Posts Tagged ‘brand reputation’

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The Art of Apologizing Online

November 4, 2013

This originally was published as my article in RSVP MN Magazine for September 2013. Click here to read it thereRSVP MN MAG SEPTMBER ARTICLE

We’ve all had to say, “I am sorry” to someone at some time (at least I hope so). We’re human. We screw things up and we need to make things right. The same thing happens in business. Probably more than we ever want it to. The problem of today, in business, sometimes when we screw up, it’s online. Instead of only a few people seeing it, the potential is that millions of people have now seen it. It’s hard enough sometimes to apologize person to person, and now you have to potentially apologize to hundreds, thousands or millions online. It’s a pretty daunting task.

Apologizing online falls into a completely different aspect of apologies. It tends to be very public. It is hard to convey feelings or emotions via text and 140 characters. It can easily be assumed to be false or not heartfelt or true, and in the worst cases it can be seen as patronizing and condescending. There are some basic best practices that need to be followed to allow your online apology to be accepted and that you are able to recover from the mistake that led to the issue in the first place. Here are five best practices to help you say you’re sorry online:

1. Respond immediately when there is an issue. In today’s age of business there is no excuse for not monitoring your name and brand online. There are plenty of free tools like Google Alerts, and push notifications from Twitter and Facebook to let you know when someone mentions you or your company online. We live in a time of instant communications, and businesses can no longer “wait to formulate a response.” In the time you take to formulate that response, the issues can go viral. Remember the Domino’s Pizza video of employees doing crude things to food? The company found out about it on a Sunday night, but waited until Wednesday to take the first step. By then there were well over a hundred thousand views of the video.

2. Always apologize on the same social or online channel where the offense or issue is mentioned. If it is on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Yelp, etc., you need to respond to the report of the issue where it has been made. Even if you need time to investigate an issue, by responding quickly on the same channel helps convey the perception and thought that you care. Then keep the lines of communication open on those same channels until the issue has been resolved. Bystanders may see your efforts and at least understand you are responding to the situation. Going silent only hurts matters by letting the message and sentiment be formed in your absence. If there is no means to respond, such as the comment being made on a blog, website, or online publication which doesn’t allow for responses, use your own channels (blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to respond. Link to the original online remark (URL) to inform the audience to the details of the incident, when the issue is searched for in the future, your response will be tied to the issue that happened.

3. Explain what went wrong. It might have been as simple as someone sent out the wrong message or hit send without thinking. You need to let people know how you are reacting to the problem and taking steps to correct it. Without conveying any self-examination and action towards resolution, it will appear as if you don’t care and are doing nothing. Remember, online isn’t always as visual so convey these thoughts in words.

4. Explain what you are doing to correct the situation and what steps you are putting in place to ensure it won’t happen again. This goes hand in hand with the previous step. If there is no plan or evidence of changed behavior, it will appear you are insincere and not really doing anything about the problem, and hence you are thought not to care about it. Add links and evidence to show what steps are being taken if that would help. Copies of new company policies or guidelines would be great to post as would photos of corrections, and so on. Evidence goes a long way toward rebuilding trust in your actions.

5. Finally, use the apology as an opportunity to make amends. If you show that you truly realize the scope and magnitude of your actions has hurt your standing in the community, use this opportunity to become a better corporate citizen. Overachieve on your next endeavor, especially if there is a community benefit to doing it. Your brand is only as valuable as the audience that follows, supports and enjoys what you do and your role in their lives. It is all too easy to move on to the next brand. Don’t allow your brand to lose reputation credibility and following all because of a few missteps. The best companies in the digital age will plan for a strategy and policy that heads this off at the beginning rather than a plan that chases the tail end of the problem.

By mastering the art of apologizing online, you may be able to save your company, your brand, or hopefully at the very least, your job.

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Crowdsourced reviews can put local restaurateurs on the defensive

July 9, 2013

1yelp0302I was recently interviewed by Bill Ward of the Minneapolis Start Tribune for an insight into online reputation issues facing restaurants. We talk about Yelp and how clients I had set up with monitoring tools and training are utilizing those tools in every day restaurant operations!

Click here to read the article in the Star Tribune.

