New Media Opinion: Online reputation optimisation

3 Jun 2010

Let’s start with the good news. For those of you running excellent businesses, the relationship between how you run your business and the impact of your marketing has never been closer.

Significant shifts in society, accelerated by the internet, have meant that customers are getting better and better at not listening to polished marketing promises, so how can customers not listening to you be good news for marketers?

It’s because, according to Nielsen (Global Online Consumer Survey, 2009) research, 35pc more people trust the recommendations of friends than they trust radio adverts. Even 15pc more people trust the opinions of strangers! Therefore the thousands of customers-turned salespeople generated by good businesses mathematically outweigh even the most impressive marketing budgets of companies with massive wallets and no advocates.

We have stopped trusting big business and started trusting “people like me”. The comment, recommendation, endorsement, or anti-endorsement of a friend, or even a complete stranger, means more to us now than the words and promises of big business. And nowhere is this more true than online, where the view of “people like me” is more easily found than ever before.

The Verizon example

Consider the plight of Verizon and their beleaguered marketing department seeking to communicate to America how the organisation is being true to its mission and why that matters to its customers.

“As a leader in communications, Verizon’s mission is to enable people and businesses to communicate with each other. We are also committed to providing full and open communication with our customers, employees and investors.”

Lofty stuff. However, their customers know that their bills are impossible to decipher, compulsory data plans are punishing, dropped calls are maddening, and customer care is not advisable for those of a delicate medical disposition. And there’s not a damn thing the Verizon marketing team can do about it. The only way Verizon can improve its marketing is for Verizon to improve its business.

It’s no longer just a cliché that your business is your marketing. The Google search “Verizon Sucks” has more than 17,000 results, “I Hate Verizon” has more than 7,500. It is the fifth most-hated brand online according to Less Everything. That’s at least 22,500 “people like me” who are influencing what I think of Verizon. It’s going to take a lot of marketing consultants, a lake of cappuccino, and an unthinkable amount of smiley-facey stock photography for me to ignore what they’re saying to swallow the corporate line.

Over at Google …

None of this has gone unnoticed by the clever people at Google. Their unquenchable obsession for relevancy has meant that in recent years, on top of their regular search results they have more closely integrated local search, social search, video search and image search.

Performing well on Google over its first 10 years required an ability to identify key phrases and simulate popularity via inbound link building. As Google’s big brother department gets its paws on more and more data related to what our customers actually think of us, our online reputation will have an increasing impact on our search engine performance.

Simply put, what our customers say about us on user-generated content platforms will be more important than the number of inbound links to your website.

It’s official; the days of running a second-rate business and papering over the cracks with first-rate marketing are over forever.

Gareth Dunlop is managing director of the leading digital consultancy, Ion. Its customers are in 15 countries and include The Commonwealth Secretariat, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Oklahoma Publishing and The Patent Office.

Read more by Gareth Dunlop: 

Offline marketing isn’t dead …

The unaffordable cost of irrelevancy

Urgent need for new online metrics   

Electricity and the gold rush

The real reason the recession is good for marketing

The class of 2009 wants your job!

Firms need to be customer zealots, not technology zealots

Firms need to put aside their fears and embrace the web

Online advertising overtakes TV advertising

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.