10/03/2013 12:29 pm ET Updated Dec 03, 2013

Beyond the Buzz: How Entrepreneurs Can Cash in on Their Reputation

In today's innovation-based economy, there is no shortage of timely and heated debates among business executives, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and academics about how to define and build the "future-proof" business model. The new wave of lean startups and the increasing popularity of customer-funded ventures are clear indicators that companies with serious aspirations for fast growth are undergoing transformational changes.

Even at a time when the startup culture of Silicon Valley is defying and redefining the fundamentals of business every day, the value of building and maintaining reputational influence remains undeniable. Often articulated as the sum of positive recognition, social capital, and industry credibility, influence is a core component of a company's business boon. More often than not, reputational influence shapes stakeholders and investors' perception of a business' longevity, sustainability, and growth potential.

While entrepreneurs are bombarded with a barrage of tips, best practices, and recommended strategies on how to direct their reputation management and develop potent social clouts, marketing consultants offer very little actionable insight on the best way to activate that cache of influence and turn it into value currency.

Without a doubt, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach that can universally translate reputational and social capital into business gains but there are individual and organizational practices that can help pave the way.

The Relationship-building Support System

While creating touch points and conversations with target audiences is critical for long-term reputational success, entrepreneurs often miss the opportunity to transform virtual experiences into real world business relationships. In most cases, these missed opportunities can be easily avoided by integrating individual social engagement and visibility-building efforts into the business' broader marketing programs. From updating databases with social media contacts to archiving web traffic reports, establishing relationship management processes, check points, and iterations could mean the difference between an inconsequential online discussion and a viable business lead.

Twitter chats and LinkedIn Q&As should never end online but be funneled into the company's ongoing CRM and response management processes. By the same token, routine PR and lead gen activities such as newsletter distribution, press announcements, and product updates should be leveraged for targeted executive relationship-building.

The Value of Online Listening

Most entrepreneurs are trailblazers at heart but in an increasingly interconnected economy companies that don't actively listen to their stakeholders often miss opportunities to increase their relevance and brand allegiance.

Market research is an invaluable asset for formulating or refining promising products and services, especially for businesses that are in the stage of forming revenue streams. However, startup owners are often mandated by market conditions to do more with less and traditional market research can be cost-prohibitive. As a result, founders and product developers serve as the main brokers between their company's offerings and its target publics. As such, they need to creatively use their reputational influence to "crowdsource" market intelligence to glean relevant trends and dwarf non-essential market research spending.

Social listening can only be successful as a substitute for traditional focus groups and audience testing if it's approached with a similar degree of methodical and standardized data collection and analysis. From a tactical perspective, startups can accomplish a systematic discovery of perceptions, inflection points, and industry tendencies with a small investment in online analytics tools and a big investment in organizational discipline. For example, setting up a monthly staff meeting to share insights from crowdsourcing and online interactions can be a potent propeller of well-informed and effective marketing and product development planning.

Regardless of a company's size, amplifying a consistent voice and harnessing the power of relationship-building for tangible business benefits is never a small feat. It is especially difficult for entrepreneurs who often need to juggle multiple priorities and business functions. Looking beyond online chatter and over-the-top marketing stunts, activating reputational influence is often rooted in less lustrous building blocks. Good organizational governance and disciplined integration of executive relationship-building into company-wide marketing and CRM can make individual reputational influence bigger than the sum of its parts.

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