10 years ago I set up my first on line project. It was a website for my employer (at that time) Samsonite. In a nostalgic mood I went to look for the old site on www.archive.org (The Wayback Machine). I read the spectacular testimonials we had collected then, ah … the good old days.

(www.samsonite-europe.com – December 2006)

Being able to trace back that site is fun, but it is especially typical for the digital age. Whatever you or someone says about your brand keeps floating around on all kinds of servers. Everything remains searchable, readable and retrievable. The parallel digital world called Internet is one gigantic long tail of conversations. And in these conversations all products, services and brands are subjects, positive and negative.

This marks a fundamental change, away from the volatile mass media which used to fight for our attention. A newspaper article ends up in the paper basket after one day, TV spots tickle your brain and then disappear for ever, billboards flash by in a split-second and a week later there is a new message there. Not with digital media however. News Sites, blogs and also company websites compose an endless archive in which anyone can keep on digging. Google shows the way. Viral movies and consumer generated content remain available on YouTube or on personal blogs or myspace sites.

Discussions on blogs and forums about the pro’s and con’s of your products are a welcome addition to your glossy brochure or professional website.

Obviously, also the bad publicity remains available. Nobody buys a digital camera without at least reading 10 of the 2 million search results you get at a click of the mouse. 9 out of those ten are not written by the producer. It goes even further then that. If somebody discusses a camera on a blog you happen to follow you’ll be inclined to believe this opinion as this is your community, these people think the same way you do. The community-experience is much stronger then an occasional ad in the paper.

All good interactive communication should actually build on this Our image of a brand is no longer build exclusively through a sophisticated selection of adverting and PR impulses. The image that will make us decide in a blink whether we give attention to a brand, is constantly shaped by countless pieces of (digital) conversation.

So forget about the old saying “any publicity is good publicity”. Today every piece of digital conversation shapes a part of the big story that will determine your brand image. When consumer starts considering a possible purchase, one mouse click give access to the opinion of countless people. And if the balance of good and bad publicity is negative, there will be no sale.

So it’s time to start monitoring the on line conversation about your brand and intervene intelligently where needed.