Online "Brand Management:" Good? Bad? Or it depends?

April 17, 2007 at 12:57 pm 5 comments

Really curious what others think about this…and I guess even more curious if anyone would share their experiences using it!! 

If you are “Tag Drafting” me, you already found this article in The Seattle Times from about a week ago.  It talks about a local company, Visible Technologies as a company to watch.  I’ve quoted a big chunk of the article by Brier Dudley here as I think it’s a good intro…

“Visible is monitoring every place that people can submit comments online and copying the conversations into a massive database.

Discussions are mapped, influential people are identified and Visible’s software then helps clients engage in the conversations or directly contact the influencers.

 …Its other major product is a search-optimization tool that companies and several local billionaires use to influence how they appear in search engines’ top results.

…If a blogger badmouths the Hummer, for instance, the system could notify GM. Within the console, a PR person can draft a response, inserting key points, then get approval to post or e-mail the nettlesome blogger.

Clients pick an “author” or opt for anonymity. Visible also has a virtual army — thousands of personas registered with online forums.

Graziano said the idea is to make it easier for companies to respond and participate, but it’s up to clients to decide how the tools are used.

“This is a communication tool,” he said. “It’s not a pull-the-wool-over-anybody’s-eyes tool.”

It makes you think twice about the authenticity of conversations in the Web community. It’s also a reminder that you have to think critically about all media, new and old, online and off.

The technology can also backfire, if the users go too far and come across as inauthentic participants online, said Forrester Research analyst Peter Kim.

“In the end,” he said, “the authentic voices win out: the human voices.”

In an earlier post, I asked if “Google is stealing equity from your brand?”  In that post I questioned what affiliations (and therefore risks) your brand takes based on what comes up with it when users search for you.  And what you might do about these risks.  Then today, from the Visible Technologies web site I quote:

With more than 90 percent of consumers now relying on Google, Yahoo!, MSN Live, and AOL for information, what people see when results are returned for your brand and employees can have a major impact on your reputation and business.

Let’s think a little about the services Visible is offering (TruView and TruCast) and let’s assume they work brilliantly (this is an assumption, I have no idea:  I guess if they use their own products, they could make a point by demonstrating that they found my little post about them here.) 

  • TruView:  Reputation management service for organizations, brands, companies and/or people designed to “ensure that fair and accurate information is correctly ranked among the top 20 results on each site when people search for your company, products and services, or executive management team.”

hmmm.  Well, I can’t help but think that “fair and accurate” is often NOT aligned with what an org, brand, company or people want discovered first.  Who decides what is “fair and accurate?” – the users or the company?  And what steps does the service take to deliver on this product promise?  Dangerous but interesting ground.  I could sure see politicians and celebrities using a service like this and potentially with fair intent.  I could also see this used to the extreme in ways that really damage the utility of independent user communities – critical voices marginalized.

  • TruCast: Online Conversation Marketing solution.  Harvests all the user generated conversations about “you.”  Identifies and categorizes the conversations, identifies Influencers and directs/orchestrates your participation/response process.

To be sure, I don’t think there is any real shortcut to engaging in “your” communities.  However, I would be really interested to see how this worked.  The concept here I think fits very well with insight capture discussed in an earlier post.  And of course I am a huge proponent of influencer detection and engagement as a cornerstone of community strategy development.  I’m not sure I like the examples used to describe this service as they feel very marketing centric and I fear that if your community engagement is about marketing response to online conversations about “you” then you are in trouble.  Those responses generally only benefit YOU and not your users, so the balance is not right – and therefore your community strategy is defensive or controlling vs truly participative.  But, this comes down to how you use the tool, not the tool itself. 

I guess in debating if this is good, bad or it depends, I almost see this like a weapons manufacturer.  The weapons themselves are neither good nor bad – it depends on who ultimately is using them and for what purposes.  I really hope to learn more about this to share later.

A few other companies with related products or services:  Buzz Metrics, Neboweb, Digital Vigilance, icrossing.

Sean

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Entry filed under: General Community Discussion.

A couple of good reads (and one not so good) to share today… Attending a few events in the next several weeks…

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Blake Cahill  |  April 18, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    Sean –

    Interesting perspectives on brand management and social media engagement. The importance of listening and engaging to what people are saying is critical with the emergence of this new form of communication.

    More organizations should start listening to what people are saying about their brands, products, and services. With respect to engagement — its key to be transparent and why I think more and more firms are adopting WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) Ethics Standards, of which we are members.

    Visible Technologies solutions enable companies to better manage the process of engaging and ensuring that the best people within their companies are responding.

    Blake Cahill
    Visible Technologies

    Reply
  • 2. Art Entlich  |  April 20, 2007 at 4:26 am

    I am always intrigued by watching how “industry” responds to a shift in the balance of communication power.

    There was a point some years ago that someone developed a method of placing graffiti over websites. This wasn’t a hack against established websites, but a service one could subscribe to which would run the “overlay” graphics on a separate server, which would only be visible to those who wished to see it. I don’t know what ever became of that experiment.

    Corporations seem to think that it is just fine for them to propagandize us with advertising through every form of known media, without asking our permission, to the point where we now have companies buying rights to use of private vehicles, signs above urinals in toilets, floors and ceilings of stores and people’s bodies and clothes are real estate for ads. We buy a DVD and it comes with advertisements we are obligated to sit through to get to the main attraction for which we paid the license.

