Online Reputation Management: Learning The Ins & Outs Of Maintaining Your Business’ Online Reputation
Even just a decade ago, the online business landscape looked radically different from its current form today. The concept of digital marketing was still in its infancy and wasn’t doing anything new or fresh. It still mimicked traditional above-the-line marketing tactics through pop-ups, banner ads, and other similar methods.
Major multinational companies may have had websites, but there wasn’t a meaningful way to interact with or start a discussion around the brand.
The internet has evolved a lot since then, and so has the way that businesses market themselves online. Today, websites, social media, and online advertising are essential requirements of any successful marketing strategy.
And because we live in a connected, digital society, the line between your online reputation and your reputation on the ground has been blurred to the point where it is virtually indistinguishable. The internet is incredibly powerful; so read on to learn more about how you can make your online reputation work for, not against, you.
Why Your Online Reputation Is EVERYTHING
No matter what your industry you’re in, people will be talking about you online. Whether it’s discussing your latest products, commenting on your social media posts, or venting about your customer service, consumers are creating conversations around your brand. Of course, you want those conversations to be positive which is why a review software is a great investment for almost any small business.
In an ideal world, your business would perfectly address your target market’s needs, and everyone—your customers, your employees, and you—would be satisfied.
However, the world isn’t ideal. In real life, your products could be imperfect or controversial. You can make the wrong business decisions. You have competitors who are ready and able to capitalize on your mistakes.
All of those mistakes can be posted (and amplified) online. The power of the internet and social media can turn even the most minor of slips into a major PR crisis. Your online reputation matters because it can influence the people most important to your business: customers, investors, and industry peers.
A survey in 2016 found that 90% of consumers check reviews online before visiting or buying from a business. Imagine if their first impression of you—on the first page of the search results—is a scathing review or negative media coverage. (1)
This can result in something as small as one customer choosing your competitor over you to something as large-scale as a global boycott of your brand.
The internet has seen the rise and fall of many individuals or corporations. People have lost their jobs over inappropriate tweets. Restaurants have crumbled due to their inability to handle customer reviews. Major international brands have closed stores and lost valuable partnerships due to a branding misstep.
It only takes one big misstep to encourage outrage, and permanently damage your companies reputation.
The opposite is, of course, true. A good reputation will boost your popularity and help you engage with your customers unlike never before. Even a one-star increase on your Yelp page can mean up to 9% additional revenue. (1)
The bottom line is that, with the right reputation management strategy, you can protect yourself against damaging crises and build credibility and trust with your consumer base.
What Is Online Reputation Management?
The digital culture of 2019 speaks to a major power shift—for the first time in history, consumers have a more powerful voice. This makes it more difficult for businesses to control their messaging. And a bad message (or a misinterpreted one) can destroy a business in a matter of days, making online reputation management that much more important.
Online reputation management is basically a combination of techniques and strategies that positively influence the online perception of your business. The goal of online reputation management is to make sure that your online image is accurate and represents your brand well, as well as having a safety net if your business finds itself in the middle of a controversy.
Some facets of online reputation management include social media, online community engagement, and search engine optimization.
How Reputation Management Benefits You AND Your Customers
It’s no secret, great online reputation management does wonders for business, here’s why:
Reputation Management Increases Transparency…And Trust
To say that consumers value transparency is an understatement. Your customers want to trust your business, but they can only do so if you are honest, open, and communicative. Transparency demonstrates that you are willing to be vulnerable, accept criticism, and learn from your mistakes.
If you can demonstrate real accountability when things go wrong, if you address your customers’ most pressing questions and concerns, if you show that you care about your customers and not just your image, people will be more likely to do business with you.
You Have More Control Even When Things Go South
Businesses are run by human beings, and it is the nature of human beings to make mistakes. Most of the time, those mistakes are small and don’t impact your business in any significant way. Sometimes, however, those mistakes can be big, or a small mistake can grow and grow until it reaches a big audience).
