Join The Conversation – Or Else!

By Martin Kelly in San Jose

“Join the conversation” – that’s the advice from leading online reputation management experts on the best approach to handling bloggers with a negative fix on their company or industry.

As Nan Dawkins, Partner at RedBoots Consulting, says: “It’s not a conversation if you’re not responding to criticism.”

Blogging is the tip of the social search iceberg, and a big topic at the Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose.

Online ‘communities’ have been a constant reference point for speakers across all tracks.

Websites continually referred to include del.icio.us (URL, link tagging), flickr.com (image sharing), digg.com (links/stories/tools) and technorati.com (blog search engine and resource).

In travel terms, TripAdvisor, Travelocity, Expedia and Travel Planner from Yahoo have also been referenced, though not always in glowing terms (more on that later).

Yet for all the hot new sites, blogging remains front of mind for a couple of reasons:

1) Many of the speakers have their own blogs (ergo blogging must be important)

2) Blogs can have a major impact, positive or negative, on brand reputation if picked up by one of the ‘communities’ listed above

According to statistics cited by Dawkins, blogs account for 26% of search engine rankings on Fortune 500 companies.

Meanwhile, 62% of consumers regard bloggers as the most trusted source of information.

She says Techorati claims that one new blog is being created every second and that there are currently around 53 million blogs in existence.

So what can you do if a blogger takes a dislike to your company or product and those negative thoughts are ranking high on search engines?

CEO of Converseon, Rob Key, agrees that joining the conversation is the best initial strategy – send an email, correct any factual errors, don’t be heavy-handed.

He advises the creation of social media sites by companies under attack to push negative blogs down the rankings and off the vital front page.

“Create social media relevant to your industry,” he says.

Travel reviews on sites such as Travelocity, Expedia and TripAdvisor, came under he spotlight when a hotelier in the audience complained that her property was getting bad reviews (surely it wasn’t for any good reason?).

Her issue is that because the reviews on these sites are anonymous, there is no way to contact reviewers to address their issues.

Likewise, there is no guarantee the reviews are real because in most instances reviewers are not required to prove that they stayed at the property in question.

In other words, reviews could be posted by competitors or consumers with a grudge.

“Also it means we could be posting stuff about our own property, but that’s not really the point,” she says.

Ironically, the advice she received was to do exactly that, post her own comments, and also encourage (presumably) satisfied guests to post their own comments and hopefully drown out the negativity.

In other words, join the conversation.

Ends

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