy it was a disaster. There’s no doubt about it. It’s a classic example of reputation management misfiring.

The event itself, which was the biggest offshore spill in US history, was a tragedy and environmental disaster. Obviously Tony Hayward was the CEO who made this awful quote. But it wasn’t just what was said to the media. It was also what they didn’t do on their website. So it wasn’t just a PR disaster. Their website had scant information of the disaster, the situation and only minimal links to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. They actually removed some of the links to their accounts so people weren’t getting to conversations that were happening. Also on their websites they were also offer potential plaintiffs $5,000 to not issue lawsuits. So they weren’t dealing with the issue, they were just trying to hide it. And I think that’s an important part of it, that we need to react and we need to be open and we need to be honest about things that have happened.

Case study two. Slightly less tragic. “Ryan found two more four bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer. When we drink we do it right. I’ve practiced this hash tag getting slizzered. ”
Any idea where this comes from? Would it surprise you to hear that it came from the American Red Cross Twitter account? I think we can all probably work out what’s happened here. One of American Red Cross’s social media employees accidentally sent this tweet out on their official channel. Strangely enough it was actually there for one hour before anyone noticed. Social media director Wendy Harman followed up, so once it was noticed, brought to the attention, their social media director got involved and she followed up with a humours tweet from the official Twitter account acknowledging their mistake. But also I think what was really good about this one maybe because American Red Cross is a charity and it has goodwill to begin with, potentially, it was able to kind of by humour get its way out of this quite tricky situation. So Dogfish Head also embraced the hashtag getting slizzard. So it became a joke. But it only became a joke because they engaged with it. They accepted their mistake and they got goodwill because of it. So there’s a bit of buzz, bloggers and Twittersphere kind of went a bit crazy. It was fun. It was a bit of fun. The company was fine. No harm done. But it is a very important part that if you do give your Twitter accounts out to other people or you use Twitter accounts personally make sure you know who they are make sure they’re using systems like Tweetdeck and they’re not just logging in through the interfaces because mistakes can happen. This could have been a very different Tweet. As you’ve probably in lots of different scenarios and this result may not have happened.

So if it does happen to you my biggest piece of advice to you is integrity is vitally important. It’s being honest, it’s being open about a situation that’s occurred. A bit of advice. My kind of day to day job that we may do. This may not work entirely for you but please talk to me if you think there’s other things that we’ve missed here. First thing is work out what’s happened. Talk to the people. Whether it’s a supplier issue, talk to the suppliers get the facts and then start working out whether you need to create a statement, whether that goes on your blog or on your website or on your social media, but make sure you get the facts before you even begin to think about communicating a scenario.

I think it’s also very important to acknowledge and empathise with the users that are affected. I think probably something BP didn’t do was they didn’t empathise with people. It was about them, it was about Andy Hayward. I don’t think that was an intentional thing, but that’s how it came across. So make sure you acknowledge the situation and you empathise with people. As I say be open and honest. Transparency is very vital. Think about how you’re going to be perceived two or three months down the line. If people find out that you’ve hid information, if people find out that you may not have been completely honest about what had happened, how are they going to think of your brand three months down the line? What social media conversations are still going to be happening about your brand and are people then going to start asking the questions do I trust you?

And probably every single business from small business like yourselves, medium to large firms like 123-reg, even giants like Google need to prepare and they need to practice dealing with these situations. If I can leave with some more information in terms of if this does happen to you. Having a plan of action is vitally important but you’ve got to test that plan. You’ve got to find out does it have any chinks in the armour. Are there things that could go wrong that aren’t in the plan? If you don’t know, if you don’t create this plan, if you don’t practice it, if you don’t test it out, you haven’t got a chance of knowing and then unfortunately, if this does happen to you in your businesses, then you have a situation where you’re unprepared when you actually thought you were prepared and that’s a very, very nasty and quite tricky situation to be in.

But I think it potentially comes across that this is very negative, it’s very. So we’ve kind of spoken about design and it’s great and we’ve talked about emotion this is great and then I’ve come along and said wow we’re all in trouble here. It’s not really the case, I think we do have to be mindful that issues can happen, we do have to mindful that when an issue occurs that is completely out our control we have to deal with it but you can turn these things around into very, very positive news stories as I’ve shown.

You know we’re not the only company to have done that and we’re not going to be the last company and I think it’s very important thing is once you get the facts once you acknowledge, once you empathise, once you’ve been honest suddenly goodwill comes to you as was shown in the American Red Cross situation. They said a PR guy couldn’t make a sales pitch so let’s try it. Your reputation begins with your domain name, 123-reg is a domain registrar. That’s it. But it’s vitally important that you think about brand reputation also in the naming of your business and your domain name. Slightly uncomfortable showing you some of these but it’s not a nothing to be worried about.

Clearly we have an issue here. But it’s unintentional. These people didn’t mean to do this. But if you don’t think about it, if you don’t read it you’ve got a problem on your hands. Another one. Again unintentional. And also one down the bottom. So think about how words can be misconstrued.

How was that for a sales pitch? Did it work?

Ok. Cool. So first and foremost keep calm crises are there to be dealt with, they’re there to challenge you. To make you think about your business, to understand where the chinks in your armour are. But certainly keep calm and think about what you’re doing. Because the importance of your reputation matters more than ever especially to small businesses. It’s almost uniform across small to large businesses, you know, reputation is everything that we have and it’s something that we really hold key to our success is going to be how people think about our brands. But sometimes situations are beyond our control, beyond your control, even beyond companies like Google’s control. But they need to be addressed and they need to be managed in a way that works for you. As Robert was saying before, in terms of kind of creating humour and emotion, it’s got to be what works for you and if you’re happy and if you can sleep at night about the way you’ve dealt with something, then you’ve probably gone about it the right way.

But it’s also vital that businesses like yourselves are tackling these issues head on, that you’re keep people informed, that you’re engaging with a situation. Whether that’s a positive or a negative situation, make sure that you always communicate what you’re doing. Businesses should use the power of social media, I think it’s clear. The conversations are happening about businesses every single minute of every single day. If you’re not there, if you’re not engaging, there’s something you’re missing. Maybe you’re missing a customer that needs the service that you have and you’re missing out on it. Maybe a customer has a problem and you’re not engaging and they go elsewhere. I think that’s the point of using social media. I think also businesses shouldn’t hide away. Don’t hide away, don’t think it will pass by. I can give you my experience, it won’t. You’ve got to deal with these things and you’ve got to make sure that you do have a plan.
Just before I finished and we have lunch, go here. 123-reg blog. It’s a fantastic resource for small businesses looking for advice, guides, tutorials. In video format, in written format, it’s a fantastic resource. I certainly recommend visiting it as much as possible, as much as you need it.

Also, today isn’t a one off for 123-reg. As Richard was saying earlier, this is part of a wider educational commitment that we have to our customers. Each month we host a evening workshop with Enterprise Nation at Somerset House. This is for small businesses to understand a topic and we have regular speakers every month to kind of teach you about certain things. So an extension of today is happening, after today you’re not alone, we’re here to help. as much as we can. If you want to connect with me on, I set up a new Twitter for this event costello_uk, or connect with me on LinkedIn. I don’t use Facebook. And I don’t think we have time for questions because we have to have lunch, so thank you for listening and grab me at any time.