Why Building an Engaged Online Audience is the Best Reputation Management Strategy

Most companies think of managing their online reputation as an active process. Negative reviews or stories show up about them online and they need to respond to limit the exposure that story gets, and spread an alternate story that is more favorable to the organization. They launch a new product or service and need to build a positive and convincing reputation for their new offering. Whether reacting to a negative event or publicizing a positive one, it takes a lot of effort to make an impact on your company’s online narrative.

But it doesn’t have to.

If you can build an engaged and supportive online audience, they will be your most useful tool for helping shape the stories that spread about your brand online. Think about a company like Apple or Zappos. They have legions of fans that can’t wait to spread the word about how outstanding their products and services are. Every time a customer like this interacts with the brand and has another positive experience, they will be sure to tell their friends and post about it on social media. Building a following with this level of engagement, even if it’s size is only proportional to how big your company is, can go a long way to making it easier for you to manage your online reputation. Here are just some of the ways it can have an impact:

  • Instant positive reviews. If you are launching a new product or service, having an engaged audience means that they will be waiting and eager to give you positive reviews. You can even help feed this desire by offering your biggest fans advanced access so that when you launch there is already a surplus of positive feedback waiting to influence your new potential customers to make a purchase.
  • Refute negative stories. This is possibly the most helpful part of having an engaged following. Think about how much more effective it would be if, whenever someone posted a negative story about your company, your followers responded to shut down the critic instead of you needing to take action. Not only would this save you a significant amount of time, but it would also be more convincing coming from other customers instead of the company itself.
  • Increased virality. Having an active following means that you have a platform in place if you ever need to spread a message. Since your followers trust you and are eager to lend you a hand, as long as you don’t abuse this privilege you can ask them to help you promote something from time to time when it’s of high importance. Just asking them to retweet or email your announcement to their friends is all it takes to start a wave of viral sharing about your latest update. Just be careful not to abuse this privilege, or your followers will begin to fell like they are being taken advantage of and you will lose credibility with them.

The advantages of having followers like this are clear, however like all things that are highly valuable they are also difficult to attain. Brands that build followings like this do so over time, with patience and continued dedication. While there isn’t a specific set of criteria that, if you meet them, will guarantee having an active and supportive following, there are several things you can do to help increase your chances:

  • Develop an amazing product or service. This is easy to type but extremely difficult to execute. It’s like trying to explain what makes a hit song or hit movie popular. The only way to really describe a product or service like this is the same way Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart described obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” Going any further would lead to a description that would most likely have numerous exceptions and quickly get too complicated. The best thing to do is to look at other companies of your size in similar industries, figure out which ones have the best audiences and why, and then try to do the same for your brand.
  • Be human. People relate to other people, they don’t relate with organizations. If you want to build a following, your company needs a spokesperson to become the face of the business. Think about how Steve Jobs was the face of Apple, and Elon Musk is the face of Tesla. Without these two powerful figureheads, their customers would have a harder time relating with the business.
  • Start small. Building a strong online following starts with a single person. The best way to start creating an engaged audience is to look for bright spots — what customers or followers do you have who are already engaged? Find these people, figure out what they have in common, and then recruit more people like them. You don’t need to have a following the size of Apple’s to see positive change for your business. Just take look at the essay “1,000 True Fans” by Kevin Kelly, which is revered by some of the internet’s biggest personalities like Seth Godin and Tim Ferriss.

Tell us about a time where your customers or online followers helped your brand manage its reputation in the comments!

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