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📄 Contents

  1. Reputation and Risk Management
  2. Managing Your Reputation with a “Plan” to Reduce Risk
  3. Learn from Great Examples
  4. Conclusion
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This chapter is from the book

Managing Your Reputation with a “Plan” to Reduce Risk

The goal of your Reputation and Risk Management Plan is to avoid the need for a recovery, but to be ready in case one happens. The following simple 1-2-3 steps can prepare you for the worst but ensure that you are growing and building your online reputation as well:

  1. Listen.
  2. Create your brand army.
  3. Create a response plan.

1. Listen: Do You Know There Is an Issue?

In C. S. Lewis’s book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the light of a lonely lamppost in the forest guides Lucy through the wardrobe into the fantasy world of Narnia. In Social Business, listening acts as a guide, through the vast magical and interesting world of the blogosphere. Listening is about monitoring what is being written (or said or videoed!) about your company, brand, or product. It can even include the category that your product is in, for instance, sports drinks or IT companies.

Listening is mandatory for building your reputation, not just when things go wrong but for understanding about your reputation drivers as well. Listening well can help you avoid any social business disaster from occurring.

The value of proactive listening is that it also assists you in understanding your prospects, clients, and, of course, competitors. It leads to action and awareness of conversations that will compel your company to respond. Because your URL isn’t just your website anymore, but everywhere you are on the Web, listening is important to your digital presence. You are building a brand through images and text, and your head is on the “guillotine” everyday if you just rest and don’t stay totally tuned in a systemic approach. Business, corporation-related and societal events, and basically everything are simply interconnected and need simultaneous dedicated listening.

There is too much information being processed online for you to listen manually. I would advise you to explore the automated tools that exist. There are many free tools as well as tools for purchase that can help you gather all the data being said on your product, brand, and team.

A tip here is to determine your keywords that are relative to your business. Keywords are those words that are associated with your listening focus. It would be your company, product, or brand. It might include your category, like ketchup, as opposed to listening for just Heinz. These are words that are key to your success in the marketplace. For example, if you are in the wireless telecommunications industry, those keywords are dropped calls, 3g, mobile apps, smartphone, data plan, and so forth. Keywords should reflect what is important to your business. One tool to assist you in the determination of those keywords is Google Keyword Tool. If you type in a term, it shows you the other terms that people are using when they are also searching for your term. For instance, if I type in Sandra Carter, it suggests “Sandy Carter.” If I type in SOA, the Google Keyword Tool shows “flexible architecture.”

Another free tool I use is called TweetDeck. I use it to select keywords on brand or category and see all the mentions of that word in any Tweet. It is still a somewhat manual process, but it does provide you a way to listen and respond. You can also use HootSuite, and I know that Twitter itself is trying to make its environment friendlier for searching and listening to these keywords. If you are looking for more sophisticated ways to listen, tools such as IBM’s Cognos® Consumer Insight enable you to listen and see sentiment through an automated collection of Social Business and powerful analytics.

Some of the tools in this growing space include these:

