Winning the Reputation Battle

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Emeka Onyekonwu, the Chief Executive Officer of Global Sentinel Limited, helps brands to manage their online reputation. Recently, he gave a talk on Online Crisis and Reputation Management at a workshop in Lagos. In this interview with Solomon Elusoji, he shares his thoughts on how social media is shaping the way brands interact with customers, among other issues

Why is social media important today?

Before the advent of the internet and social media, a lot of information was sent through the traditional media. But how many people or things does traditional media consider newsworthy? For example, if you go to a telecoms experience centre or a bank, and they treat you badly, you can’t possible go to a newspaper and complain. But with social media, you can go on a rant. With the click of a button, you get the attention of the world. So these days, it is very easy to get heard and that’s why brands must make sure they improve customer service; you ignore people at your peril.

Is this a good thing for brands?

It is a good thing and it’s also a bad thing. It’s good because you can tell your own side of the story, as quickly as possible and in the exact way you want it told. It is a bad thing because there is a lot of misinformation, a lot of fake stories. But on the whole, you need to balance the good and the bad.

How should brands use social media to tell their stories?

It depends on the story they want to tell. If you want to post a long video, you probably want to use YouTube. But it’s even advisable not to do long videos these days; nobody has the time and data to watch all that; social media has taught us to be concise – that’s why a lot of people go to Twitter, which forces you to condense all you want to say in those few characters. Same thing goes for Instagram and Snapchat – with their one minute videos. But, basically, it depends on what you want to put out. If it’s a long post, you can do Facebook. But a lot of people are more active on Twitter – when people want to talk about serious stuffs, they go there –  although Facebook has far more accounts. Still, if you are a big brand, people will actually see what you have to say, whichever platform you use.

What do you advise for social media growth. Organic growth or paid growth?

Organic is always best. That’s where content management comes in. If you do it well, people will follow. But when you do paid growth, someone in Afghanistan comes and follows you and your market is here in Nigeria, how does that help you? Social media is about people who you can engage and interact with. So, for business purposes, organic is always the best.

What is the future of social media?

Right now, a lot of foreign brands use chat-bots where programmes are built to answer your questions, and it feels, sometimes, like you are conversing with a fellow human being. It reminds me of one competition that Air France did. It takes the pressure off staff resources; you can redirect manpower to do different things, because you know your customers are being attended to promptly. So, artificial intelligence is the next frontier and it is actually something that everybody should embrace, although with some restrictions; restrictions because, a few days ago, Facebook had to shut down one of its artificial intelligence projects because the robots developed their own language. We see things like these in movies, where robots take over the world and enslave humans. So, like Elon Musk, I think artificial intelligence should be regulated. Is it is a good thing? Yes. But it needs to be regulated, because we have seen that it is possible for them to develop a mind of their own.

What is online reputation management?

Reputation management is basically the attempt to shape public perception of a brand by influencing information. It is about monitoring the conversations around the brand and being responsive; for example, someone tweets a message to the brand, you need to be quick to respond and you also need to be authentic. Also, you try to avoid saturation – drowning people in too much information. Then, of course, you can get certified stakeholders – people who have had good experience with your brand – to tell your story. You need to have a presence on all major social media, use crawlers to monitor conversations, etc.

What are your best tips for dealing with an online crisis?

No two crises are the same. Each comes with its own peculiarities. But, most times, tackling these things come with careful thinking. If it is already a full blown crisis, you need to tell your own side of the story. If it is a false story, you can just go ahead to talk to the website’s host or Google to de-index the purveyors. But if it is something that is true – if your staff did something awful – you cannot be caught lying. You might want to sack the offender(s) to regain public trust, and make steps to ensure that such a crisis does not repeat itself. But the key thing is that you get a chance to tell your own story.

How does someone become an online reputation manager?

I don’t know of any school in Nigeria that teach how to be an online reputation manager. But there are courses out there on social media management and all that, but reputation management goes beyond social media management; it also entails you being able to think outside the box, and that’s not something anybody can teach you. At the end of the day, it is about being about to set up strategies to deal with crises whenever they come up.