How your brand’s healthy online reputation can equal exponential return on your investment.

The world of online commerce and advertising is one that brands and consumers alike are constantly struggling to get the most out of. Brands want to reach their customers in ever more effective, targeted ads while consumers want something authentic; a great customer service experience, a helpful insider tip or an unheard-of deal.

Anyone who works in marketing is likely aware that–even in a digital age of targeted ads, email campaigns and thought leader blogs–peer to peer recommendations are (and always have been) consumers’ most trusted source of information on a potential purchase. According to Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising survey, 83 percent of respondents said they trust a recommendation from a friend, 70 percent said they trusted branded websites and 66 percent reported they trust consumer opinions posted online.

So what does this mean for digital marketers looking to maximize their return on investment (ROI)? It means the business that can successfully merge trustworthy endorsements with a strong online brand presence has the ultimate competitive edge.

Understanding “good” ROI

The blessing (and curse) of digital marketing is its subjectivity. Brands looking for the most effective marketing strategies must have a clear understanding of what a “good ROI” looks like for them specifically, with a reliable means of tracking it in real time.

Unless you’re building a marketing strategy for an ecommerce business with lots of daily transactions (think Amazon), you won’t be able to rely on the traditional benchmarks of sales volume and revenue to know if your campaign is “working”.

Instead, you’ll have to rely on what Trackmaven calls “leading metrics”. Leading metrics are relevant KPIs (determined by your marketing team, based on your unique business) that show users’ progress toward conversion (a sale).

For example, a lead generation business will want to track activity like website traffic, form or demo completions and later, lead conversion rate, lead volume and quality. For content-centric business, a leading metric would be website traffic, session time, and later, subscriptions.

Find your platform

Once you’ve determined a strong ROI that realistically reflects your business model, it’s time to tackle your game plan. Considering consumers’ most trusted sources (listed above), and assuming your website is already well-crafted, the next best place to start is to build a reputation management strategy.

“Reputation management” is what it sounds like; marketers work to maintain a positive reputation for their brand by engaging with customers online. As Angely Grecia writes on

“The key to effective brand reputation management is to embrace it as an ongoing relationship with your community. By making sure that this relationship is healthy, your company can increase brand loyalty and recognition in a competitive online landscape.”

Where this takes place online is up to you and your team. See where your customers seem apt to discuss their experiences with your brand–is it facebook? Twitter? Google reviews? If you aren’t sure or don’t have a strong online presence yet, there are a wide variety of third party platforms and reputation management softwares out there. This list from Business News Daily is a good start.

Short and long term ROI

Once you’ve established your reputation marketing strategy (complete with a solid ROI and good online platforms), it’s time to start reaping the short and long term benefits of cultivating your online community.

Successful reputation management should give you an uptick in site traffic, form conversions or lead volume fairly quickly. Make sure your tracking methods are accurate and consistent if you notice any dramatic increases or decreases.

Be prepared for initial customer responses to be negative–usually people have more initiative to seek out brand representatives or fellow consumers when they’ve had a bad experience and want to do something about it. This is a golden opportunity for you to address a single customer complaint while showing many more that your company is listening and taking feedback seriously.

This strategy is harder to quantify in terms of ROI, but it is extremely important nonetheless. Responding to individual customers and working to provide them with a better experience makes your brand more memorable and therefore more likely to come up next time your customer’s friend asks for a recommendation. William Arruda sums it up this way in an article for

“Enthusiastic clients can grow your reach exponentially. This phase of commitment has to do with stakeholder experience. It goes way beyond the tangible offering and the value-added features. It’s about how the brand makes them feel.”

If your customers feel heard, respected or valued, you’ve tapped into consumers’ number one trusted source of recommendations: their peers.

Online reputation management has become a major aspect of many brands’ marketing strategies, for good reason.

While the process of establishing wise leading metrics and a sound platform for engaging with customers may require time and resources, the benefits are too significant to ignore.

Powerful reputation management creates immediate brand recognition and can boost traffic and leads, but better yet it fosters an emotional connection between brand and customer. By engaging in a dialogue with customers, a company makes them feel individually valued and thus gains their trust, loyalty and referral network.