Online content adds a dimension to your brand – and ultimately your reputation – because the same brand can be perceived differently by online and offline audiences. The best way to manage brand reputation is to tell a cohesive story – to a receptive audience. While controlling the message in an age of social media is no longer an option, you can still steer the dialogue.

Here’s how:

1) Make a Good First Impression

What first impression do you want your brand to portray? … Time’s up. It takes less than 50 milliseconds to form a first impression. First impressions are so important because they give way to a ‘halo effect.’ Consider how visual design and the colors you use impact the way people feel about your website open the first view, that assessment is often transferred to its functionality.

2) Own and Embrace Who You Are

Your brand is derived from a mix of who you are (your executives and colleagues), who you want to be (your brand values), and who people perceive you to be (the user experience and branding).  In a perfect world, your reputation follows the brand. Help this along by making your brand present across the customer touch points in the business: how employees answer phones, what employees and salespeople wear, what language they use when describing your services or products, e-mail signatures, social media presence and how they engage online, everything one can think of. The brand is every employee’s responsibility–not only the communications team’s. As a PR pro, you can ensure the whole company understands the corporate mission, vision, values, and goals so you can all believe, live, and breathe this.

3) Unite and Conquer

People are converging over multiple online channels. It’s important to streamline and manage your brand consistently for every social channel you use. A good place to start is to review and assess aspects of each platform such as reach, popularity, interactions, the level of engagement, effectiveness of messaging, audience demographics, and whether there is any conflicts or confusion. Try not to use online channels for the sake of it–be strategic and decide where your brand needs to be seen regularly, what messages work, and where your influencers are. If all else fails remember it is all about going to where your audience is and giving them the content they want.

4) Respect Your Community

Building a circle of influence online can have a positive impact on your brand. We all know about the power of influence; it travels faster than ever in a socially-networked world. As every PR pro knows, this message virality is a double-edged sword. The good news is that people who follow your brand on social most likely already like you, so it’s important to craft a strategy that speaks to fans as people. Converse with them in a timely manner, and always be professional and courteous (no matter what was said). Partake in discussions, offer a professional opinion on the topic, and avoid being too ‘salesy’–only recommend products or services when you feel it can solve a problem or encourage the discussion to move forward. Be sure to acknowledge positive comments, and attempt to respond to complaints and issues quickly. Build and nurture your brand ambassadors and let them spread the good word about your brand.

5) Listen and Pay Attention

It’s important to keep track of brand conversations, interactions, and positive and negative brand sentiment, so you can join discussions, answer queries, dispel myths, and actually see if your communications strategy is effective. Media monitoring tools let you view and analyze perceptions and activity around your brand and determine ROI. You can turn conversations into customers and customers into brand ambassadors through social media engagement. Successful engagement is often attributed to retweets, shares, reach, clicks, and various other KPIs.

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.

This post was originally published on this site on February 26, 2015. It has been updated and republished for readers who may not have read it the first time around.