    As I stated, somehow, all of this is “just, and good and fair”. But the moment the balance of power for the minds of others goes to the individual (blogs, email, webcasts, you-tube movies, etc.) suddenly the lobbyists and PR people are panicked. They want to not only know exactly what we have said, when we have said it, but they want to be able to respond, influence and evangelize, overtly or covertly.

    I find it quite ironic. I am a consumer advocate. I try to carry on discussions, usually “in camera” with corporations about things I feel could be changed or improved upon, whether its marketing, design, construction, packaging, pricing structure, nature of the manuals, environmental issues, or whathaveyou. In most cases, the corporations ignore my issues or concerns. If I bug them enough about it, they may respond, usually begrudgingly. While they are paying hundreds of thousands to their own internal people to “seek and destroy” these types of errors or failures, when it comes from a clients or knowledgeable user, suddenly, they clam up and use any manner of slight of hand to try to dismiss the matter. And yet, if the new services being discussed come to exist, they will be prepared with their cyber-PRmen ready to jump upon the first public comment made on the internet that is deemed in some manner negative.

    I have a radical idea. Instead of spending money on hiring automated cyber-lobbyists, why not rehire the customer and consumer service people and have them address issues that come directly to the company from clients? I know the idea of carrying on a real, intelligent discussion with a real end user of a product sounds scarey and old fashioned, it actually can give a company insight into what’s going on out there. Why businesses would rather spend money of advertising, lobbyists, damage control and surveys when their customers are willing to provide direct feedback, is beyond me.

    Most individuals who are now using methods of communicating with the public and to corporations via blogs, emails, and other cyber-methods likely started out using the letter writing campaign to the company strategy only when they found direct communications with the corporation futile and ineffective.

    Rather than scanning the internet looking for detractors, why not hire some customer service people who have listening and problem solving skills? I am always intrigued by watching how “industry” responds to a shift in the balance of communication power.

    There was a point some years ago that someone developed a method of placing graffiti over websites. This wasn’t a hack against established websites, but a service one could subscribe to which would run the “overlay” graphics on a separate server, which would only be visible to those who wished to see it. I don’t know what ever became of that experiment.

    Corporations seem to think that it is just fine for them to propagandize us with advertising through every for of known media, without asking our permission, to the point where we now have companies buying rights to use of private vehicles, signs above urinals in toilets, floors and ceilings of stores and people’s bodies and clothes are real estate for ads. We buy a DVD and it comes with advertisements we are obligated to sit through to get to the main attraction for which we paid the license.

    As I stated, somehow, all of this is just, and good and fair. But the moment the balance of power for the minds of others goes to the individual (blogs, email, webcasts, you-tube movies, etc.) suddenly the lobbyists and PR people are panicked. They want to not only know exactly what we have said, when we have said it, but they want to be able to respond, influence and evangelize, overtly or covertly.

    I find it quite ironic. I am a consumer advocate. I try to carry on discussions, usually “in camera” with corporations about things I feel could be changed or improved upon, whether its marketing, design, construction, packaging, pricing structure, nature of the manuals, environmental issues, or whathaveyou. In most cases, the corporations ignore my issues or concerns. If I bug them enough about it, they may respond, usually begrudgingly. While they are paying hundreds of thousands to their own internal people to “seek and destroy” these types of errors or failures, when it comes from a clients or knowledgeable user, suddenly, they clam up and use any manner of slight of hand to try to dismiss the matter. And yet, if the new services being discussed come to exist, they will be prepared with their cyber-PRmen ready to jump upon the first public comment made on the internet that is deemed in some manner negative.

    I have a radical idea. Instead of spending money on hiring automated cyber-lobbyists, why not rehire the customer and consumer service people and have them address issues that come directly to the company from clients? I know the idea of carrying on a real, intelligent discussion with a real end user of a product sounds scarey and old fashioned, it actually can give a company insight into what’s going on out there. Why businesses would rather spend money of advertising, lobbyists, damage control and surveys when their customers are willing to provide direct feedback, is beyond me.

    Most individuals who are now using methods of communicating with the public and to corporations via blogs, emails, and other cyber-methods likely started out using the letter writing campaign to the company strategy only when they found direct communications with the corporation futile and ineffective.

    Rather than scanning the internet looking for detractors, why not hire some customer service people who have listening and problem solving skills?

    Reply
  • 3. Sean  |  April 20, 2007 at 11:27 pm

    Well, credit where due to Blake with Visible tech…took them less than a day to mind this list post on my blog…software must work.

    Thanks Arthur for you thoughtful post…I think you rightfully point out many of the dangers. I do think software/services like what Visible is developing (I’m setting up time to see it in order to further understand) could be used for good as well. I don’t want to sound anti-marketing as that really is not me, but at the same time, it is the marketing and PR function I would worry most about how/if they might use technology like this…whereas, as as support and customer service guy, I can see some good potential for this.

    either way, thanks for futhering the conversation on this.

    sean

    Reply
  • […] few months ago I blogged about a local Seattle company called Visible Technologies (Online Brand Management:  Good, Bad or it depends).  In my post, I made a comparison to a weapons manufacturer where the weapons were neither […]

    Reply
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