Rallyfan at Random Thoughts on Life and Work has an interesting post on how Samaritan's Purse is monitoring blogs to respond to both positive and negative postings. As Rallyfan notes, the organization did an excellent job of both reinforcing an already excited fan and doing damage control about negative messages spreading through the blogosphere.
This got me thinking about whether or not we're doing a good job of tracking what people are saying about our organizations. A few days ago I wrote about an article on MSNBC and the American crisis of faith in nonprofits. On the associated message forums, there were a lot of very negative comments from donors about how nonprofits do their fundraising and spend their dollars. If people read these things and there's no effective response from nonprofits, then the public is left with only one, unbalanced view of the situation.
Even if nonprofits don't have a strong web presence, this doesn't mean that their donor and constituent base isn't talking about them online. By not monitoring the talk, we lose opportunities to build positive brand images and to respond to negative messages. As more and more people use the Web as their primary information source, this will become a larger problem I suspect.
The Marketing Pilgrim has a great Online Reputation Monitoring Beginner's Guide that lays out some excellent strategies for keeping track of your organization's online reputation. They note:
Every single day, someone, somewhere is discussing something important to your business; your brand, your executives, your competitors, your industry. Are they hyping-up your company, building buzz for your products? Or, are they criticizing your service, complaining to others about your new product launch?
A great brand can take months, if not years, and millions of dollars to build. It should be the thing you hold most precious.
It can be destroyed in hours by a blogger upset with your company.
A new product launch could take hundreds of TV commercials, dozens of newspaper ads, and an expensive ad agency.
It can also spread like a virus with the praise of just one customer, at one message board.
A company can dominate market share, throttle competition and hold the #1 brand in the world.
It can also crash in months if it fails to listen to what its customers want.
Substitute the word "nonprofit" for "company" and think about this in the context of your organization and you can see how shaping your online reputation is as important as any other marketing or outreach you do. Given the time, energy and dollars you devote to building your image, it makes sense that you'd want to protect that investment in every way you can.