Motivated by fear

Is fear the leading motivator for clients who want to monitor social media? A new BusinessWeek article focuses on companies' fears of online attack, but most of the people I talk to are more focused on using social media for market research. Even defensive monitoring activities aren't necessarily motivated by fear.

Most companies are wholly unprepared to deal with the new nastiness that's erupting online. That's worrisome as the Web moves closer to being the prime advertising medium—and reputational conduit—of our time. "The CEOs of the largest 50 companies in the world are practically hiding under their desks in terror about Internet rumors," says top crisis manager Eric Dezenhall, author of the upcoming book Damage Control. "Millions of dollars in labor are being spent discussing whether or not you should respond on the Web."
Web Attack leads with the scare factor, but it doesn't get to whether the examples actually affected the businesses. A barrage of angry emails isn't damaging; failing to correct the issues that inspired the emails is. Online forums create a place for critics to gather, and while they can attract the wrong kind of attention to your brand, they also make it easier for you to know how your stakeholders want you to change. Painful, maybe, but the desire to improve your business is a better motivator than fear.

I'm not sure grouping social media analysis companies with ReputationDefender under a "counter-vigilantes" label is much of a compliment, either. I can read it as "opposed to vigilantes," but I think most readers in a hurry will interpret it as "the vigilantes on the other side."

B2B presents a more representative view of social media analysis as a tool for reputation management:

While public opinion surveys and media analysis have been traditional tools for measuring reputation, monitoring and analyzing online blogs and forums increasingly is important.
Blogosphere sentiment also can constitute leading-edge intelligence, since bloggers tend to pick up industry trends almost immediately and, unlike mainstream media, flog them heavily.
Fear of online attack is one motivator, sure. But there's more to learn than whether employees resent the CEO, and companies should get beyond fear to understand what they can learn from online sources. I haven't seen an example yet when a company's performance was hurt by the online conversation in the absence of an underlying problem in the real world.


About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
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