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The Paula Deen Effect and your Business – The Perils of Influencer Marketing

July 2, 2013

rsvpmn-logoToday I contributed a guest blog/article to RSVP MN Magazine. Here is the post also a link to the post on their site:

The Paula Deen Effect and your Business – The Perils of Influencer Marketing

By Christopher Lower, Co-Owner and VP of PR, Marketing, & Social Media for Sterling Cross Communications

For many years we have come to learn of the power that celebrity influencers have on businesses. It’s one of the hottest terms in marketing today: Influencer Marketing. Businesses are looking for that lift that can be achieved when a person with a huge audience on multiple communications channels speaks fondly of your service or product and endorses it to their audience. In the most wildly successful cases, it became a phenomenon called the “Oprah Effect” due to the frenzy of business activity a company would receive when mentioned on the popular Oprah Winfrey show by the host herself.

On the negative side of the spectrum would be what has been happening in current events and could be ascribed as being victim to the “Paula Deen Effect”. In this case, the person of influence has become associated with a negative event and has triggered a wave of impact across several businesses that were connected to her, either as a direct working relationship, or in an endorsement relationship. Because of her negative online reputation, and current public perception of her, any brands that are tied to her are suffering. There has been a massive wave of companies scrambling to distance themselves from her brand, many of whom have been intrinsically tied to her popularity in the past.

To be completely fair, Ms. Deen isn’t the only influencer to have a negative impact on brands when a scandal has been tied to their reputation. How easily we forget those like Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, and so on.

This current case is only greater proof of how important the public perception of your brand and reputation is online. It affects the bottom line, and can impact the stock prices in public companies. It could be your greatest weakness and many companies don’t even know how they can protect and defend their online reputation.

Because of the nature of social media users to have an extremely short attention span, people are more willing to perceive what they find on search engines to be the true nature of your business. You are what Google says you are. Sadly, you are also only as good as the latest and highest search engine ranked review.

As “The Deen Effect” demonstrates, you are also affected by the online reputations and perceptions of those people associated with you. These range from your vendors, suppliers, resellers, channel partners, employees, board members, and anyone else that impacts your brand. Their negative reputations can harm you online as well. You may not have “celebrity” endorsements, but you do have influencers inside and attached to your company. You no longer can afford to not monitor your own company and brand, and it would also be beneficial to monitor the reputations of those associated with your brand where you rely upon them to conduct your business.

Many businesses are scrambling to put together teams that can respond to these new crises situations. These issues may occur across multiple communication platforms in an instant, and can go globally viral in seconds. Traditional PR professionals who don’t have both the crises communications skills and a mastery of social and mobile technologies are obsolete. Using interns to solve the problem is fine for their knowledge of social media tools, but inadequate to deal with the crises communications. You need a team experienced in both that can respond immediately 24 hours a day, every day.

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10 Businesses That Would Benefit by Being on Pinterest Today!

April 18, 2012

In recognizing how incredibly fast Pinterest is growing, and the quick migration to Pinterest by many businesses (including ourselves and several of our clients). I was recently asked at a conference, which businesses would really benefit by being on this platform and why they would do so. Here’s the list and reasons that I came up with for the group:

  1. Hair, Nail, & Spa Salons – Obviously this platform is incredibly suited to the primary demographic of users (Pinterest is the number one platform of choice for female social media users).  Pinterest Boards can be used to highlight and focus on photos of current hairstyles, fashions, nail color trends, hair colors, beauty and facial trends and the lists go on. 
  2. Travel Agencies – Think of Pinterest as your home for virtual travel brochures and videos. Because of the “wish list” feature of Pinterest, where people are pinning and repining great travel images and destinations they would like to plan on visiting.
  3. Home Remodelers – Use Pinterest as an online gallery to show off before and after photos of your projects to demonstrate your expertise and examples of great work you have performed.
  4. Interior Designers – The same basic idea as remodelers would work here. Pinterest can be leveraged as an online gallery to show before and after photos, show off trends, fabrics, patterns, signature pieces, and so on.
  5. Landscapers – Here you can benefit from sharing how-to information, as well as showing off examples of work you have performed.  Just like rooms in our homes, we tend to pin photos or repin photos of things we’d like in our yards someday.
  6. Event & Wedding Planners – Here you can showcase venues, ideas, your portfolio of work done, decorations, themes, and settings. The list here is endless.
  7. Jewelry & Clothing – Combining product photos and the Pinterest “Gift” option can help to drive online and in store sales of items you sell.
  8. Tattoo Shops – Where better to place an online gallery of your artwork and designs! You can also show off specific signature pieces, as well as provide examples of tattoos designed for specific body areas.
  9. Auto Detail/Paint/Customizing – The number one things that Males on Pinterest pin after food pins, are pins of vehicles, especially dream cars, customized cars, and video as well.  If you can provide these images of your work online they are sure to be repinned (believe me, I found a showroom photo of a 1979 Chevy Chevette, my first car, and even that car is my pin with the highest number of repins).
  10. Resorts & Campgrounds – Similar to travel, you can virtually create an online travel brochure for your property to drive awareness and interest.  You can even open up certain Pinboards to allow your guests to pin photos from their trips or vacations. Allowing your customers to help share the fondness and memories of their trip.

