Reputation Management in the Blogosphere: Did Whitepages.com Take it on the Chin?

Information today moves in nanoseconds. And a company’s reputation can be damaged or elevated in a matter of minutes or hours with the ubiquity of bloggers and the influence and speed of information distributed over the blogosphere.  There are many fairly current examples of companies not paying attention what the blogosphere was saying until negative sentiment had been solidified and some damage has been done to the brand and company’s reputation.

Last week, the Seattle-based people search company, Whitepages.com announced its “$2.5 million” brand and website redesign. What happened after Seattle Times tech writer John Cook ran a post in his Techflash blog, and what didn’t happen is interesting.

Approximately 74% of the 27 comments posted about Whitepages on Techflash were negative. With stinging critics about:

  • The amount spent on the redesign. “Hilarious! 2.5 millions FOR THAT?!,” or “$2.5m????? thats (sp) ridiculous. Someone needs to be fired over there.”
  • To the technology used. “Ruby has traditional been shown is just about every major benchmark to be 2-3 times slower than Perl, PHP and Python which are the leading scripting languages.”
  • To John Lusk’s Facebook reference. “Facebook comment, wow, how clueless. Boy, if that tiny upstart makes it big, boy.”

Comments good or bad is what the conversation intrinsic to blogs is all about. What’s surprises me though is that Whitepages didn’t respond to any of the comments. So that prompted me to create a list of five things to do to help companies manage reputation in the blogosphere. The principles and strategies of reputation management are really the same as in the offline world, which includes a bit of patience and common sense.

Top 5 Actions to Reputation Management in the Blogosphere

  1. Monitor the blogosphere – There are many tools, some free, to monitor conversations in social media that includes blogs, Twitter and others. Simple and free tools include Google Alerts, search.twitter.com and other more analytics-based tools include SM2 (just acquired by Alterian) and Trackur.
  2. Respond quickly – Not in haste, mind you. But as quickly as can. Today, the absence of a rebuttal to criticism is close to admitting fault. It makes the company seem as if they are hiding something and some trust is potentially lost.
  3. Be nice, don’t flame, ever!–If you are upset, push away from your computer and take a few deep breaths. Once you are cooled down, craft a response and maybe ask for some internal feedback before posting. And don’t forget to thank the person who posted. Remember, you are glad to have people talking about your company or product.
  4. Share more. Be more transparent–If facts were misstated or misinterpreted, clarify. In Whitepages case, the $2.5 million was not actually a fee they paid agencies. Rather it was a number spliced together based on the value of internal effort and resources. My PR experience would tell me that to throw out that large figure in a headline, when it requires further explanation, is risky and misleading.
  5. Befriend the bloggers –If the posts or comments are from bloggers you don’t currently follow, then make sure you subscribe to their blogs and participate. The power of conversation can turn potential enemies into friends.
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