When that happens, online reputation management is your first defense. When there’s a negative conversation about your brand, you can join in on that conversation to defend yourself, clarify information, or make amends. You have much more control and can shape customer perception at the moment when it matters the most.
Reach New Customers & Strengthen Your Relationship With Existing Ones
When prospective customers search for your business on Google, they’re going to see more than just your website; they might see a review from an industry influencer, a comparison article between you and your competitor, or some yelp reviews. If all (or most) of those search results are positive, that could be the tipping point that converts that person into an actual customer.
The customer journey often begins and ends at an online search. Make sure that your online perception is a positive one.
Plus, it also helps sustain or even improve your current customer relationships by providing another channel for communication. You’ll be able to get feedback and engage with customers, provide support on social media or review sites, and gain insight into the real people that make up your customer base.
The Biggest Myths In Reputation Management
There are many myths and misconceptions about reputation management, especially for small to medium business owners. Here we address some of the most common hesitations about ORM.
Only Big Or International Brands Need Online Reputation Management
While major companies have a larger responsibility due to their massive followings, that doesn’t mean that small businesses have no use for online reputation management. Even a local business can get international media coverage due to the viral and global nature of the internet.
Plus, online reputation management is more than just damage control. It’s also about collecting and managing reviews. A high star rating can seriously boost a small business’ profile. Using a review software like Weave can be a tremendous help in managing your online reputation.
Online Reputation Management Is Difficult And Not Worth The Time
While we outline many techniques and strategies in this guide, online reputation management doesn’t have to be as confusing or as challenging as you think. In fact, a small to medium business can spend as little as a couple of hours a week and still effectively manage their online reputation.
To make it even easier, you can use a review and reputation management software like Weave. Weave can automate a lot of the processes, such as review collection or social media monitoring, to save you even more time.
Online Reputation Management Is Expensive
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to hire a social media consultant or digital marketing agency to have a solid online reputation management strategy. Even small businesses with a limited budget can do an effective job. Practicing kindness, compassion, and good listening with your customers is the most important thing—and it’s absolutely free.
For the more technical aspect of online reputation management, you can learn a lot from online guides such as this. There are also reputation management tools available online that range from free to a few hundred dollars a month.
Many of the free tools are great to get you started, but the paid tools are often much more powerful and offer a lot of helpful features. You might be hesitant to shell out money for a reputation management system, but most business owners find that it’s an investment worth making.
Reputation Management 101
In this section, we’ll cover the basic concepts of online reputation management.
Where You Can Monitor Your Online Reputation
Before you get into online reputation management, first you need to know what makes up your “online reputation”. What makes this difficult for most beginners is that your online reputation can be spread across different platforms, and it’s hard to keep track. Below are some of the platforms you need to monitor as a business.
Whether your target market skews older or more millennial/Gen Z, your customers are on social media. Customers can reach out to your brand on Twitter for support, leave a rating on your Facebook business page, and share their thoughts about you on Instagram. With huge social media platforms being home to millions or even of billions of users—all of whom will be able to see and join in on the conversation—neglecting social media is not an option.
Social media is a crucial tool in your reputation management arsenal.
Forums are often thought of like the older “sibling” of social media. Forums operate a little bit differently than the likes of Facebook or Twitter. Some forum sites, like Reddit, are incredibly popular. Others, like a niche or industry-specific ones, are targeted to a smaller yet very passionate subset of the internet.
Reddit has a tight-knit user base and will often talk bluntly about their experience with online services. A good review from Reddit is generally a trusted source for other ‘Redditors’.
Generally, forums have a smaller reach than social media, but that doesn’t mean you can discount their influence. The nature of forums is that they promote discussion, and they can be a hub for information. Fitness forums, tech forums, or car forums (for example) get thousands of hits a day from people seeking out advice and recommendations from people in their communities.
Forums are a great place to interact with your customers, learn more about their perception of you, and gain insight into their interests and needs.
Features from established newspapers/journals (think The New York Times or The Washington Post) are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, that’s the kind of publicity that most small businesses can only dream about.