  • IBM Cognos Consumer Insight: A tool to analyze consumer sentiment on publicly available social media sites—blogs, forums, and discussion groups. You can find more information about this tool at www-01.ibm.com/software/analytics/cognos/analytic-applications/consumer-insight/.
  • Social Mention: Provides free daily email alerts of your brand, company, CEO, or marketing campaign, or on a developing news story, a competitor, or the latest on a celebrity. You can find more information about this tool at www.socialmention.com/.
  • TweetEffect: Helps you find out which of your Twitter updates made people follow or leave you. You can find more information about this tool at www.tweeteffect.com.
  • Converseon: A social media listening agency that listens “for you.” This listening is one of the many types that we at IBM leverage. You can find more information about Converseon at www.converseon.com.
  • Spiral16: Software tool set that provides a fresh approach to social media monitoring based on organization, accuracy, visualization, and analysis. You can find more information about this tool at www.spiral16.com.
  • Google Alerts: Provides batch or streaming updates of the latest relevant Google results (Web, news, etc.) based on your choice of keywords or topics. You can find more information about this tool at www.google.com/alerts.
  • Insights: A search tool for Facebook walls to help you identify the traffic around a set of keywords and phrases. You can find more information about this tool at https://developers.facebook.com/docs/insights.
  • TweetDeck: A free tool that enables you to monitor keywords on your category or brand. You can find more information about this tool at www.tweetdeck.com.
  • HootSuite: A free tool that enables you to monitor keywords on your category or brand. You can find more information about this tool at http://hootsuite.com/.
  • Samepoint: A tracker of conversations throughout social media sites. User-generated discussions are typically not indexed by major search engines, such as Google, because they do not reside on static pages. Samepoint.com converts these discussions into web pages, or permalinks, and organizes them within a tag cloud. You can find more information about this tool at www.samepoint.com/.
  • Follower Wonk: A Twitter application that creates Venn diagrams showing the overlap among followers of up to three different Twitter accounts. You can find more information about this tool at http://followerwonk.com.
  • Alexa.com/siteinfo: A site that enables you to measure the ranking of your website with the Alexa scoring. You can find more information about this tool at www.alexa.com/siteinfo.

What you want to listen for are items that you have deemed helpful for you to improve your brand or product, as well as negative comments that might be untrue or biased. If you can determine the topics that are important to your business and identify them as potential keywords, those are the words you should search for. Over time, refinement of your listening will enable you to search for new keywords, noting keyword trends.

Some of the things you want to listen for include comments to improve your product, your company, or new trends on the horizon. The way you share the information that you learn from listening will also be a key to your success. Listening is about professional development. Everyone inside of your company should be familiar with what is going on in the marketplace daily. Knowing what is going on makes employees better at their jobs.

Some things that could cause a red alert include employee misuse of the tools, or issues that need to be handled right away, such as quality or safety issues. Of course, complaints and concerns should be explored. Some might require a response and some might not.

Things that I look for include the following:

  • Brandjacking: Brand hijacking happens when consumers appropriate the brand for themselves and add meaning to it. For instance, one of our Senior Leaders at IBM found that someone was impersonating him on Twitter.
  • Employee or contractor/supplier/agency misuse: For instance, Chrysler fired their social media agency after they used a Twitter f-bomb.
  • Quality and safety issues: Think about United’s quality issue in handling baggage.
  • Activist protest wave: Nestlé saw a negative Twitter tsunami when a Forest Activist, one week before the U.S. Easter holiday, put up videos about the supposed destruction of forests by Nestlé. There were more than 1.2 million negative YouTube videos, and 95,000 Facebook fans who saw the negative messages.
  • Trade secrets being shared: Sharing confidential information is a big issue and is why one of IBM’s Social Business guidelines is to not share this type of information.
  • Criminal activity: Anything that is illegal needs to be immediately addressed.
  • Foul and abusive language: The previous example of Chrysler illustrates this point.
  • Threats against individuals: At no time should an individual be targeted. In the David Carroll video about United, he later apologized for calling out one employee by name.

The important element in this first step is to ensure that you know what is happening around your company and brand. To build your reputation, improve it, or avert a crisis, you must understand what is being said, who is saying it, where it is being said, and how impactive it could be. If your PR team or newspaper is telling you about it, it is probably too late. The following list shows the keys to planning for proactive listening:

  1. Create search words applicable to your Social Business.
  2. Select one or more tools for listening.
  3. Train on what to listen for.

Chapter 7, “Analyze Your Data,” covers more in-depth ways to listen.

2. Create Your Brand Army

Maggie Fox, CEO and founder of Social Media Group, coined the term “brand army.” A brand army is a group of unpaid and paid advocates (that is, your employees!) who engage on behalf of your brand. Your brand army consists of your employees, management, and C suite, and your “friends.” Remember that the C suite does not have to be the CEO, but could be a leader in a division or someone influential.

