Online reputation management. This term has been thrown around quite a bit in recent years, along with a slew of web-based information that isn’t always the most accurate.
In the spirit of restoring journalistic excellence to the web – let’s explore the factual side of this ever-evolving topic and why it’s relevant to you, your business and your life.
Whether it was a dear-diary type of platform, the original MySpace website, or current social media sites like Facebook and Instagram – every piece of information you have willingly put out into the webosphere is still there and available to those with enough tenacity to find it.
Every picture, every status update, every comment. It’s there, somewhere. And it doesn’t matter if you edited it or deleted it – that alcohol-infused 3AM rant (complete with a matching selfie) still lives on.
As you progress through life, establish a successful career, build a profitable company, and start a family, managing your online reputation is critical – and it starts with knowing what people are saying. Personally and professionally, it is essential that you have a pulse on the information that is already available for customers and headhunters to find, and manage emerging information effectively.
At its very core, online reputation management is the simple act of knowing what is being said about you online, and reacting appropriately. Seemingly simple yet frustratingly complex, managing your digital presence is an ongoing process that combines:
- Well-executed search engine optimization (SEO) tactics
- Original content development strategies
- Unrelenting corporate transparency
- Social media management
- Third party website monitoring
Did I mention that it can literally make or break your business? The good news, however, is that as its name suggests, it is possible to manage your online reputation and maintain a positive digital persona that even the harshest critics can’t help but love.
Public Criticism: Know When (and How) to Respond
Whether it was a gut-level response to a disgruntled customer that got more attention than you wanted it to, or a political declaration on your business site that was met with criticism – you made an irreversible mistake. Rather than focus your energy on avoiding the inevitable, plan for how to respond after the gaffe has been made.
As the internet has evolved, simple read-only web pages have transformed into fully-fledged interactive sites that encourage users to express their opinions in the form of comments, tweets, posts, and even video rants. It has also led consumers to be more bold in vocalizing their level of dissatisfaction.
Rather than hide behind your office door and hope they go away (because they won’t), you need to enact a response policy that publicly addresses even the most ridiculous claims against your company.
According to a recent Bright Local survey, 30% of consumers say they positively judge a business for publicly responding to negative online reviews. The same study also found that 85% of consumers put as much stake into online reviews as they do personal recommendations. Furthermore, 49% of those polled said they will only enlist services from companies that boast at least a four-star rating.
When a customer takes the time to talk about your business – bad or good – you should always take the time to respond. There are millions of users active on hundreds of social platforms worldwide just waiting to voice their opinions. Here are a few tips on how to handle the storm and restore the calm.
1) Never stop paying attention. Just because your Yelp page did well one month, doesn’t mean it can’t crumble the next. Just because your Facebook followers are quiet today, doesn’t mean they will be tomorrow. Responding quickly to small complaints or issues can prevent them from becoming massive problems. Take proactive measures (like using social media monitoring tools) to keep track of public discussions about your brand around the clock. Google Alert is a great resource that also happens to be free.
2) Keep your cool. Chances are you won’t agree with the negative comments posted about your business. Rather than react on instinct, take a step back and return to respond later in the day. While it is important to address issues in a timely fashion – it’s even more prudent to do so professionally.
3) Resist responding from a personal account. As a business owner you want to protect your brand and reputation. But switching to your personal page to respond to naysayers isn’t just frowned upon, it’s unprofessional. As anonymous as you think you are, there will always be a search-engine sleuth waiting in the shadows to reveal your true identity (and create a whole new set of problems). So don’t do it.
4) Offer up an apology. As hard as it is, and as inaccurate as a negative reviewer may be, offer up an apology – and do it publicly. Crack the shell of even the most hardened critics with three simple words – “I am sorry.” Even if the offender doesn’t retract their original sentiments, potential customers will see your attempt at reconciliation and will respect you for it.
5) Make it right. You don’t have to reward unsavory behavior, but offering an olive branch to support your apology enhances its level of sincerity – and how future consumers think of you. Whether its a code for free shipping on an upcoming order or a comped appetizer on their next visit, a small gesture will not only leave them with the warm-and-fuzzies, it will entice them to return as a paying customer.
Know When to Call in the Experts
If the thought of managing this task solo seems daunting – that’s because it is. If you aren’t up for the challenge, or can’t commit the time and energy to do it right, there are a tremendous amount of online reputation management services and professionals available to help.
Take a quick inventory to see if enlisting a brand reputation management expert is the right move for your business.
- Your business is young and your ambitions are high. Online reputation managers can help increase your brand’s exposure and establish a web-based presence.
- You have suffered (or are suffering) a reputation crisis. Past and present issues can be resolved quicker and with an elevated level of professionalism by calling in an expert reputation manager sooner than later.
- You want to be prepared. For most businesses in the digital age, it isn’t a matter of if they will encounter an issue – but when. Strategizing with an online reputation management firm today will give you confidence for tomorrow.
Online reputation management isn’t cheap. It can cost anywhere from $500 to $20,000 a month depending on your needs, goals and desired outcomes. Before you hand over your hard-earned cash to just anyone, be sure to do your due diligence. Look for a company that:
- Has a positive online presence
- Practices white hat SEO tactics
- Doesn’t make unrealistic promises (like guaranteed results and a fast turnaround for $100)
- Has a resourceful blog that is regularly updated
- Features pictures of executives and employees on their website
- Is willing to answer your questions and explain their costs
Whether you tread the waters alone or with a professional ORM firm, be sure to stay on top of your online reputation management at all times. Stay tuned for more tips, info and ways to maintain your brand’s online presence. Until next time, Cheers!