On the other hand, negative coverage can be difficult, if not impossible, to counter. Whether positive or negative, how a news site frames you will have a huge impact on how customers perceive you months or even years down the line.
Most blogs won’t have the same reach as a news/feature site, but the right blog can be even more powerful. Blogs still get a lot of traffic within their target market because they’ve established themselves as authorities within their communities.
Although niche, large blogs are very authoritative sources of information on business services.
If there is an industry-specific blog that’s popular within your niche (such as Pitchfork is for music or TechCrunch for technology/gadgets), then getting a favorable feature from them can significantly change how their readers—your actual target market—perceive you or your product/service.
A huge part of online reputation management is your rating: a quantifiable, measurable number that reflects the collective perception of your brand. If you have a Facebook business page, a listing on Yelp, or can be found on Google My Business, you’re probably already aware of the impact and significance of review sites with your online reputation.
Most people consider reviews before purchasing a product or patronizing a business. Since your customers can weigh in on your business—and go into detail about their experience with you—reviews are one of the most trusted sources of information about your brand. In fact, according to surveys, a good review from a stranger is almost as good as a recommendation from a friend. (2)
A business with a 5-star rating with hundreds of reviews is naturally going to be more trusted than a business with a lower rating or no rating at all. Positive reviews could convince customers who are on the fence, while negative reviews could dissuade potential customers from buying your goods/services.
What Online Reputation Management Involves
One of the biggest mistakes most small businesses make when DIY-ing their reputation management strategies is not taking a multi-faceted approach. You need to support your online reputation in different ways to get the best results. Below are some of the most important elements of any reputation management plan.
Monitor the conversations around your brand on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social media networks. Take content from all around the internet, including news sites and blogs. Get a bigger picture of how people really feel your brand and find out if there are any problems you need to address.
To make the most out of media listening, be proactive and do it regularly—not just when a crisis is already unfolding. Check industry and consumer sentiment at least once or twice a week. Better yet, set up an alert to get notifications whenever your brand is mentioned online.
Manage And Collection Of Online Reviews
As we’ve previously established, reviews are a huge part of online reputation management. Whenever a new review is posted to your Facebook, Yelp, or other profiles, take the time to read through it and respond. Encourage your existing customers to leave you a review.
You can do this on your own, or use a review software/reputation management system to automate some of these processes, giving you more time to focus on actually running your business.
Using Search Engine Optimization To Influence Your Online Reputation
Search engine optimization is the catch-all term for anything you do to boost your ranking when people search for your business name or other related search terms. SEO is critical in boosting your visibility, but it can also be used to influence your online reputation. By getting positive content to rank higher than negative content, you can minimize the impact of a bad review or unfavorable coverage. (3)
SEO covers a wide range of practices, such as creating good content, establishing and claiming your business directory pages, and building quality backlinks to your website.
Advanced Reputation Management Strategies
Ready to start managing your reputation online? Here are some practical strategies you can adopt for your business.
The first step in online reputation management is surveying the landscape. How do customers feel about you currently? Is it positive, negative, or neutral? Once you know what the current sentiment is, you’ll be in a better position to create a solid strategy to maintain or improve it.
Google your business name, the names of your products, or other related search terms. Check the first page of the results. Your website and social media pages should be at the top of the page.
If one of the top search results is a review with a low rating, negative coverage, or worse, information about your competitors, then you’ll need to focus on managing your reputation.
Track And Manage Mentions Of Your Business
Set up a notification system so that you get alerted when someone mentions you online. It’s not narcissistic, it’s good business. Active monitoring (whether once a day or in real time) will help you stay on top of problems as they come. You’ll be able to react in a timely manner and lessen the impact of negative sentiments.
Have A Brand Voice & A Crisis Management Plan
A communication strategy will outline how you and your staff will interact with your customers online. This will help you keep a consistent, professional image across all of your platforms. Plus, it will also lessen the likelihood of your business being accidentally misrepresented online.
First, identify what kind of image you want to cultivate.
Is your brand youthful and fun? Or is it mature and professional?
