We know social media adoption is on the rise among many demographics, increasingly used by people who want to commune with others as part of a group.  Broadband and mobile data access is steadily climbing.  Technology, accessibility, and a group mindset readily influence our culture; has brand image ever been more important?  These 3 tips can help you come out on top.

1)  Develop a crisis communications plan. Yes, this is PR-101. And yet surprisingly few companies prepare for possible disaster scenarios.

Social media  participation requires advance planning by brands. Tactical execution means internal teams need to adhere to a policy drafted in accordance with a business’s culture, brand personality and tolerance to risk. These two steps can help shape online image perception in ways a brand can directly nurture and influence.

But power over image doesn’t rest solely within an organization. A few instances of poor retail experience, apathetic customer service or mis-packed shipments may start a perfect online storm.   Your carefully built brand image could come under fire. Then what? Response is always better than simple reaction.

Imagine the worst that could happen and plan out well-considered responses which can be deployed in the right channels in a timely (not reactionary) mode.

2)  Gather consistent feedback from customers and defectors.  Sometimes without intending to, businesses can have their heads in the sand. Market research can surface a wealth of user feedback to serve multiple end goals.  Use it to gain insight which could influence employee training, product merchandising, customer communications and more. Learn how your brand is perceived by the very people who buy – and no longer buy – your product.

Think of research as a proactive measure while the crisis plan can equip you for a situational response.

3)  Listen to what’s being shared online.  While you may be good at replying to @yourbrand mentions on Twitter or wall posts by Facebook fans, that’s only part of the story.  Lots has been written about how to use free or low-cost tools that can help you cast a wider net.   What you discover presents opportunities to learn from fans and detractors alike.

Let’s recap ways you can protect your image online:

  • Plan for crisis. Be prepared with the most well-thought response, deployable in real time.
  • Maintain a constant feedback loop. Filter the insights gained from customers back into your operations for continual improvement.
  • Pay attention to what’s being said online.  Build bridges with detractors and strengthen ties with fans.