In Age of Social Media, Brands Must Stay On Top of Reputations Capable of Changing on a Dime

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This post is the latest in our “Word of Mouth” series. It’s our editorial focus for the month of February, including topics like reputation management, and reviews optimization. See the rest of the series here

A single video posted to YouTube was all it took for Chuck E. Cheese’s online reputation to go up in flames this month, at least temporarily, when an internet celebrity posted his theory about the pizza chain’s misshapen pies. As viral conspiracy theories on social media become increasingly common, brands are finding that their initial response can set the tone and create a carry-on effect that impacts customer sentiment across dozens of multimedia channels.

In Chuck E. Cheese’s case, quick-thinking social media managers dug into the situation almost immediately, responding to individual customer concerns across Twitter and other social channels. The company also released a statement flatly denying the conspiracy and explaining why their pizzas aren’t always uniform in shape.

That sort of authentic, clear response is what digital experts like Joe Scartz, chief digital commerce officer at the creative commerce agency TPN, say is necessary given how quickly customer complaints can go viral in today’s fast-paced environment.

“There is less tolerance for any sort of slight than there has been in the past, yet there is still the need for brands to be authentic,” Scartz explains.

In addition to monitoring social for clients, Scartz says the teams at his agency are helping brands craft thoughtful and authentic responses to unforeseen comments that may have a carry-on effect.

“We think about reputation across all touchpoints and that has a lot to do with how we think about CX [customer experience] across all engagements from social to search to site to e-commerce,” he says. “Given the speed of [the culture] right now, we are acting even faster.”

People who complain about brands on Twitter want responses, and they want them fast. According to a survey by Lithium Technologies, 78% of people who complain to a brand over Twitter expect a response within one hour. What if that doesn’t happen? The same survey found that 15% of people who didn’t get a response during that one-hour timeframe say they would shame the company on social media.

In a separate consumer survey, this one conducted last year, 83% of people said they expect to get a response from a brand within one day if they try to interact on social media, and 38% expect a response within an hour.

The stories that people share on social media can spread far and wide, causing significant damage to a company’s online reputation that can linger even once the initial dispute is resolved.

Fighting Negative with Positive

While negative stories have the greatest chance of going viral, the vast majority of consumer feedback on social media is still very positive. In a recent survey, Yes Marketing found that social media users are more likely to engage with a retailer on social media when they want to share positive feedback (29%) than negative feedback (20%).

Of course, it’s human nature for people to focus on the negative reviews instead of on the positive. In today’s multichannel world, more consumers are starting their product research online, and that’s true across a wide swath of categories. Negative reviews on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, as well as social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, can leave a lasting impact on a brand’s reputation.

Numerous studies have found a link between ratings on platforms like Google My Business and sales performance. In the restaurant industry, specifically, one study found that even small changes in Google page ratings resulted in significantly different levels of sales growth performance.

While it can be tempting to manipulate reviews with third-party apps and other “dark” tools, Scartz says it’s important that brands cultivate reviews authentically and ethically. He’s seen brands have success sending written requests to buyers asking them to review products and says the visibility of testimonials and authentic usage stories on branded e-commerce websites is incredibly important.

Over at the business text messaging platform Zipwhip, chief marketing officer Scott Heimes is seeing a growing number of businesses texting customers in a bid to solicit feedback and reviews as well.

“As such a high-priority medium, reaching out and hearing back from customers becomes a much easier task with texting,” Heimes says. “When text messaging is used to solicit feedback, not only will businesses have a guarantee that the message will be seen by customers, they can also deliver and expect responses in a timeframe that makes sense in the customer lifecycle.”

Not only can online reviews feed direct sales, both online and offline, but it can also have a positive impact on a brand’s overall reputation.

Customers who’ve purchased a single product from a company are far less likely to leave positive reviews than longtime customers, who have developed a relationship with the brand over a period of months or years.

That’s where loyalty programs come into play.

Loyalty’s Impact on Customer Sentiment

Customer loyalty programs are designed to build emotional connections between customers and brands. Marketers who think these programs are just about discounts and cash back are behind the eight ball. Today’s programs are really about making customers feel special and valued, which translates to more positive online mentions on social media and across review websites.

“Brands have recognized that building customer loyalty is no longer just about points and discounts, but also strengthening relationships with consumers long-term,” says Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Commerce, which specializes in the design, development, and implementation of loyalty programs.

Caporaso says brands like Wayfair, Lululemon, and CVS have implemented premium loyalty tiers into their marketing strategies. Since these programs target a brand’s best customers, they make these shoppers exponentially more valuable—becoming so engaged that they become true advocates, and the brand becomes a part of the fabric of their daily lives.

Brand advocates can have a major impact on a brand’s reputation, as they’re more likely to defend the brand against attacks on social media and post positive reviews on third-party sites. Scartz says they can also be a valuable resource for brands looking to avoid controversy in the future. Mining consumer reviews offers brands key insights into what is working with certain products and what isn’t.

“From the retailer perspective, buyers are absolutely looking at reviews of first-party and competitive products as well, so clearly they should be monitored,” he says. “Additionally, as retailers expand deeper into private label, they are looking for hints there as well.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.
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