Decide which platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) are best to help you reach your target audience. Adopt a voice that aligns with the platform, your brand personality, your goals, and your customer demographic.
A crisis management plan has to be integrated into your communication strategy. Plan for the worst case scenario.
If there is a fallout or backlash, how are you going to address the situation in a way that is sincere, addresses your customers’ concerns, and minimizes the damage to your online reputation?
Know When To Respond
Nobody likes bad reviews. When someone points out one of our flaws or a mistake we made, our natural reaction is to defend ourselves. However, any business (especially a growing or successful one) is going to have its fair share of detractors. Some will be valid and are worth your time and concern, others are not. Knowing the difference will save you from a lot of stress.
Here are some characteristics of a negative review that you may not have to address:
- No review, only a rating
- A review that uses mainly defamatory or crude language
- A review that attacks the business or the employees
- A review that is based on hearsay, news coverage, or is from someone who isn’t a customer
- A review from an unknown user who doesn’t have any other reviews (possibly a “troll”)
Here are some characteristics of a negative review that you MUST address:
- A review that has valid concerns or comments about the quality of your products/services
- A review that is based on the subjective experience of your customer
- A review from a trusted source or influencer
And here are some characteristics of a negative review that you need to handle in a different way:
- A review that was incorrectly written on your profile but refers to another business
- A review that is peddling inaccurate or false information
Of course, take everything on a case-to-case basis. Negative reviews of all kinds can impact your reputation, but not all battles can be won. Focus your energy on converting those that are willing to have a dialogue.
Respond To Negative Reviews—At The Right Time, In The Right Way
Getting a negative review can be bad, but it’s not the end of the world. In fact, how you respond to valid criticism is much more important than getting a perfect rating. Respond appropriately, and not only will you potentially change that one customer’s mind, but you can also change the mind of potential customers all over the internet.
How you respond depends on the nature of the comment, but you can use the below to respond to most fair and genuine complaints:
- Reach out quickly, ideally within 24 hours of posting.
- Be sincere in acknowledging the issue, whether it’s a one-off incident or a consistent issue.
- Address the CAUSE of the complaint and resolve the issue with the customer.
Reviews can contain outdated information that doesn’t reflect your business today. They can also contain false information with the intent to defame or destroy your business. Sometimes, people can make mistakes and leave a bad review on your page…even though it was meant for someone else.
In these cases, you can:
- Contact the reviewer/poster and clarify the inaccurate/outdated information, if any.
- Report the review and request for its removal.
Promote Positive Reviews
Even if you reach out to everyone who has left you a bad review, you won’t be able to change all of their minds. Instead of focusing on the negativity, channel that energy into promoting positive reviews wherever and whenever you can.
Share good reviews on your social media pages. Link to them when you guest post on other blogs. Include them as testimonials on your website. Not only will you boost the ranking of those reviews, but there’s also a chance that you can outrank negative content as well.
Reputation Management Failures & Successes
To illustrate the importance of good online reputation management, let’s look at a few cases of ORM at work.
SUCCESS: Ghost Influence Versus The Reddit Community
While various forms of advertising penetrated social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, Reddit was a relatively ad-free space. Besides the occasional sponsored ad, it was difficult for marketers to talk to that market. Whenever a company would try to advertise through Reddit, it would cause an uproar within the community. One incredible exception was Brian Swichkow, the CEO of Ghost Influence.
By using Reddit to interact with his critics, Brian was able to use negative PR to his advantage.
Brian was an active contributor to Reddit. Those of you on the forum may know him as the guy who pranked his roommate using increasingly-specific targeted Facebook ads. Brian’s strategy was creating engaging content like that and using it to funnel traffic back to his company’s website. (4)
An article came out about Brian and his Reddit marketing techniques, and the Reddit community quickly picked up on it. Many Redditors were angry and felt manipulated, exploited. However, instead of ignoring the comments, Brian actually engaged with his critics.
