Four questions when looking for a reputation management solution

Earlier this year Jeff outlined a few things you should consider when investigating a reputation management solution. Since we often get asked for our opinion on this topic, I thought it would be good to outline those "questions to ask" again.

1. Where does the content come from? Good analysis starts with the content. Please, please, please don't get wowed by the pretty pictures. Real insight comes from looking for patterns and trends in large and varied content sets. Make sure your vendor can tell you how they acquire their mainstream, blog, and social media content. Ask the hard questions about where their data comes from, are there any potential copyright issues that could alter access to this information in the future, and do they have any agreements in place to go after content from the likes of Facebook or MySpace.

2. Can they customize for your industry? Nowadays, it's not enough to just monitor the passing mentions of you or your competitors. Insight comes from digging deeper to figure out what people are commenting or worried about, not what your marketing folks think they *might* be worried about. Whether a solution is based on a search engine or a text analytics engine, make sure it can discover what's driving the discussion about your industry. You need to go beyond measuring the penetration of your marketing message, because after some analysis, that may not be what people online are talking about.

 3. What's the sentiment of my brand? Sentiment: it's the new beige (yes, this is good for us, since we have a sentiment engine). We've noticed in the last 12 months that sentiment has become one of those checklist items in brand and social media monitoring. I suspect it has come about due to the economic ups and downs, and the ever increasing reach of consumer generated content. Companies have to know if they're getting trashed out in cyberspace, and because of the volumes, the only way to do this is with an automated sentiment engine. Your vendor may not use our engine, but whatever they use, make sure that they can measure sentiment at the item (company, brand, product) level. Measuring sentiment at the document level is fine, and may provide some of the needed insight, but if the content is comparing two brands, then you want to go beyond the document level and into the actual comparisons. And, yes, we do recommend humans play a role in the sentiment analysis process. Automation is an added benefit in the process.

4. Can I touch it? The first generation of reputation management systems tended to have large account management teams behind them to build out and manage customer's reports. The customer couldn't go in and adjust the reports themselves because the systems weren't exactly user-friendly. This is fine if you have deep pockets for all the services work, but in today's world that doesn't seem to be the norm. Many of the newer solutions that are available, or are being built, allow the customer to build and manage their own reports. This is no small undertaking, but it does provide users a cost effective way to gain the insight that something like Google Reader can't provide. Naturally, when selecting a provider, it's not as easy as asking these 4 simple questions when making your decision. There are many other questions about integration, update frequency and test-driving the solution. But if you can answer these 4 to your satisfaction then chances are the solution you're considering can at least help get you started with reputation management.