The Dark Side of Social Media

It's crucial to monitor your spa's reputation online. Here's how to do it.

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While many day spa professionals are enraptured with the promotional power of social media, they also need to take into account its perilous flipside—anyone's ability to damage or destroy a business with a few, choice mouse-clicks.

Unfortunately, Domino's Pizza learned this lesson the hard way recently when a video depicting its employees smearing mucus on sandwiches was posted—and went viral—on YouTube. The video, a joke staged by two Domino's employees with nothing better to do, was tossed up on the site as a lark. For Domino's, it was anything but.

Within days, the reputation-tarnisher was viewed more than a million times. Bruce Arnold, founder of Caslon Analytics, a marketing firm that counsels clients on managing online reputations, says no company, and no industry, is safe from the wrath of social media sites like YouTube, FaceBook, MySpace and the like.

"Some posts are little more than a repository for juvenile humor," Arnold says. "Others feature detailed and sometimes persuasive critiques, including 'insider' documentation."

For day spas, the take-away from the pizza chain's rude awakening is to develop a reputation-management strategy before the horror occurs, and be ready to pounce when a silly joke—or worse—threatens to go viral.

Be Your Own Best Defense

Daria Nakelska, manager of Urban Retreat Spa in North Hollywood, California, proactively manages her business' reputation by closely monitoring reviews about her facility on Yelp, and taking action when warranted. "People who have visited us and leave a review help us to perfect our retreat," she says.

Brandi Nuttall, owner of the Phoenix-based spa chain Dolce & Companies, agrees: "As a company, we firmly believe in constructive and positive feedback, both internally and externally. We have a feedback/testimonial tab on our Facebook page where our clients are welcome to submit feedback. Additionally, we have a dedicated feedback email for clients to submit comments and experiences. We review feedback with our service professionals so we can continue to target our clients' needs."

According to a recent study from IT research outfit the Aberdeen Group, companies that embrace a reputation-management strategy not only guard their brand against naysayers, they're also much more likely to increase shareholder value compared to those that ignore the social media space.

Such a monitoring strategy, marketing experts say, needs to encompass social media in all its forms, including video sites such as YouTube and social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

Fortunately, there are a number of tools that spas can employ to help protect their brand image.

Fortify Your Arsenal (For Free!)

One of the easiest ways to secure a general idea about what's being said about your business is to monitor the major online communities, mailing lists and blogs—wherever those looking to shape public opinion tend to congregate.

The quickest way to begin the process is to sign up for Google Alerts, which enables you to track mentions of your business name, (including searches on YouTube).

You'll also want to sign up for a Twitter account so you're there to monitor others' posts. This may also prevent someone else—including a dissatisfied customer—from grabbing your brand name and masquerading as a business representative.

Worried about inflammatory blog posts? Those can be tracked with the free blogwatch service Technorati, which monitors what's being said on popular blog domains and keeps track of newly created blogs.

BoardTracker.com, a free service that monitors buzz on the countless discussion boards on the Web, is also an essential do-it-yourself tool. It works just like a search engine: you type in keywords and results are returned. The only difference? Results are gleaned from conversations people are having on discussion boards across the Web.

It's also a good idea to keep tabs on anything that may be cropping up about your business on podcasts. PodcastAlley offers an excellent overview of what's going on in that space.

Other free reputation management tools to check out include BlogPulse, which tracks blog posts; Keotag, which tracks keywords, including company names, that are being used as tags on the Web; SeekingAlpha, which tracks the postings of conference call transcripts on websites; Yahoo's Upcoming, which tracks notices of upcoming new conferences, by keyword; Google Trends, which tracks the most popular keyword searches on the Web; and Compete, which tracks the top website referrals for any keyword search.

Outsourcing Your Reputation Management

If DIY daily monitoring becomes overwhelming, you may want to try other services, such as BlogSquirrel by CyberAlert. BlogSquirrel will automatically monitor blog postings containing your company's name and/or specified keywords, and send you daily reports about those postings via email.

The service also offers you tools to ensure you'll receive fewer alerts about posts you consider irrelevant. Plus, you'll also be able to maintain a "digital clip book" of postings you can refer to whenever you like.

Webclipping.com will track what's being said about your business on the Web, keep you apprised of competitors' activities and issue alerts about copyright or trademark abuses.

Nielsen Online combines the auto-monitoring of blogs with human analysis to help companies avoid potential public relations nightmares. One especially interesting feature: Nielsen Online's software is programmed to include analysis of "natural language," so you'll be to find positive or negative posts about your business—even if those posts are rendered in poor grammar.

Dow Jones Insight offers a more comprehensive look, monitoring what's going on with your brand across virtually all media, tracking practice mentions in mainstream media, radio and TV, and in posts on websites, blogs and discussion group comments. The firm also employs a "reputation analysis tool," which automatically sifts through all the mentions of your company and churns out reports regarding potential problem areas. Reputation Intelligence can also portray such public opinion data in graph form for easier company-wide dissemination.

"To keep your client interested you have to update social networks regularly," says Urban Retreat's Nakelska. "We're always running some specials/promotions, introducing a new product or a new massage therapist. It is a constant game of sharing—and hoping for feedback. Those businesses that have the most feedback are the prosperous ones."

That doesn't mean that any publicity's good publicity, however. While you want to give them something to talk about, make sure you know what's being said.

Joe Dysart is a freelance business writer.