It can take a great deal of hard work to build up a brand reputation and with the increasing influence of non-traditional media we have seen a great shift of power in how a brand can be perceived.

Negative Online Footprint

As a customer it's empowering to have a voice on the Internet. If you have had a bad experience with an airline, at a restaurant or with a well-known product, it enables you to complain and be heard. Your online audience will most likely include existing and potential consumers who will read the complaint and adjust their purchasing decisions accordingly. The phrase 'the customer is always right' has never been so critical to businesses.

But what happens when this type of media is misused? As the online world is not moderated and contributors can hide behind anonymity, there are growing concerns of unethical companies manipulating this methodology to tarnish their competitor's brand reputation. By creating negative article sites, posting on blogs and forums and harnessing the wealth of social media, competitors can quickly influence search engine listings. Negative online press can harm a brand's reputation very quickly and have consumers looking to alternative services and products.

This obviously has a spiralling effect on a company, affecting both short- and long-term sales, as the perceived value of the brand in the eyes of the customer is damaged. A brand once held in high regard can be influenced by negative word of mouth online. So how can a brand's reputation be restored and managed effectively?

Effective Reputation Management

Repairing a company's reputation involves creating a plan that controls existing bad press and turns attention to more positive news. The campaign starts by publishing a series of press releases and articles that are promoted heavily enough to dominate the first couple of pages on Google. This method, supported by social media, aims to neutralise the negative press by hiding it from the majority of search-engine users. Consumers are quick to forget if they are faced with positive feedback, so existing customers who are happy with the service they have received ought to be encouraged to write product reviews.

Good placement in SERPs is therefore essential, not least because it enables brands to control how they are perceived by customers. The creation of external blogs and on-site content can further improve communications, as can RSS feeds and news syndication.

Article submission to authoritative, high-quality sites can expose a brand to new markets. Engaging with social-media users by creating a Twitter account allows the company to post news regularly, as well as keep customers informed of potential offers and new products. Writing and submitting material to blogs that are specifically related to the company's industry, not to mention posting videos or podcasts on YouTube, keeps the brand relevant, up to date and at the forefront of the consumer's mind. If customers feel that they have a direct relationship with the brand they are less likely to be influenced by outsiders. Regular online maintenance is fundamental to protecting a brand's reputation.