“If my critics saw me walking over the Thames they would say it was because I couldn’t swim.” Margaret Thatcher
Just as each reputation has its stakeholders, so too it will have its share of detractors. While not always welcomed, a detractor is still a stakeholder, in that their opinions and actions contribute to the overall perception of your online reputation. Although it is impossible identify and classify every single person that attacks your reputation, you should find that many fall into at least one of the following seven categories.
The Loyalist detractor is one that knows your brand very well. They’re likely a long-time customer and have spent many years, and many dollars, buying from you. They know what to expect from your reputation and they have a keen sense of any departure from your normal service or product standards.
When a Loyalist makes a complaint, you should give them special attention. They’ve spent a lot of money with you and, if you don’t keep them happy, could decide to take their future transactions elsewhere.
American Airlines does a great job of keeping its Loyalists happy with its Aadvantage frequent flier program—rewarding its “elite” fliers with additional perks and priority customer service.
The Brandvocate is someone that has not only invested their dollars, but has also invested their time as an advocate for your brand. They love you! They tell others just how great you are, and without any monetary incentive, refer a lot of customers your way.
A Brandvocate will feel the most slighted when you make an announcement that they feel they should have been consulted on. When the apparel retailer Gap tried to change its logo, its Brandvocates quickly attacked the new design and caused the company to make a quick retreat.
The best way to keep your Brandvocates happy is to set up an insiders club or newsletter where they receive exclusive sneak peeks at new products and have their chance to provide feedback before you make any changes to your brand.
The Virgin is represented by all of the customers doing business with you for the first time. They had an expectation of how you would treat them and you didn’t live up to that.
A Virgin detractor will most likely complain when they feel suckered. Perhaps your sales representative over-sold the fuel efficiency of your trucks, or your latest laundry detergent didn’t get out the toughest stains, as promised.
Keep your Virgins happy by recognizing that they may need their hand held a little more. Follow-up calls after a purchase, a new customer onboarding process, and not over-selling in the first place, will all help avoid a reputation attack from a Virgin detractor.
You can open the shades again; a Professional detractor is not a hired hitman. Instead, they represent anyone that writes reviews or critiques for a living. Journalists, bloggers, and secret shoppers all fall into this category of detractor.
A reputation attack by a Professional will likely be more tempered, but that is offset by the wider audience they enjoy. Famed technology columnist Walt Mossberg might not ever fervently attack your reputation, but if he remarks that your new computer is too slow to compete with its rivals, then millions of people will be influenced by his criticism.
Building relationships with your Professional detractors is the best way to avoid the worst of their attacks. A continual feed of honest information, an effort to make yourself available to answer their questions, and talking points that explain your weaknesses, will all go a long way to softening their blow.
Believe it or not, your own employees can do just as much damage as any other type of detractor. A Disgruntled employee may well try to anonymize their attacks, but their secrecy can often lend insider credibility to their words.
A Disgruntled detractor will often leave anonymous comments on blog posts about you, or write reviews under a pseudonym. For the most part, they’ll cover their tracks, but you’ll know that the attack is coming from the inside by the startling accuracy of their claims.
While it’s important to monitor what your employees say in social media, even more important is to ensure that your employees are actually happy. Keep them trained, keep them challenged, pay them well, and ultimately make them feel that they are an important part of your reputation. When they feel that way, they’ll be less likely to attack the same reputation they are invested in.
Not every detractor is exactly who they claim to be. An undermining detractor is very likely a competitor out to sabotage your online reputation.
An Underminer will be deliberately vague in their complaints. You’ll read their review and something—or a lot of things—just won’t add up. You can’t find their order or that rude employee named “John” doesn’t even exist. It doesn’t matter to the Underminer. Their goal is to leave enough negative reviews that your potential customers will start to question your integrity.
The best method for dealing with an Underminer is to offer a toll free number or email address where they can reach you. Express your desire to get more specific details so that you can rectify their situation and you should find that they quickly lose their voice and scurry back to the shadows of the internet.
The Troll lives for the reputation attack. An employee you fired for stealing, a customer who felt you didn’t rectify a situation to their satisfaction, or perhaps even a jilted lover. The Troll represents anyone that delights in sabotaging your reputation.
A Troll is practically impossible to please. They don’t want anything from you and by engaging them you only fuel their flames of critique and give them the audience they so desperately desire.
For the most part you should ignore the Trolls. As Scott Stratten reminds his Twitter followers, you are not the “Jack Ass whisperer.” While it may be painful to leave their comments unanswered, you’ll likely find that most stakeholders will ignore their incoherent rants. Only if they drift over to the realm of defamation should you pay attention—something you’ll learn more about on Day 28.
One size doesn’t fit all
A detractor can fall into any of the aforementioned categories. You may even find some overlap—a Brandvocate that also writes as a Professional for the local newspaper or a Disgruntled employee acting as a Troll. You may not even be able to readily define your detractor. If that’s the case, try to look for patterns in their complaints, or look at reviews they’ve left for others. Someone may look like a Professional, but upon further digging you realize that they work for a rival and always attack their competitors.
Having an idea of the different categories of detractors will mean one less thing to figure out, when starring down a bona fide reputation attack.