Crisis communications, online reputation management and social media live by the same code, says Shashi Bellamkonda (@shashib), director of Social Media at Network Solutions. While many bestsellers describes the golden rule, it bears repeating: build your reputation by having a higher motive than self promotion, and commit to creating something useful that has nothing to do with your products.
Networks Solutions does it by creating popular industry research that provides insight to its small business customers. Content marketing, the steady creation of actionable business intelligence, transformed the company into an industry authority and then protected it in the wake of a web hosting company’s worst nightmare: a 2009 security breach.
Bellamkonda led the company’ communications team through that time, and since then has been building on relationships forged in crisis as a foundation of B2B marketing. Recently named as one of the top 100 Tech Titans for 2011 by Washingtonian Magazine, Bellamkonda sat down recently with “On the Record…Online,” the official podcast of the PRSA Digital Impact Conference in New York. He discussed among other things, his presentation at the conference, titled "Best Practices for Online Reputation Management."
2:17 Social media experience in itself has become a vital strategy for Network Solutions because it has been able to share its accumulated expertise with small business customers for free.
2:45 Social media strategy at Network Solutions comes down to the team continually asking itself how it can be useful and humanize its interactions (Shashi shares personal interests like restaurant reviews). Shashi pointed to Network Solutions’ sponsorship of the Small Business Success Index (SBSI), a survey/report that gives small business a view of their peers, competitors and useful trends. Surveys are among the most traditional PR tools, but blogging useful survey results and responding to comments about them has been positioned Network Solutions as a small business ally in the social media era.
4:15 Social media adoption still has a long way to go among organizations. Many still have no voice in the social networking conversations about them, no way to correct inevitable inaccuracies in public conversations and no way to tag out-of-date information for what it is. Shashi advises still hesitant companies to look at the Internal Revenue Service. Far from an ideal social media institution, it recently informed its online community that it does not have the staff right now to answer comments. Shashi says the agency also expressed their concerns about protecting private information like social security numbers as they seek to adopt social media, a concern that will shape their policies. His point though is that the IRS continues to explore social media, and to wrestle with policy and staffing, rather than sit it out.
7:00 Online security is among the most troubling issues facing the online industry today, with more than a million viruses causing damage on the internet right now. Hosting providers like Network Solutions fight constantly to combat threats with technology, but the nature of the problem threatens to damage reputations nonetheless. On top of its technical battle against these threats, Network responds in real time when customers become victims of a hacker or virus, solving the solution publicly. It has formalized and humanized the process of social media listening by organizing an advisory board of outside bloggers. In addition, much of the defense of client’s sites lies with clients, so company features outside security experts on its blogs to hammer home the importance of changing passwords and keeping antiviral software current.
11:28 Thought leadership at Network Solutions involves partnerships with third parties that lend content independent credibility. The Small Business Index is conducted twice a year, for instance, in partnership with the Robert H. Smith School of Business (@SmithSchool) at the University of Maryland and the research firm Rockbridge. Insights from this year’s survey include that most small businesses are more optimistic about the state of the economy for the first time in three years, and that one in three businesses responding to this year’s survey are now using social media, up from one in five polled last year. Leading this community intelligence project has generated blog traffic and “search karma” for the company, as well as coverage by mainstream reporters hungry for statistics and niche bloggers, some of whom call years later.
13:17 Sentiment analysis at Network Solutions proceeds in real time, and in some cases, using tools still in beta testing. The company is one tester of a tool called hy.ly (@hy_ly), created by a D.C. start-up of the same name. It creates simple social aps that help businesses build and engage with fan bases (e.g. welcome tab, sweepstakes tab and coupon tab). Network Solutions is using a hy.ly tool that enables its teams, when they see a Tweet that mentions the company, to immediately attach sentiment and keyword tags for later analysis. Its PR agency, CRT/Tanaka (@crttanaka), also recently conducted a six-month sentiment audit, providing Shashi with arguments for why engaging in conversations moves sentiment numbers (Network Solutions maintains 72 percent positive/neutral sentiment).
16:41 Social media listening is part and parcel with crisis management, and the smart company carefully considers its system and tools, says Shashi, speaking from
experience. In 2009, a hacker managed to insert some unauthorized code on servers supporting some Network Solutions ecommerce merchants’ websites, but was removed before affecting customers. The company won kudos for having a social media listening system in place that, combined with institutional willpower, enabled Shashi’s team to listen and respond to every post and tweet. Shashi’s favorite listening tools include Radian6 (@radian6), Twitter Search , Google Alerts and Backtype. Shashi also mentioned Toyota as a company that has done a great job recently using social media to build online reputation following a crisis. Specifically, the automaker has used tweetmeme (@tweetmeme) to create a branded page capturing any and every Tweet mentioning Toyota. This company-hosted, open conversation about how it is working to fix problems comes across to thought leaders as fearless.
17:55 Content creation maintains thought leadership, and Shashi has his eye on creating more useful social media content moving forward. Near future webcasts will help small businesses understand trends within curation, for example, and how companies will need to fit into emerging systems that sift through the information tidal wave based on consumer preferences to choose/limit what they see as they make buying decisions.
About the Guest Host
Greg Williams (@gregscience) is a consultant specializing in public relations for medical, science and technical companies. After beginning his career as an editor for the Associated Press, Williams has since served as a public relations strategist for two international public relations firms and two university medical centers, and as a writer for institutions including Eastman Kodak and the National Academy of Sciences.
About the Podcaster
Eric Schwartzman @EricSchwartzman provides online social media training, social media strategy and social media policy governance to public relations, public affairs, corporate communications and marketing specialists. He has extensive experience integrating emerging information technologies into organizational communications programs through public speaking, hands-on training seminars, consulting and the development of corporate policies on social media usage.
Schwartzman is the instructor behind the top-rated social media training seminars, the Social Media Boot Camp and the Social Media Master Class, which are offered monthly in the United States.