Online reputation management (ORM) has become a critical component to many corporate branding campaigns. With all of the online conversations happening today, the ability to replace positive sentiment with the negative is a primary goal of any reputation management strategy. At this moment, do you know what is being said about you, your brand, or your company? Right or wrong, what is being said online can have a major influence on what others think about you.

In fact, 76 percent of today’s retailers expect online content to play a greater role in their public relations strategy in the future. It is understood that reputation is thought of as the number one danger for any company’s future success. The question is how to set up the right strategy to help protect your brand from negative influences. Here are three steps you can take to set up a successful online reputation management campaign.

Step 1: Tracking and monitoring. Before you can manage your online reputation, you need to first learn what is being said about you and get an idea what the sentiment is. Sentiment is usually measured in positive, negative, or neutral terms. To do this, you should identify various methods you plan to employ to listen into online conversations. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs are all great places to monitor. To get started with this process, you should identify keywords that represent you, your brand, your company, or anything you want to track. There are several tools that allow you to type in a keyword and then have a report sent to you via email or other means that provides blog posts or tweets that include those keywords. You then need to read through and pick out the ones that are relevant to you.

Step 2: Evaluate and interpret. Since there are many tools that help to automate the process of finding conversations online and measuring sentiment, you can easily miss this important step if you are not careful. It is important to read through the results and try to interpret the true meaning.

Set up a process where you identify key statements from step one that you feel are impactful regardless of the sentiment. Then read those aloud to your team and try and interpret what is really being said. The information that comes out of a team discussion during this interpretation session can make a big difference in your entire online reputation management strategy. It will provide you with the right basis as you decide how you are going to act on what you have learned.

Step 3: Engage and act. Now that you have a list of categories you wish to address and you have the basis for what the issues are you want to focus on, you need a plan of action. I suggest that you put together a type of editorial calendar that allows you to plan how and when you will act. This will help you pace yourself and act when the timing is best.

There are two strategies to consider, reactive and proactive. Reactive is to have accounts set up and people in place to quickly respond to conversations (positive or negative) that come up. In this case, a policy should be put in place on what should and should not be said as team members respond to comments and feedback. Additionally, you should identify at what point is an issue serious enough that it should be escalated to a higher level for the correct response. Issues can happen overnight and you need to have a plan in place and be ready to act at a moment’s notice.

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