This brand army for your company needs to stay at the forefront of all your brand’s news, connections, and actions. In essence, they shape your brand online. They need to embrace transparency while they engage and exchange information with your clients, friends, and fans. They need to be “in the know” and be responsive. Patrick Vogt, writer for Forbes.com, made a great comment on the value they can bring if viewed from a long-term perspective:

“Topics that do surface have tremendous value for a learning organization, and must be cataloged and reviewed by senior management on a regular basis.”

Take the team seriously. You wouldn’t put interns in charge of investor relations, so don’t put them in charge of your online response! Also, always ensure that legal is part of your brand army. Legal needs to be a full partner in the team.

Your team needs to be in the know—they need to have the information in order to be effective. At IBM, I have my top brand advocates on my brand army, and I communicate to them via private email or more often through phone calls because of the urgency sometimes on the subject so that they have the latest information and can help me shape it. My brand advocates are typically tippers in the area on which I am focused. The number is not important, but what is important is that this is a group of people who love your company, brand, or product and are willing to take a stand because of that passion. This communication needs to occur on a regular basis and especially in times of crisis. Although it seems simple, many companies forget to share this valued information while in the midst of a potential challenge.

This team needs a content activation strategy both for overall reputation management and during a crisis. A content activation strategy is a plan for how content is created, distributed, promoted, and measured. For instance, when your company has a new product announcement, who creates the package of information to share with your top bloggers? In fact, this concept is becoming so important that there is a new role being created, the Chief Content Officer. (Note: LinkedIn has a group just for this new role, at http://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=2921919&trk=anet_ug_hm !.)

In a noncrisis, making sure that the right content is in the right hands is very important. Things like the following would be important to share:

Quick Cheat Sheet:

  • Twitter Handle (ID) is: @xxx
  • Official Twitter Hashtag: #xxx
  • Shortened URL for the Best Site for Information: xxx

Hot Topics This Week:

  • Additional recommendations to drive the dialogue: deep content
  • Learn more and spread the word! Educational topics

Most FAQs:

  • Question 1:
  • Question 2:

Suggestions on Communities to Join:

  • Subscribe to xxx

In the midst of a crisis, sometimes the people who should be creating and distributing content are consumed in putting out the fire. This is too important to miss. A Social Business will often establish a shared services model with a Social Business Reputation and Risk Manager. The role of this individual is to own the responsibility for listening and then filtering information to the correct departments inside the organization. For example, the Social Business Reputation and Risk Manager might pick up a negative sentiment around supporting a product. It is not his or her responsibility to respond, but instead his or her responsibility to notify the appropriate brand army (customer support and advocacy) to handle that situation. The task of making sure you have built the relationships and trust with your brand army includes arming them with strong content.

Finally, I discussed the importance of employee training in Chapter 2, “Align Organizational Goals and Culture.” This element is essential in the midst of a crisis. Your first steps should be a Social Business Guideline document and training. Take, for instance, supermarket chain Price Chopper. When a client complained in a tweet about the supermarket, the supermarket’s public relations team went to the tweeter’s employer and asked for disciplinary action to be taken. (How did they find out his employer? They went to the client’s Twitter id and determined his employer from his profile.) It turns out that the customer’s friend is a top blogger, and he blogged about the incident, with lots of comments on the situation, and how it was handled (http://pricechopperfail.tumblr.com/post/1156969465/price-chopper-attacks-customers-job-over-negative-tweet). Needless to say, all employees should be trained on how to respond to negative comments.

The following list articulates the key items for your planning with your brand army:

  1. Determine your brand army, including brand advocates, legal, executives, subject matter experts, and others critical to your success.
  2. Define the roles of Digital Council, Social Business Reputation and Risk Manager, Executive Team, and Brand Advocates.
  3. Plan for your “alert system,” whether red/yellow/green or number-based.
  4. Refine your content activation strategy before, during, and after a crisis.
  5. Train everyone.