He encouraged them to ask questions. He also made it clear that he, as a marketer, actually cared enough about his audience (a.k.a. the Reddit community) to try to understand them, speak their language, and make content that they find interesting.
Not only did this earn many Redditors’ respect, but he also managed to convert some of those critics into readers and customers.
FAIL: Yes, THAT Amy’s Baking Company
Arizona-based Amy’s Baking Company is most famous for appearing on Kitchen Nightmares, a show where celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey attempts to fix problematic restaurants. The owners, Amy and Sammy, frustrated Ramsey so much that he, for the first time in the history of the show, actually walked off set and refused to continue working with them.
However, even before the notorious coverage on national television, Amy’s Baking Company was already making waves…for all the wrong reasons. The couple would verbally attack anybody who gave them a low rating on Yelp. Even reasonable, fair criticism like food arriving late or undercooked pizza was taken very personally. Amy, in particular, left her own 5-star review in response to a scathing 1-star review of a customer, calling him “a loser”, “moron”, and “ugly.”
This defensive attitude frustrated not only their customers but Gordon Ramsey himself and Kitchen Nightmares viewers all across the world. Amy’s Baking Company had many problems, but it was ultimately their refusal to acknowledge feedback and their lashing out at customers that sealed their fate. The restaurant closed only a couple years after their appearance on Kitchen Nightmares.
Do’s And Don’ts Of Online Reputation Management
Reputation management doesn’t have to be difficult. When in doubt, keep these easy do’s and don’ts in mind.
DON’T ignore your online reputation management when it’s not a time of crisis.
DO monitor your online reputation regularly, at least once or twice a week. Keep a strong online presence, engage with your customers, and answer their questions.
DON’T take too long to respond to queries or negative reviews.
DO reach out quickly and professionally, especially if there’s a complaint.
DON’T fight every negative review. Not every conversation is worth joining, and some people cannot be convinced no matter how hard you try to make amends.
DO engage when necessary, or even just listen. Apologize for your mistakes, show genuine interest in addressing the issue, and communicate what steps you are taking.
DON’T remove or ignore reviews just because they’re negative. Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away, and in some cases can even make it worse.
DO try to spin the conversation. Listen, validate, and respond. Use the negative review as an opportunity for growth. Demonstrate your transparency, integrity, and compassion, and you might be able to avoid a PR crisis and turn an angry customer into a happy one.
DON’T be defensive, offensive, or passive-aggressive. It shows that you’re unwilling to learn and that you’re more worried about your reputation than your actual customers. Don’t exacerbate the issue by attacking your customers.
DO learn how to cope with negative reviews. Even if your customers are pointing out a flaw (or even if you don’t agree with them), reframe it as an opportunity to understand your customers better.
DON’T use a canned customer service response. It comes off as robotic at best, insincere at worst.
DO adapt your language to your audience and your platform. Your brand voice should be professional, but still human. If it fits your brand personality, feel free to use casual or more informal language.
DON’T keep things hidden from your customers, especially in the middle of controversy.
DO be transparent about what steps you’re taking to address their issues. Be open and communicative and vulnerable. The more you talk to your customers, the more they’ll be able to trust you, and the more loyal they will be.
DON’T respond to negative reviews without actually doing anything about it. Don’t be all talk and no walk.
DO make actual, concrete steps towards fixing the problem. Address the CAUSE of the review, and not the review itself. This will repair strained customer relationships in the present while also preventing bad reviews in the future.
Online reputation management isn’t about burying negative feedback or presenting a (fake) image of perfection to your customers; it’s about accurate, fair representation and giving you a chance to hold yourself accountable for your business’ mistakes.
Reputation management isn’t about trying to ‘bury’ negative feedback. It’s about helping to maintain an accurate and positive customer perception.
When you deal with issues as they arise, it makes you a better and more trusted company.
You don’t need a big budget or a dedicated team for online reputation management. It’s something you can do at home, using tools and resources available online.
However, there are options for you if you want something more powerful, more professional, and more convenient. Online reputation management systems like Weave do most of the heavy lifting for you, leaving you free to run and grow your business.