At Sterling Cross Communications, we have a vast experience in creating and executing exciting and outside the box campaigns across several social media platforms. If you need help or more ideas on placing your business on Pinterest or need a strategy and action plan on what to do on these channels please contact us at http://sterlingcrossgroup.com.

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Businesses – Are you failing to maintain your online presence?

April 13, 2012

Negative Comments Can Spread Like Wildfire

It’s not enough to have an online presence anymore.  It is great that you have a Facebook Page, Twitter Account, and YouTube channel, but are you maintaining them?  In 2011 we saw many businesses leap online, eager to try out social media and leverage the communication and business power of these tools. Now, a year later, the scary fact is that most of these websites and social accounts have been abandoned or are not being used effectively (or even correctly in some situations).  You may have had the right intentions by setting these accounts up, especially if you were doing it to secure your IP and registered business names to protect your corporation.  If you set up accounts in order to have access to the platform, to monitor or listen to feedback, criticism, and comments, that is also a great reason to be on social media, but only if you are engaging back. OK, so now you are thinking to yourself: “So what?  We have a presence on social media platforms as our bosses told us we had to do.”

What if I told you that these abandoned, neglected, and incomplete accounts are actually hurting your business, and that they were actually costing you money to your bottom line, in spite of the fact that it was free to set up accounts on most of these platforms. If you are neglecting, abandoning, and failing to complete and monitor these accounts, you are losing customers, for the following reasons:

  1. The perception that your company is “Out of Date”, “Out of Touch”, and downright “Incompetent” in engaging your audience on social media – Many customers that encounter your business on the web, will check out these accounts just to see what is happening.  If, for instance, your Twitter account hasn’t been updated in the last 90 days, you are perceived as being “out of touch” and therefore a company that is seemed as approachable and eager to listen to a customer.  Incomplete profiles, pages without headshots or branding, or important information missing, such as contact info, gives off the impression that you are incompetent, especially to the under 35 crowd that is pretty much living their lives on the internet and mobile devices.
  2. The perception that your company isn’t listening – 98% of all internet users expect you to not only have a presence on these social media platforms, but they want you to engage with them as well on these platforms.  Especially when a customer has a question or complaint. Today’s internet users in this text driven society, demand and expect to have a response from your company quickly on the social media platform where they made the comment or complaint.  24 hours is an eternity and will not gain you any favors.  You need someone to actively manage these accounts and respond. 
  3. The perception that your company is ( insert descriptor word here: bad, evil, inept, uncaring, etc.) – More and more web companies live or die by their online reputation. If your company lets too many negative reports build online over any subject, without addressing and responding to these comments and complaints, can lead to the escalation of the issue, and in turn its ability to go viral.

Ultimately, you can think of each of these social media accounts the same way you would as building little campfires.  If you neglect them, all sorts of things can result. Your best hope is that they fizzle, die, and disappear.  occasionally though there are those fires that can flare up, escape its confines and end up becoming a raging wildfire, leaving behind swaths of ruin for your business.  If you are struggling with how to maintain your social media accounts, contact us and we’ll help you to take control of your accounts. www.sterlingcrossgroup.com.

All stats were compiled from www.pewinternet.org

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Whistleblower: A Q&A with Mr. Fixit for online badmouthing

March 19, 2012

I was interviewed recently by the Minneapolis Star Tribune about Online Reputation Management and how damaging a bad reputation can be to a company’s bottom line. Here is an excerpt and a link to the rest of the article online:

Consumer complaints about businesses are migrating from the watercooler to the Web.

From Facebook and Twitter to Yelp and FourSquare, consumers can sound off about a company to hundreds of friends and followers with a click of a button.

