Virtual communities, these communities that exist within the Internet Society, abound. Shareholder relationship management that does not take into account the discussions in a variety of on-line media is at a disadvantage. Political lobbying without some view of the issues in cyberspace is at a disadvantage. Issues management without research into the opinions being expressed in the Internet Society miss fast moving comment. Community relations without a view of communities, is not able to gauge the local views. The list is extensive. Most companies also need a view as to how their on-line marketing is affecting the business.
One way of finding out about the relationships between companies and relevant issues and virtual communities is through one of the many Internet monitoring services. These services will present any new comment on a daily basis which makes monitoring simple and alerts the company to virtual communities as they discuss relevant topics.
The key to the influence of on-line communities is whether they will affect your business. Will comments in a newsgroup add to your ROI or the reverse? So far the jury is out. However, in reputation management terms, the evidence suggests that there is every case for planning on Internet communities having an effect on both marketing and corporate reputation and this in turn affects the company's ability to trade effectively.
The use of Internet communication shakes people out of watching, say, television into becoming involved. There is now significant evidence that the Internet is slicing into television viewing time.
While many seem to be panicked by bad mouthing in virtual communities, I take a more cautious view. It is unpleasant to be the subject of criticism especially when it is infounded. Certainly respond to comment with factual information when a comment
is plainly erroneous and could be very damaging. However, some of the biggest brand names in the world have withstood a barrage of Internet criticism for years. Nestle, Nike, McDonalds, Proctor an Gamble and many more could not have survived the Internet vilification had it been in newspapers. Gerald Ratner was reported in Newspapers for less and faced ruin.
The extent to which an ever growing proportion of the population becomes dependant on the Internet and seeks information, and the subsequent reaction to criticism turning to commercially harmful reaction is conjecture. That there is an effect is now beyond doubt. I am reasonably confident that share of Internet presence is significant because I see Amazon and Yahoo and e-bay growing ever more dominant and, in their Internet way, profitable.
I am tempted to believe that favourable comment is effective as between, for example, supermarkets. But I am of a mind that there has to be some coalition between the Internet Society and some manifestation of a coalition with another and powerful form of society before a significant reaction takes place. For example, the coalition between newspapers and the Internet has brought the one time darling of scientist and politician alike to its knees in the shape of agricultural genetic engineering. In this
respect, the nature of Internet reputation management, if only in its defensive role, remains important.
As an aid to enhancing reputation and there is significant evidence that Internet reputation management to enhance virtual presence is effective. I give you Freeserve, Xoom, the BBC and many more.
than acquiring not, in marketing folk law, rocket science. There is considerable evidence that getting a person to return too a site manifests itself in new or added sales. This is called 'stickiness' and enhances the value of the Internet investment. Thus site design and content is important.
In addition, the ability to measure the reaction of a visitor to a Web page, dwell time and pages for access and egress from your Web site can be monitored allowing incremental improvements to be made. In this way, 'stickiness' can be progressively improved.
In a similar way, it is possible to find out if, when and where visitors abandon buying from your site. This can be developed into a fine art by identifying where in the buying cycle the visitors looses interest, seeks more information or leaves the site.
The statistics from a Web site are significantly more informative than for other forms of marketing, advertising and selling. Mastering these techniques will ensure your company's on-line reputation is enhanced. Harm to reputation as manifest in the Internet Society, is quite specific. Where a particular community (or group of communities) promotes or denigrates a specific organisation the advantage or damage tends to be confined within these groups. The extent to which this has an effect on the trading capability of the company will depend on the influence of the group/s (and to some extent its reach).
Equally, the range of company activities under scrutiny, affects the company. All too often we see the single minded marketers only promoting products in cyberspace. But this is not the nature of Internet Society. This society wants information and passes it
on. If you like information about companies is 'traded' in the information hungry society. A wide range of available subject matter and interesting ways of re-presenting this information, adds its reach and potential to influence different Internet communities.
Thus information relevant to a financial audience and appearing in financial newsgroups and chat, can be made to migrate to consumer communities, when there is a commonality of interest and which adds to the story. A comparative analysis between Freeserve and Barclays Bank showed that there was a 60% penetration into different newsgroups for Freeserve compared to only 32% for Barclays in the period of one month. In addition the range of topics was even more marked with ten times more subjects for the ISP.
The opportunities for brand presence for Freeserve are, thereby greater and its ability to enhance ROI significantly greater.