3. Create a Response Plan

The response plan should be created ahead of any challenge or crisis. It consists of a few items. Think through the following:

  • Who flags an issue? To whom does the issue get flagged? PR? Analyst Relations? Legal?
  • When should action be taken and who takes the action? Sometimes, communications isn’t the way to solve. A rating system helps here. The worse the situation, the higher the response should come!
  • Which tool(s) should be used to respond?
  • What should the content and overall tone be in the response?
  • How do you treat comments? In my opinion, you should treat all social comments as if you were talking to clients, stakeholders, investors, and competitors, because you are!


The first thing your response plan needs to focus on is clear roles on who will flag when a response is required. Usually the Social Business Reputation and Risk Manager will be the one responsible for this action based on an analytics system (see Chapter 7). This person should be trained and empowered to do this important work. Also, make sure your brand army understands the plan and protocol. Basically, the job description for the Social Business Reputation and Risk Manager is to listen, determine the response and who should respond, contribute to the content activation strategy, and arm the brand army with the facts.


Next, develop a rating system for items that need to be addressed and those will be communicated in an official capacity to the overall team—including your Digital Council. This again should be led by your Social Business Reputation and Risk Manager. That manager should know the Terms of Service for each social tool. For example, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook all have their own guidelines on unacceptable conduct. I personally contacted YouTube, for instance, when someone commented on a video that violated YouTube’s guidelines for posted comments. They took care of the situation right away for me.

I recommend establishing an internal set of terms of service, perhaps in a red or yellow rating on items that you monitor. A great best practice is having a dashboard on these for C suite and for the Social Business Reputation and Risk Manager.

A red rating is one that is a concern to your company—and this does vary by company. Typically, a top executive would address a red-rated item, and given that response time is paramount, plan ahead for which executives are the key communicators. A red-rated item might be a security breach or a tragic product-quality issue. But also know when to take a conversation offline. Sometimes it is best to do a face-to-face or phone call.

A yellow-rated item is a cautionary item of interest. Some of these might be answered and addressed by your community. Again, each company has its own tolerance level. An example of a yellow-rated item would be several comments on a product feature someone doesn’t like, or a customer service issue.

Of course, there will be comments in the blogosphere that you will not respond to. Examples would include a client comparing your brand (maybe unfavorably) to another brand, or a minor negative comment on your product. Think through the criteria for those as well.

Make sure you allow for a dialogue. You will need an FAQ wiki so that the details and questions plus your responses are given to the brand army. Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers to all the questions. As the information becomes available, you will be able to fill in the blanks. But do not publish an external FAQ without the ability to comment and allow for discussion. Use your blog, your Facebook fan page, or your community site to invite discussion.

Which Tools?

Your choice of response tool will be important, too. In some cases, I have seen an issue in Twitter and the company responds on their website. This does not work. As the saying goes, “fight [social] fire with [social] fire,” meaning that if the comment was made on Twitter, refute the comment on Twitter. It is critical that you address the issue where the crisis broke out. So if the comment was made on YouTube, address it on YouTube; if it was made on Twitter, then go for Twitter.


Of course the content that you respond with makes a difference. Do your research and make sure you release data in real time even though you might not have all the information complete. If you made a mistake, then apologize. In every relationship an apology opens the door to conversation. Make sure you discuss why the issue happened and what you are doing about it. For example, did you appoint the wrong type of person for handling a complaint, or did you not have the right guidelines in place? Ask your community for their thoughts if appropriate.


Your action should be quick, personal, and direct. Using the internal terms of service will help you decide how. With red ratings that require action from a senior executive, often the appropriate channel for a response is not from any one person, but from the company through an a blog, an online release, or an announcement on your company’s website, Facebook page, or Twitter channel. The yellow-rated items probably do not need to go through the same level of review as the red items, and thus a response could be directly from an individual.

At the end, use this opportunity to reflect on what happened. How does this impact the longer term? Collect those issues that are indicative of a larger trend. The list that follows outlines the key items for your response planning:

  1. Speed: Get your Digital Council together.
  2. Classify into type of issue.
  3. Clarify who responds to which issues.
  4. Communicate to your “brand army.”
  5. Activate the plan by updating blogs, tweets, etc.
  6. Create a feedback loop for learning.
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