That’s where online reputation management experts such as Christopher Lower come in. He and his wife own Maple Grove-based Sterling Cross Communications, helping Twin Cities restaurants, hotels and nonprofits monitor what’s being said about them 24/7 and respond within minutes. Click Here to Read the Rest of the Article

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My Apologies for the Lapse in Blogging – Real Life Interrupts Virtual Life

January 5, 2012

When you blog or post regularly on social media sites such as I do, there is an expectation from readers to have new content posted on a regular, frequent, basis. I have failed in my end of the bargain.  I hope I can be forgiven, as my reasons are fairly legitimate.  Part of the reason for my lapse was that I have been busily finishing my first book: Checking Into Foursquare – Strategies for Retail and Restaurant Marketing with Social Media, and working on my second and third books relating to QR Code Marketing and Online Reputation Management.

The remaining reason, and reason I have had a lot of time for writing is that I have gone through some pretty major heart health related issues over the past year, that has taken me out of the game for long stretches of time.  I am back and recharged (literally)and look forward to seeing if I can regain some readership and faith in my ability to provide useful relevant content going forward.

Thanks for Reading!

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Not “social media gurus”—they just do successful work: Twin Cities Business Magazine’s Senior Editor Gene Rebeck blogs about Sterling Cross Communications re: PR & Social Media

February 14, 2010

We met with and chatted with Gene Rebeck, the Senior Editor at Twin Cities Business Magazine, and he wrote a blog post based on our discussions. Here is the opening excerpt and a link to Gene’s blog:

Sterling Cross’s Social Studies

Chris and Mary Lower, the spouses and owners of Maple Grove-based social media and public relations agency Sterling Cross are highly regarded in the burgeoning Twin Cities social media scene. But don’t call them “social media gurus.”

It’s a term that makes them laugh and shake their heads. Such “experts” often are mid- to late-career marketing or PR types looking to latch on to the Next Big Thing. (Test the guru: Ask for case studies.)

Besides, as Chris notes, it’s not a field that you can be an expert in: It’s changing too fast and too continuously. “These experts say things like, ‘Make big money on Twitter!’” Chris says, chuckling.

The Lowers do know their social stuff. Go here to read the rest!

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How one Ad/PR agency’s actions is killing three brands: Disney Pictures, AMC Theatres, & MN Parent Magazine

August 10, 2009

Have you seen the excitement that ensues when a child wins a prize?  It can be any prize really, but how about if a child wins tickets to a new movie such as the new 3D Disney Movie, G-Force? You would expect the level of that child’s excitement would be pretty high, and if you’re a parent you’re probably rating the excitement even higher imagining your own child’s reaction.

Now, imagine the crash of disappointment that child experiences when they arrive at the theater to be told that the movie theater is full to capacity (a half an hour before the start time) due to the fact that the Advertising/Public Relations agency (Allied Advertising & Public Relations) purposely overbooked the theater to ensure they had a packed theater. Not overbooked by a few tickets, they overbooked by at least a hundred tickets based on the disappointed families left standing in the lobby of the theater.

Those families were outraged.  There was no second theater opened up to accommodate the families they overbooked. There were no offers of passes to see another children’s movie showing at the theater. There was no evidence of customer service skills demonstrated by the three people from Allied Advertising what-so-ever, and sadly that ended up tarnishing, damaging, and for those parents of disappointed children, killing three brands: MN Parent Magazine, AMC Theaters, and Disney Pictures.

The sad point is that many companies are often in the dark about how their brand is being handled when it is out of their “direct control.”  MN Parent Magazine and Disney Pictures were unaware of Allied Advertising’s practice when contacted.  AMC was worse; their onsite management team was apathetic. They could care less that their patrons were affected by Allied’s actions.  The AMC manager, claiming she was the “highest authority” I could speak to regarding the Edina, MN location, said that the theater was not “responsible” since Allied Advertising had rented the auditorium for the event.

As a parent, who had brought three children to see the movie G-Force (Who is also a PR practitioner) I was appalled by the actions of Allied Advertising and their practice of intentionally overbooking movie premieres.  One would have to wonder if Allied’s practice of this was to boost their numbers for their client, Disney Pictures.  Disney Pictures should be concerned then that they are paying for such surreptitious practices and not getting true results for their money being spent.  If Disney Pictures is testing or hoping to gain market research insight, then every event carried out by Allied is tainted, and cannot be considered valid data.

