Consumers and their opinions can make or break your brand. This has always been the case. Historically, companies have had to depend on focus groups, surveys or annual consumer preference studies to understand people’s opinions of their brand and products. Now, the world moves faster. Brand equity can be destroyed overnight. The Internet has dramatically changed the way people interact and discuss brands.
Beyond giving every consumer a near-instant voice, the Internet has also provided companies many free tools to monitor, manage and interact with consumers. The knowledge gained from using these tools can dramatically improve your company’s awareness of coming trends and crowning concerns. It can also allow for you to quickly respond to problems.
Here are some free tools that you can start using today to help manage your company’s reputation in the digital space:
Google Alerts is one of the most common tools available. This service allows you to select the search terms you would like tracked, as well as the type of content, such as news, blogs, Web, video and groups. You then select how often you wish to receive alerts and the email address you want them sent to. Then, whenever news on your selected search terms becomes available it is delivered to your email inbox.
Twitter is a rapidly growing social networking site. Unlike bloggers, Twitterers post quick entries in their feeds. Users can then choose to follow other Twitterers and comment on their postings. What makes Twitter different is the instant response of a Twitter post. You can get up-to-date information regarding conversations on this service by using the Twitter search tool located at search.twitter.com.
Technorati is a search engine specific to blogs. You can use the standard Technorati search to find blog posts about specific keywords or you can use the “watchlist” service. With a free account, you can enter any number of key phrases in the system and see real-time listings of blog posts that contain key phrases. You can also subscribe to these lists as RSS feeds and pull them into your preferred feed reader.
Search Engines are perhaps the most obvious option. Google, Yahoo and Live make up the vast majority of Web searches performed on the Internet, so they should be the focus of your efforts. In all three of these search engines, you can search for a variety of content types such as Web, images and video. Google allows you to search blogs as well.
Social Networks such as Facebook, MySpace and Friendster house millions of user profiles. Most of these users list their preferences and interests on their profiles. Services like Wink.com allow you to search across many of the social networks. This search can help you to establish which users enjoy your product and list it as an interest. These users have the potential to become brand ambassadors, spreading the goodwill of your company and product.
While all of these tools can get you and your company started, there is a great deal more information that can be attained and managed from the Internet. With the right marketing partner, these tools, along with a variety of sophisticated solutions, can create reports on current trends, help develop a strong marketing plan and help to engage and encourage your existing fan base online.