Bullying is not Just for School Recess

As we approach the time that many parents are anticipating with great relish – sending kids back to school – we may have fond or not so fond memories from our own childhood of the schoolyard and recess. After all, we may have just survived summer camp which was often a rite of passage. It may have been the first time we were living away from our family for a day, a week or the summer. It served as a signal to some kids that they were no longer bound by the ‘rules’. True, there were new rules which the hormone drenched camp counselors may not have equally applied – or even noticed when if they were being breached. The school recess, since it is routine, may be even more of a challenge.

The equivalent of the camp prank or the recess taunt takes on much more sinister connotations when your or your business’s online reputation is at stake. In this case, you don’t have a camp counselor, overworked teacher or a concerned parent to help battle the cyberbully. So what can you do?

Customer Service
Providing outstanding customer service is your first line of defense to counteract any issues before they fester and foment. Train all of your employees, not just those in a customer facing role, to adhere to the cardinal rules of exceptional customer services and do whatever they can to place the customer first. As Stew Leonard, CEO of Stew Leonard’s famously quoted regarding customer service: Rule 1: The customer is always right. Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, re-read Rule 1.

Public Relations
Okay, you and your team have given stellar service, but someone is still not happy – and they are telling everyone that listens/reads that your service or product or company is subpar. It would also not be beyond the pale of some unscrupulous competitor to plant unkind and inaccurate reports while hiding behind the anonymity of the online world. Valid or not, your online reputation has taken a hit as a result.

While your first reaction is to either retaliate or hide in the online version of fight or flight, there are some practical steps you should take (especially if the comments may be true). BP would have been better served after the Gulf oil spill to be more visible and engage the public in a more honest or forthright manner.

For negative comments or posts, respond to them by first thanking them for their input, then acknowledging their issue, apologizing and offering a solution if at all possible. Tell them what you are doing to make sure the issue does not re-occur. Online, you are not only addressing a customer service issue (“how can we make this better for YOU”) but also speaking to the entire online world, including potential clients or customers (“how can I prevent this from happening AGAIN to OTHERS”) which becomes a Public Relations issue.

If you get positive comments or posts, take the opportunity to get some social cred by asking if they would be willing to have their quote serve as a testimonial on your website. Encourage positive posters by offering a contest on who has the best customer service experience with your company – timing is everything here, so be cognizant of your actions. Ask for authorization to highlight or feature their positive experience in a white paper or other marketing collateral.

Leverage that very same internet by monitoring your online mentions across all platforms (industry forums and review sites, social media, blogs, etc.) so you can respond in a timely fashion. Use tools such as Google Alerts, SocialMention.com and others to see if there are posts about you and your company and respond accordingly.

Marketing Programs
Now that you are actively repairing any reputational hits your online presence may have taken, take the opportunity to ‘lead the conversation’ as marketing experts say by keeping the dialogue going. Use Social Media and all outlets at your disposal (Blogs, YouTube, employees and happy customers) to keep the message fresh and positive. Guide the conversation in the direction that is consistent with your brand, your message, your voice. Make sure that all of your online presence looks the same from a branding perspective. Use your logo, fonts, color scheme and all other design elements that lead to visual recognition on all outlets.

Online reputation damage control requires a commitment. Once your reputation has been repaired, ongoing maintenance through monitoring and engagement will require some effort but will enhance your overall marketing program.