One of the Allied Advertising reps did finally offer to pay for myself and the three children to go see any other movie playing that night, but only after I identified myself as someone that worked in PR and after they witnessed/overheard me call a local news station to speak with the assignment desk to report on the events happening and see if they wished to send a reporter. At that point the Reps from Allied Advertising were willing to do just about anything to get me to leave. Of the three other brands associated, only MN Parent magazine has reached out to all of the parents that had received “free tickets” through them and promises to have Allied provide free passes to see G-Force in theaters.  AMC and Disney Pictures have yet to respond to complaints submitted via email on their websites.

So who controls your brand once it is out of your hands?  Do you have vendors, resellers, distributors, field reps?  How are they caretaking your brand?  Will they respond with the same level of customer service that you provide to your customers?  What are the repercussions if they don’t?  How will you know if they are carrying through your brand?  Are you set up to monitor your brand once it is out of your control? What is the cost if you don’t?  What do you think?

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Domino’s proves why Restaurants must monitor their brand and reputation online

April 17, 2009

It was a Restaurateur’s worst nightmare. In the span of a few minutes of video posted to YouTube, a 50 year old brand was brought low.  Two (fired and facing felony charges) employees of a franchise location of Domino’s Pizza recorded a video of themselves doing horrendous and disgusting things to food that was potentially about to be served to an unsuspecting customer. The video went viral.  The YouTube video reached one million views in less than 3 days. References to it were in five of the 12 top search results on the first page of Google search for “Dominos,” and discussions about Domino’s had spread throughout Twitter. Several major news outlets have covered the incident, including the New York Times, USA Today and Fox News.  

Reportedly Domino’s knew about the video for nearly 48-hours before it launched a PR blitz to respond to the overwhelming amounts of negative comments, and comments faulting the company for not responding in a timely manner. They were first notified of the video from bloggers that had seen it online.  The company itself was not monitoring what was being said about its brand and reputation online. That was a fatal mistake that has brought great damage in customer confidence and loyalty and has crushed an iconic brand.

As Domino’s is starting to realize, social media has the reach and speed to turn tiny incidents into marketing crises. In November, Motrin posted an ad suggesting that carrying babies in slings was a painful new fad. Unhappy mothers posted Twitter complaints about it, and bloggers followed; within days, Motrin had removed the ad and apologized, but as with Domino’s, it was a case of too little, too late.

There was no one watching out for their brand online. 

If this can happen to a mighty chain with a fifty year history, how much can it affect independent restaurants, smaller chains, and family owned businesses?  If you are in the restaurant industry, or for that matter, in any industry that can be reviewed online, you cannot afford to ignore what is being said about you online.  Many restaurateurs are not even aware of the many sites and places where people can and are talking about them online.  Sites like Yelp, Urbanspoon, Chowhound, Metromix, Getsatisfaction.com, and Trip Advisor offer consumers a platform to get their complaints or raves heard.

Crises Communications is not a new practice, but it is new when trying to be performed in Social Media. There are several tools though for low to no cost for a restaurateur to watch what is being said about them (good or bad) online. You can do simple things, such as setting up Google Alerts, or searching Twitter and blogs to monitor what is being said, or you can pay for more robust search tools to and firms to do it for you (We offer such services for clients). No matter what you do though, you need to start watching what is being said starting now, and on a regular basis.  Domino’s and Motrin failed to respond quickly 48 hours is an eternity online, and the damage is done.

What is the cost of not paying attention, or “hoping it will go away”? A majority of your business could be in jeopardy. 89% of US online buyers read customer reviews before they purchase: 43% most of the time, 22% all of the time. A bad reputation hits your bottom line.

So what should you do? Here are a few things to get you started:

·         Create a Crisis Communication plans for online issues.

·         Execute effective online Customer Service.

·         Get the tools to monitor what’s being said online about your brand, your company, and you.

·         Learn the strategies and steps to take to respond to information already posted.

·         Learn the strategies and steps to take to have negative information removed, mitigated, or retracted.

If you are in the Minneapolis – St. Paul area, we are holding a seminar on April 28th, 2009 on The ROI of Managing your Online Reputation & Brand. Click here for more details: http://onlinereputation.eventbrite.com/.

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