When the idea of Reputation Management came about, it was not intended to apply specifically to the online sphere. But with the emergence of the internet as the world’s most prominent form of communication, Public Relations or PR teams have had to change the way they see reputation management and marketing. Now, most public relations teams practice online reputation management. In fact, quality brand management and marketing online is vital for every organization, even universities.
What is Online Reputation Management?
The following definition of online reputation management was taken from techopedia:
“Online reputation management (ORM) is the practice of crafting strategies that shape, or influence the public perception of an organization, individual or other entity on the Internet. It helps drive public opinion about a business and its products and services.”
It’s important to remember that ORM is not about removing negative content from the web. It is about improving the all-around image of a brand or organization for consumers. Oftentimes this is done through interaction with customers, especially through social media.
Consider this example of Online Reputation Management:
Most customers of JetBlue Airlines agree that the company is very concerned with customer service and loyalty. Their twitter team is known for prompt responses to customer questions or complaints. While not all of JetBlue’s customers use twitter, and not every customer is always entirely satisfied with their service, the company’s reputation is much more attractive because of their twitter services. Just take a look at some of their team’s tweets:
Oh no! Let the crew know. If it can't be fixed, you're entitled to a credit for the trouble.
— JetBlue Airways (@JetBlue) May 17, 2017
In this instance, the customer’s TV could not be fixed. JetBlue replied to ask for her confirmation number, so that they could begin the crediting process.
Door #1! #LetsMakeADeal 😘
— JetBlue Airways (@JetBlue) May 17, 2017
The above tweet doesn’t necessarily help the customer with a complaint. However, it is incredibly personable and interactive, referencing the show “Let’s Make a Deal” as a cutesy way to appeal to the customer. Again, communicating with their passengers this way makes them seem extremely invested in customer satisfaction. And of course, customers are much more likely to spend their money on a company that cares if they enjoy themselves.
If there are good examples of online reputation management, then of course there are examples of poor online reputation management.
A great deal of online blunders from companies seem to result from either angry or careless employees. A KitchenAid employee sent a derogatory tweet about Barack Obama’s deceased grandmother in 2009. This employee meant to be logged into their personal account. The employee was consequently “dealt with”, according to KitchenAid. We can only assume this means that the employee was fired. In another case, a DiGiorno Pizza employee failed to look into a hashtag that was designed to bring awareness about domestic abuse and used it to make a joke about pizza. Immediately following this mistake, the employee tweeted a very heartfelt apology. They also tweeted a personal apology to every single individual who responded to the original offensive tweet. While originally this was an incredible blunder, the crisis management was very well done, and DiGiorno did not receive as much backlash as they could have if it weren’t for the sincere apologies.
How Does Online Reputation Management Fit into Universities?
In a lot of ways, online reputation management is meant to be centered around a brand’s customers. Places of higher education do have a wide variety of customers who are interested and invested in their image. However, students are the customers that universities should keep in mind the most when managing their reputation. The parents and guardians of their prospective students are also especially important in this case.
The trickiest part about managing a reputation online is that most of the control is in the hands of the customers. When a university manages its brand, it does so on realms that it owns. So, the university website, blog, Facebook page, etc. are where brand management happens. These are all platforms that are owned and controlled by the university. Reputation management, on the other hand, occurs on the platforms that the institution has very little control over. So, twitter, Instagram, Yelp, online forums, etc. These are the places where students and parents can talk about an institution, and where its staff members have few if any options for editing or deleting any of it.
To maintain the university’s reputation, teams will need to have members with social media and customer service experience. Good reputation means having prompt, polite, and helpful responses to any criticism. It also means being aware of what the public is saying about the institution, why they’re saying it, and how it can be transitioned into a positive conversation if it isn’t already. And because online correspondence can often be ambiguous, it’s important that team members that talk to customer receive or have access to some professional communication training.
Why is ORM Important for Universities?
There are a lot of reasons why the reputation of a university is important to manage. The number one being, that a good image will draw more prospective students to the institution. The second being, it will draw more academics to apply to work for the institution.
As said above, the marketing of an institute of education seems much different than that of brands that explicitly sell products. But the main distinction to keep in mind is that a university needs to market itself as a place of education, a workplace, and a home. So, if the institution has on-campus housing, students are even more likely to be outspoken online. Because of all of this, its online reputation needs to be incredibly positive.
Last week we wrote about social media and prospective students, which you can read here. It’s obvious that most students, prospective students, staff, and prospective staff are using some form of social media. These are the people that need to be catered to online in order to keep a university’s reputation attractive.
Some Important Things About ORM to Remember
- Not all criticism is constructive. Having no control over what people can say about an organization can be incredibly frustrating, but it can also be very threatening. It’s important to know the laws surrounding the discussion of a brand. Many experts insist that if slanderous or defaming comments are being spread about a brand then legal action must be taken. If these illegal actions aren’t stopped as soon as possible, they can continue, and damage the institution’s reputation. There are many resources available on the laws of slander. FindLaw has a rundown of the basics on their website, which would be beneficial to take a look at before beginning a reputation management journey.
- There are many tools that can help you with online reputation management. One of the most beneficial is Hootsuite. With Hootsuite, users can set up “mention alerts” so that they’re notified whenever chosen keywords (e.g. USF, Student Life) related to their organization are “mentioned” online. This can all be viewed in real-time, which helps to keep business users on top of their ORM. You can learn more about Hootsuite and its features at https://hootsuite.com/.
- Googling yourself isn’t arrogant, it’s imperative. Staying on top of an organization’s online reputation means constantly searching the web to see what people, customers or not, are saying about it. There is no way to know how to manage an online reputation if you don’t have a grasp on what the reputation currently is. Keep track of social media chatter, online reviews (e.g. Google, Yelp), blogs, forums, etc.
There are many tools available to help with the social listening that is needed in order to manage your online reputation, but it all starts with observation. Organizations need to be sure that they are properly listening to what customers are saying and responding promptly and politely. Having a major social presence is also important. Regardless of the approach and tools you use, whether you’re a part of a university or an airline, it is vital that online reputation management is considered a priority.
Happy Reputation Managing!
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