By Talita Myburgh, Online Reputation Measurement Manager for NATIVE

Consumer purchasing behaviour has changed dramatically since the advent of the internet, with the buying process shortening and now, critically, including re-engagement as the last step. Consumer willingness or even demand to engage with a brand provides strategic opportunities, not the least of which is to humanise the brand through relationship building, to retain customers.

While the advent and success of social media applications has made building a relationship fairly simple, maintaining a good reputation online is not necessarily so. Enter online reputation measurement (ORM).

ORM involves using digital tools to track online mentions of a brand as a consumer engages with its related products.

Measurement is, however, not as easy as it may sound, taking into account access to digital media and whether users set up their location preferences. But while these challenges exist, there are still sound reasons to measure online reputation.

Despite ubiquitous digital media access in certain market segments, consumers still need to be told about your product. Exposure won’t necessarily translate into purchases, but as long as exposure is a necessity budgeted for, it should be managed to achieve efficient return on investment. Online Reputation Management gives your business the tools to do this.

While rumours of the death of traditional media have been greatly exaggerated, as many consumers still prefer the concrete action of turning a printed page, eventually digital migration will reach a tipping point. Consumers with limited time and life-long familiarity with digital media will opt for tailored content, turning to quality online content aggregators (like Google) and smart devices to bring them engaging experiences. This migration will allow for more detailed tracking of user behaviour and sentiment regarding your online reputation.

These days a price difference is rarely a reason to choose one product over another. Consumers want real value, such as discounts, prizes and ultimately a personal relationship with your brand. You need to make them feel special; so if you know what they’re saying about you, and themselves, you can relate personally and meet their needs. You retain loyal customers and they receive personalised and improved service.

Finally, ORM allows you to level out your learning curve by monitoring what your competitors are doing and your customers’ reactions to their strategies. You determine what your competitors are doing right, what you’re doing wrong and most importantly, why consumers are reacting the way they do.

You are essentially measuring human behaviour and as such, quantitative and qualitative data are almost equally weighted.

Reporting requirements depend heavily on client requirements and business objectives. But that said, the most important macro- indicator of the health of a brand is sentiment that is tracked as a simple positive, negative or neutral vote. Share of voice is easy enough to track through volume, but pure volume really doesn’t say much about a brand’s performance.

What the consumer thinks about a product is important, but is just one factor to consider. Another is the circumstance surrounding purchase. Individuals are often not in complete control of their purchasing decisions. Industry trends and crowd sentiment are therefore essential to understanding behaviour.

Conversations around a brand will take place whether you choose to engage consumers or not. And if you do engage consumers, failing to measure the result of that engagement is like a business without financial statements – you’re flying blind.

This is probably the first time real-time, accurate information that can save a failing brand or take it to the next level is available. It makes good online business sense to use the tools at your disposal.

Talita Myburgh graduated from the University of Johannesburg with degrees in economics and law. She has completed her articles and will be wearing a gown by the end of 2011.

She started her career in the digital arena with Moral Fibre, a lifestyle blog, in 2007 and wrote about music, food and law. After that the social media bug bit and never let go.

About Talita Myburgh

Measuring human behaviour in digital properties is a recent adventure she has embarked on. She believes that making sense of the beautiful chaos that is human behaviour is hard but never boring. Working at NATIVE has afforded her the brilliant opportunity to explore behavioural and cognitive economics further.