Why Your Local Reputation Is Your Biggest Potential Brand Crisis

Why Your Local Reputation Is Your Biggest Potential Brand Crisis

If negative reviews turn you off, you're not alone. Research shows that 40 percent of consumers form an opinion on a business after reading just one, two, or three reviews -- and 86 percent hesitate to purchase from a business that has negative reviews. The impact of poor consumer feedback can be detrimental to a business's future sales. Every "star" a business loses will cost it upwards of 9 percent of its revenue.

Most CMOs and their teams, whether owing to a lack of understanding or resources, don't have a good handle on the critical conversations happening on the local level that they need to manage their brand's reputation on a national scale. By not claiming local profiles, not responding to feedback in a timely manner, and not controlling their local messaging, businesses are putting their reputations on the line -- which can spell a major crisis for their bottom line.

I recently read a Deloitte study exploring how organizations prepare for a brand crisis and was surprised to see a lack of social media mentioned in the top five takeaways. A brand's social presence is a critical marketing and consumer engagement channel -- particularly for franchise brands, where a brand's reputations is being formed by customers' experiences at each individual location. If you don't have national ownership and oversight of all of the channels where customers are leaving feedback and engaging in conversation about your brand, how can you be adequately prepared for a crisis?

Here's a classic example. In 2013, a Taco Bell employee posted a photo on Facebook of himself licking a stack of taco shells in the store. The photo spread rapidly across social media, spurring a national brand crisis and a formal investigation into the activity of the employee. That same year, Taco Bell saw the growth rate of its average sales per restaurant and sales per square foot cut almost in half from the previous year. If Taco Bell had had holistic management of all its channels, the company could have caught the picture earlier and minimized the situation -- before the post went viral and the crisis rose to a national level and affected sales.

Where to begin?

Even more concerning than a rogue employee are the hundreds of thousands of organic conversations customers are initiating online. With Google and Facebook now dominating over pure-play review sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, more and more customer conversations and complaints are happening on search and social platforms. Deeply monitoring each review and comment thread is essential to managing a brand's overall reputation. So where should brands and CMOs begin?

Most brands have control of their national social pages, but not their local ones. But five times more customer engagement occurs on local social media pages than on the brand page. So before doing anything else, brands must make moves to obtain access to all the social properties representing the company online. Start by contacting franchise owners and social platforms, and do whatever it takes to collect all of your URLs and unify channel oversight. It can be a daunting process, particularly for companies with thousands of national locations, but leaving one errant channel is enough to spark a new Taco Bell fiasco.

Once you have national ownership of your accounts, place the day-to-day oversight back in the hands of the local owners. For multi-location companies, though, there is no "one size fits all" approach. Corporate should oversee and regulate content to ensure all accounts are on-brand and on-message -- but markets can be tricky, and individual towns and cities should be approached with their own nuances. Social media managers must create content showing they care about their local communities and that works to engage them, while also staying true to and consistent with national brand messaging.

Remember that consistency and speed in your messaging and response matters -- a lot. The easiest way to lose control of your brand's reputation is to make your customers feel ignored. So if you take nothing else away from this article, hear this: Anyone managing your brand and local online presence should respond to customer feedback within 24 hours.

Numerous studies exist showing how detrimental ignoring your customers is to a brand's market success. Consumers need to see that the brand cares enough to listen and make it right. If they aren't heard and embraced, their hard-earned money is going elsewhere.

CMOs, I implore you, identify and take control of your brand's social properties across all platforms. Having to reallocate a chunk of your multimillion-dollar budget toward crisis management after the fact hurts your brand, and can tamper with your reputation. Claim those channels now and prevent a future crisis in the making.

 Afif Khoury is the CEO and co-founder of reputation and social media management platform SOCi. He has spent the past decade involved in startups and venture capital investments as an attorney, venture capitalist, and serial entrepreneur. Contact him at afif@meetsoci.com.

Published: August 13th, 2018

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