As I read various published articles and posts, sometimes I feel that communications experts tend to overcomplicate the approach to responsible reputation management – especially when discussion is focused on the digital sphere. While legions of credible tools and technologies are available to support reputation initiatives, I worry that the basics get lost in the fray. It seems to me that protecting brand equity should begin with common sense and due diligence. Stated in simpler terms – do your homework.
Now, to avoid oversimplifying such an important topic, I should note that I divide the “homework” into three distinct phases: (1) baseline research; (2) continuous monitoring; and (3) benchmarking against peers.
A sound strategy begins with a thorough baseline audit of conversations involving the brand. There’s nothing flashy about this step, but it does require considerable time and effort. Start this step with a snapshot of media coverage using the brand name and other key search terms relevant to the brand. Google News or an online clipping service can provide the raw content for further hands-on analysis. With traditional media sources reviewed, turn an eye to digital outlets with a search of blogs and other online content. Both Google Blog Search and Icerocket capture a good slice of digital conversations.
Aside from determining the tone and focus of content, pay particular attention to whether key brand messages survive the author’s filter and appear in the final content. This is a good method for measuring the success of strategic campaigns and day-to-day communications efforts. When complete, this baseline assessment of tone, focus and message penetration provides a fuller portrait of an organization’s overall reputation.
With the heavy lifting of a baseline audit complete, savvy communicators continue the exercise with sustained monitoring of conversations (both online and with traditional media) to ensure reputational equity is preserved. Several online sources, including sites mentioned above, can monitor key search terms automatically and regularly send digested results by e-mail or RSS feed. By developing an early warning system, organizations can act quickly to blunt attacks on a brand or even elect to participate in conversations to influence readers.
Keep an Eye on Your Neighbor
The third phase is optional, but highly practical in today’s competitive marketplace. This step extends the research beyond the organization, focusing on competitors’ reputations and brand images. Knowing how a competitor communicates and is viewed generally provides valuable insight on how best to position an organization publicly and can reveal a treasure trove of best practice knowledge. Opposition or competitive research is customary practice on the political battlefield, but not employed nearly enough in corporate communications. This step involves a quarterly or semiannual competitive audit of primary competitors, modeled in practice after the baseline audit in the first phase.
Although not as glamorous as the newest, cutting-edge technology solution, good, old-fashioned research is one of the most effective and powerful reputation management tools. It provides a deeper understanding of current communications strategies, a defense against brand attacks and methods to gain the upper hand over competitors. And it’s easy – you just have to do your homework.