The old Maltese adage “Tini l-fama u itfgħani l-baħar” was invented to convince us that once your reputation is safe then you may well end up in the sea because you will be fine, somehow. Far from being an old saying from times gone by, reputation has never been so important for business as much as today, thanks to a very simple fact: your reputation is at the mercy of the customer-come-broadcaster on social network sites, who can single-handedly start a chain reaction that will nullify hundreds of man-hours of strategic planning and send good money spent on public relations and marketing down the drain.
Reputation management, a goal of the first public relations initiatives, is evolving to meet the challenges posed by the thousands of customers who are ready to glorify or vilify your product or service with a few taps on their smartphone or tablet or a few keyboard strokes on their computer.
Why is social media so important for a company? We are past the point where this phenomenon is considered a fad. The top five companies by valuation include Apple, Microsoft and Google. Now, Apple produces the iPhone and the iPad where many people access social media. Microsoft dominates the computer software business, while Google, well, dominates the Internet search market and its Android operating system is installed on more than 80% of all smartphones and tablets in the world. In the meantime Facebook has 1.5 billion monthly active users. You get the drift.
There are some most very important things to consider. Social media is highly democratic where everyone has a voice: a single individual can churn out the same amount of content as your company’s hard working staff on the Facebook official page on any given day. Imagine thousands of users saying the same thing in so many words, either in favour or against you.
Social media networks are build upon the concept of the network, and therefore communication between points is fast, in some cases faster than others. Bad news travel faster than good news – just remember what happened after the attacks in Paris on the 13 November 2015. The news did not just spread fast. False news and comments, not facts, were shared as amongst millions of users around the world as if users had embarked on their own personal crusade against the terrorists.
Even the best of intentions and the best thought-out social media plans can go awry in no time. When JCPenney erected a billboard of a teapot in California, social media was immediately abuzz with comments comparing the teapot to the silhouette of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. Traditional media spotted the issue and added fuel to the fire. JCPenney immediately intervened on social media to avert an escalation and the damage, created by a very innocent mistake, was averted.
Sometimes it is not so innocent. No, we are not referring to Paris Hilton tweeting to remember Nelson Mandela for his “I have a dream speech” (Martin Luther King would have shared the joke with Mandela in heaven). We have in mind the case of Luton airport near London that used an image of a crashed aircraft to promote their “super airport” that performs well even when it snows. The tweet caused an outrage among social media users who recognised the image from a 2005 crash in which a child had actually died.
Malta is no different. Just take a look to Facebook groups such R You Being Served. This group boasts over 44,000 members, one of the highest compared to the ranking of business brands’ Facebook pages in Malta. The Facebook page Malta Diżastru Totali (Malta is a complete disaster) has over 70,000 likes where your customers congregate and take pride in bashing your ‘lousy’ product, your exceedingly high prices, your rude employees and spurt other typical Maltese ‘gemgem’ (complaints).
So how do you defend your social media reputation? How do you listen to conversations,
spot the key influencers, and judge the ‘sentiment’ (the jargon used in the field) or mood? There are a few steps to take to make sure you benefit from good coverage and word of mouth and take the necessary action to counter any disparaging reviews or comments, irrelevant whether you deserve it or not.
Besides using common sense when posting on social network sites, there are many digital tools that ‘listen’ to what is being said on these sites that help you to understand what is going on, what’s the issue, and intervene rapidly. Most of them are based in the cloud and give you real-time statistics in a web-based dashboard, accessible wherever you have Internet access.
We are past the days where having a Facebook page and making regular updates is enough to keep a presence. Listening is as important as writing, if not more. Your reputation is at stake.