Marketing & Communications

How to Protect Your Association’s Online Image

By Marcus Underwood • August 5, 2010

With the rise of social media and individual blogs, customers have never had an easier means of sharing their joys, and sometimes their frustrations, about how you are serving their needs. This is an amazingly powerful trend that can promote your association faster and engage members more efficiently than any other medium invented. Unfortunately, the power of social media cuts both ways. People who wish to complain have a larger megaphone and broader audience as well. While you can’t control this circumstance completely, there are some things you can do to lessen the impact of negative viral messaging. In many cases, you can turn those vocal complainers into happy customers and members, and sometimes into advocates.

 Here are five simple guidelines for burnishing your association’s online reputation and cementing relationships with members:

  1. Make someone responsible
  2. Know the rules – what is the etiquette?
  3. Monitor your search engine results closely
  4. Don’t overreact, but act quickly when you do
  5. Listen

1. Make someone responsible
As the old saying goes: “If everyone is responsible, then no one is.” This is especially true when it comes to monitoring social media. Having lots of people from your staff involved in the conversation is great, but people get busy and easily distracted when “higher priority” deadlines loom. Make sure you designate someone–better yet, a rotating team of people–to commit to spending 15 to 30 minutes daily monitoring the posts about your organization.

2. Know the rules – what is online etiquette?
As most of you have experienced, people’s online communication persona is often very different from their off line style. Online, many people don’t complete their sentences; they use shorthand frequently and rely heavily on “ALL CAPS” to get their points across. Without the benefit of verbal clues and voice intonation that you hear in phone calls and face-to-face meetings, it’s critical to make sure you can determine who is joking, who is providing good feedback and who is really a troublemaker online. Yes, this takes some practice.

3. Monitor your search engine results closely
When your site is fully optimized and you are listed on the first page of a search engine results page, there’s less chance of a negative comment, post or article slipping through your filters. However, that’s not enough. You need to type in variations of your association name and acronym, and then scroll through the first four or five pages of search engine results to make sure your association’s image isn’t being tarnished by an ex-employee or industry competitor.

4. Don’t overreact, but act quickly when you do
If you discover some potentially troubling posts, don’t overreact. First, consider the risk of responding immediately and coming across as overly defensive to everyone else reading the post. If you are too aggressive in your response, your association will look bad, and it will also discourage other legitimate (and potentially helpful) followers from posting in the future.

However, if the post in question is truly something that needs to be addressed, then take the conversation out of public view as soon as you can. But, that doesn’t mean you bury it. You should offer to resolve the issue through direct email to the poster, or better yet,through a phone call. Don’t underestimate the power of making a live human representative of your organization available and willing to help the poster. Often, a short conversation can quickly diffuse the issue and sometimes results in a favorable follow-up post about your organization’s responsiveness.

5. Listen
Some of the most valuable intelligence you can acquire will come from customers, employees and even competitors. Reach out to these communities to encourage comments, ideas and suggestions. Even though there may be things posted that you may not like or agree with, consider that if one person felt that way, there could be others. Then think about how you can change that perception.

Following these five simple guidelines (especially the one about listening) will allow you to quickly put out any smoldering fires before they become real public relations nightmares. Further, these guidelines will help you have active and productive dialogues with some of your most vocal members. Handling these situations correctly can turn a squeaky wheel into a great advocate for your association.

Marcus Underwood is vice president and general manager of NaylorNet, the online media solutions division of Naylor, LLC.