Agents of Influence and Building Your Brand Image

In this article we will try to cover the popular topic that is of great importance nowadays because of essential role of a customer’s feedback and promotion of your website.

One of the ways to manage online brand reputation is to interact with customers, but there is another one too – working with agents of influence.

 Bricks image from Shutterstock

Agents of influence – who are they?

Agents of influence are active social networks users, forums and blogs visitors that attract large audience and are believed to be experienced in influencing on users opinion on the topic they are interested in (negative, positive, criticism, emotions, etc.). Being a trusted source of information on those social networking sites they are able to impact the audience opinion, and make it think of a brand in a positive or negative way.

Internet users negatively treat hidden advertising that is why we do not recommend creating artificial agents of influence. Sooner or later the information about artificial agents of influence will be figured out by users (usually this happens when such agents are fired or if there are any problems, or if agents are not ok with the salary) and this may cause great damages to the brand image. By hiring the agent of influence for online brand reputation management a company hands its reputation to a person and will have to bear with the naughtiness of that person in order to avoid the public disclosure of information.

So what you need to do to get those agents of influence in a “legal” way?

To find an agent of influence in social networking sites is not always easy because the statistics on all users’ activities may be not available. However, having the instrument that aggregates reviews you are able to identify active users easily.

Before even starting the cooperation with an agent it is necessary to observe his or her behavior: what influences their behavior, what is the motivation of their activities, what is the tone of the comments they write (positive, constructive criticism, emotions, anger and so on).

As a rule, every company has its own individual way of working with an agent of influence depending on customer classification, after such person appears in the community. But some typical categories of agents of influence may be named, as well as we can specify how to work with them in order to be able to manage your online reputation in a positive way.

Brand lawyers

The brand lawyer is a user that is not an employee of a company but actively protects brand image on the web sites. Usually those are communicative social people and fans of modern technologies, and they are able to attract large number of subscribers. They are able to influence the opinion of subscribers, and a brand itself may influence the opinion of such agents of influence.

However, it is worth remembering that the lawyers despite of their loyal attitude to the brand are prone to high expectations and can be easily disappointed. Therefore, working with them is a quite complicated process.

The easiest and the most efficient way of cooperation with lawyers is to encourage them: discounts, gifts, discount cards, company private parties. By letting a person understand his importance and contribution to the image of the brand a company motivates the user to continue actively participating in discussions on social networking sites. Eventually, the lawyer subconsciously becomes a part of the brand, and continues to actively protect the reputation of the brand online and offline.

Trolls

Troll is a negative type of agents of influence. Trolls “clutter up” the discussions on forums and social networks by not relevant and very often meaningless statements. They offend opponents and provoke disputes.

With long-term presence of such person in a group and various discussions other participants get tired of reading their uninteresting comments and message notifications, and so they unsubscribe from the discussions and groups.

The motives of such “trolling” behavior are not always obvious: this may be either a children’s game or the purposeful try to destroy discussions, forums, and groups of undesirable competitors. Such activities may be caused by competitors who paid the trolling and targeted them at those social networks and forums they want to compete.

The main tactics of trolls are:

  1. To call the participants of a group trolls. Once the users react and start justifying themselves – to make fun of them.
  2. Support.  A second profile is created on the same resource by a troll to be able to support himself. This profile will most likely contain positive personal characteristics about its owner: considerable age, a good job and education. On behalf of the two profiles – the troll’s one and a positive one – a troll is able to manipulate and influence any participant of a group once the dispute is started.
  3. A joke. After a dispute in a discussion reaches the apogee a troll tells the participants that was just a joke and they were stupid if believed that and started the discussion.
  4. Evidence. The requirement for the undisputed evidence in the dispute, links, quotes. Mocking of the user who cannot reason each written word. Ridiculing of the arguments.
  5. Calmness. Putting the users out of temper by any possible means. After a user gets angry and writes unacceptable expressions the troll makes even more fun of this by pointing to user’s inadequacy and writing something like “Chill out, it’s a joke, it’s nothing, it’s just social network”, and so discredit a user even more.

Working with the trolls

The smartest decision when working with such agents of influence is to ignore them and to ban them without even starting arguing, as well as quickly cleaning the brand community of his comments. Also, you need to agitate other subscribers to avoid arguing with trolls and ignore their statements.

Sometimes it happens that excluding the troll from a community doesn’t lead to the expected result. Persistent trolls come back with a new profile and even are able to find supporters in a community who will join and protect him, and accuse the community admins in prepossession towards a troll-user.

The complainants

This category may include users who are strongly offended by the brand due to poor quality of services or products, or due to the unprofessional performance of employees. Right after being offended and trying to splash out the emotions they begin writing negative reviews and feedbacks in all possible communities, forums, and social networking sites. Very often they write long emotional posts with detailed description of their misadventures. They gain the trust and sympathy of the auditory very quickly and are given advices from other community members.

In case the complainant is not noticed in due time such he is able to manage online reputation in social networks and the audience opinion in a no good way for the company.

Such users must be tracked by their comments with the help of a special monitoring service. Small problems that may be solved in public are to be solved in public in the same community. Really serious problems (employee rudeness, cheating) must be discussed by means of private messages and handled by the offline support department as soon as possible.

After the problem of a client is solved you may ask a client to write a new post about this, in case the problem was solved in a timely manner and a customer is satisfied. As a rule, the former complainant agrees to do this.

Very often the complainants turn into active agents of influence after their problems and complaints are efficiently solved and become your brand lawyers.

We have listed the characteristics of typical agents of influence, which may be easily classified in forums and communities in the Internet, and so you can start working with them without any harm to the brand image.

Except of this, you may get some agents of influence in a “legal” way by means of holding different meetings, excursions, focus groups with well-known and reputable in a company’s region bloggers.

After attending such events bloggers usually start writing about their impressions and this information will be read and discussed by the auditory of those bloggers.

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