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The Council of Middle East Marketing Professionals (CMEMP) in association with WSI hosts the Online Reputation Management Seminar - Swimming in the Virtual Spaces of Internet Oceans
On July 11th, 2011, the eagerly awaited second CMEMP event commenced with a welcome address by Dr Ianna Contardo, the Associate Dean of S P Jain's Global MBA program, reminding us that reputation can be defined as the beliefs or opinions generally held about something or most importantly, someone. This general estimation however, can impact an organization significantly and become a source of strong competitive advantage.

This theme was subsequently developed by the Keynote Speaker, Mr. Husam Jandal, Digital Marketing Consultant at WSI, who illustrated numerous case studies that have made the fame or shame of many companies. Mr. Jandal began by highlighting the fact that everyone talks about everyone else; it is in the DNA of human beings to express their feelings about themselves and most importantly, others. Since a negative reputation can be the result of a single bad act, you better dabble in the oceans of internet and make sure that you are at least listening to what people are saying about you. He discussed the three key steps in establishing your online strategy 1) monitor, 2) analyze and 3) influence.

Tools are numerous and readily available: use Google and Yahoo Alerts, get on Social Mention, Radiante, HootSuite, Technorati, Addict-O-Matic or Reputation Defender. Strategize to not only be reactive but also proactive in the way you engage your audiences, your tribes and your followers because once you start influencing, you will also start amplifying your message. Thus you need to initiate conversations, communicate regularly, create an online word of mouth and make sure that Google informs you of customers' experiences. You can also obtain industry reviews, ex-employees' comments, use the forums as a medium of expression and data gathering while managing not only your reputation but also your brand name. Finally, Mr Jandal reminded us that we, as customers, can feel like good citizens by promoting ethical and favorable behaviors visible online.

S P Jain's GMBA students took over the session with a presentation, which consisted of a brilliantly orchestrated role play on the traps of YouTube videos, showcasing a Comcast engineer falling asleep on a customers' couch instead of repairing his device. What to do then was the issue raised by the team of six, who highlighted that costs to run a proper online marketing and brand management strategy are surely and quickly recovered by the numerous benefits that are derived from the online, versus just offline, marketing mix. The fictional character of Comcast CEO, George, assisted by a clever senior manager preoccupied with the 1.6 Million viewers who checked the video online in only two days, was finally convinced by a group of lady consultants that the way forward was only to implement and maintain a solid online management methodology.

All of this, beautifully dovetailed with the first intervention of the panel which was moderated by Dr Balakrishna Grandhi, Dean of the Executive MBA program at S P Jain and also included Dr Dhrupad Mathur, Director, Industry Interface at S P Jain, Mr Husam Jandal, Digital Marketing Consultant at WSI and Mr Vikas Agarwal, Head of Marketing at Kaya Skin Clinic. Mr Agarwal discussed how WSI has helped Kaya expand its presence in the digital space. Kaya has a very clearly defined digital strategy and is now driving huge customer acquisitions through digital marketing, which is a personalized medium and works well with the Kaya customer base - the affluent Arabs. Digitalizing has also helped Kaya to communicate the brand for the first time to consumers in Saudi Arabia, which was otherwise almost inaccessible. A part of the digital strategy covers Online Reputation Management, which is extremely important for Kaya, since the brand needs to maintain huge trust and credibility with the consumer so that they trust Kaya with their skin. Dr Grandhi then prompted Mr Jandal to reinforce these view points. Listening and reconnecting with customers were the main points raised by the latter. Dr Mathur who is also an expert in E-Governance mentioned that the UN with the Council on "World Society Information" seeks to regulate and supervise hostile actions made by hackers in the virtual space. To qualify internet censorship, however, requires addressing political issues which have to do with proper governance and supra-national agreements, in need of local jurisdictions preventing breaches of the law.

To sum it all up, Dr Grandhi synthesized the key take-away lessons. You will start learning more about yourself, your company's name and boosting your reputation only if you have a proper online marketing strategy, fully-fledged with the tools, people and purpose in mind. Only from learning, will you start earning - no more long waiting hours, no more long lists of meaningless data, and your customer relationship management system will deliver value while your online management kit will provide you with the right sources of relevant information.

To conclude, Professor Yusuf Tambawala, General Manager - career services at S P Jain gave the Vote of Thanks. He stressed the importance of building relationship marketing in the Middle East with the rich pool of talent and the increasing demand for quality service, online and offline, from the business entities operating in this thriving region.