Every business upsets a customer from time to time, its just a fact of life. If this happens, the best way to resolve things is to deal with the situation before it reaches a point where a customer believes they can only get satisfaction by leaving negative reviews online about your business. The internet has greatly reduced the space between customers and as a result word-of-mouth can now travel much quicker -and farther than ever before.
But, if you have prepared to handle online criticism of your company ahead of time, the impact of one or two complaints can be greatly reduced, and you may be better able to respond effectively and rapidly to minimize financial loss.
Proactive vs. Reactive Reputation Management Strategies
I have found that most small businesses lack a proactive approach when it comes to reputation management. Most small businesses have only a website for an online presence, which leaves them extremely susceptible to negative reviews showing up when someone searches for their company. For established local businesses, people may frequently be searching for your by business name so having negative information rank in branded search results can directly impact your bottom line.
Online reputation management and repair has been a growing segment of online marketing for some time now. Creative Click Media has worked on numerous cases of reputation repair, and it’s quite clear to me that if a business fails to invest in developing their online presence and reputation proactively, they will more than likely pay considerably more in terms of lost revenues, damage control, and correctly developing the presence they neglected.
For businesses tied closely to the identities of their owners/founders, the names of their executives may be another area of reputation that needs to be managed proactively. Some business owners desire to keep a low profile and try to avoid all forms of social media out of a desire for personal privacy. The downside to this approach is that they have built no assets around themselves leaving them an easy target for reputation damage the instant someone decides to take them down a notch.
Perhaps the only thing worse than avoiding social media is handling social media poorly. No one can damage you as seriously as you can damage yourself if you don’t lack the skills to do it right.
But, knowing how to create a great product and being able to do all the things necessary to successfully manage and run a small business doesn’t automatically make you an effective communicator in the internet space.
With these concepts in mind, here are 10 professional tips for your online reputation management.
1. Spread Out Your Internet Presence
Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ accounts are a bare minimum these days. There are dozens of other industry specific social sites that you may want to look into depending on your industry. These are particularly important in professions like law, medicine, dentistry as well as trades like construction.
For many B2B, high-tech and/or professional types of businesses, having executives and employees integrate with LinkedIn may be a valuable reputation management strategy. Pinterest, Instagram and Flickr can be used to build an online presence for anything visual. Most businesses will also benefit from sharing videos through sites such as YouTube and Vimeo.
2. Pay Attention To Your Social Media Accounts
It’s important to build out your social media accounts and that you keep them current. Simply having a Twitter, Facebook and Google+ account/page for your business is insufficient. It is critical to develop an audience on these channels too. By continually building your social media accounts you can interact with customers and increase your influence and engagement. If you don’t do this, those accounts may not be strong enough to outrank the postings if someone begins to post negative things.
3. Grow the Online Visibility of Brands And Products
You may need to increase the web presence and social profiles for more than just your company name. If you have brand and product names beyond your company name, you likely ought to develop content to rank for those names as well. It may also be a good idea to develop websites, social media profiles and other collateral just to claim and reserve each brand name.
4. Protect Key Players
Developing a strong social media presence for your key players is a great way to be proactive when it comes to online reputation management. As I previously stated, trying to preserve your privacy by keeping a low profile only makes it easier for someone to come along and tarnish your good reputation by writing negative things online.
In any business where the company’s identity is directly or indirectly associated with their executives, a solid reputation management strategy is essential for ongoing success. Consumers often search by name for doctors, dentists, and lawyers (to name a few), so it is important to create collateral to rank for these individuals if they don’t already have any.
5. Google Authorship
Google Authorship helps content creators claim their intellectual property. This is primarily used in situations where a founder or owner is closely tied to the business’s identity. Since Google requires authors to be individuals the author tag must be associated with an individual Google+ profile, not with a business page.
6. Make It a Point to Blog Frequently
Blogging is great for several reasons. First and foremost it is great for your reputation because it allows you to demonstrate expertise and thought leadership in your field. If your blog posts become known as a source of answers to common problems you will find yourself with a growing list of loyal followers. Blogging is also great for local SEO because it helps with a site’s rankings on good keywords and provides content to share on social media. Adrienne Smith recently wrote an excellent in-depth article for us about why blogging is good for your business.
7. Listen to Your Customers
When responding to online complaints or bad reviews, it is important to consider that there may be common issues that need to be addressed. This is particularly true if you get frequent negative feedback about a specific thing. You should find creative ways to respond, making sure to address your customers concerns and offering reassurance to those who may be on the fence about doing business with your company.
You should always treat customers with respect and demonstrate that you value their business. This seems like a no-brainer but I have seen a number of businesses that take advantage of customers. Think about it: you could very well be driving existing or potential customers into the arms of your competitor without even knowing it. In all likelihood the extra money made by taking advantage of customers could be cancelled out or even eclipsed by business lost as a result of the numerous complaints posted online.
8. Apologize Genuinely and Make Generous Amends
To err is human. If you or your company makes a mistake it is important to own up to it and make a genuine apology to those who have been affected. A sincere apology can work wonders when it comes to diffusing a situation and can help move the process along toward fixing the relationship. Also, try to make amends in some way, unconditionally.
9. Refrain From Online Arguments
It doesn’t matter who is right or who started it – You will come across as unprofessional if you engage in online mudslinging. If you allow your emotions to take control you could end up saying and doing things that tarnish your reputation.
The best approach is to remain professional at all times and to try and take the conversation offline to try and fix the problem. Staying professional may win more customers than being “right” in an online disagreement. If you find yourself being pulled into an online conflict you should step away from your computer until you have cooled down.
10. Invest in Online Reputation Management
Developing your reputation online requires an investment of time and money. Most small businesses are either completely ignoring proactive reputation management or they are doing it themselves, typically only becoming active when there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
I believe social media and proactive reputation management are an essential element of any marketing strategy. Additionally, if you lack experience in interacting with online communities, doing it yourself may be frustrating, time consuming or worse – It could alienate your customers. So, make the investment — and if you don’t have the time to do it, don’t know how, or just aren’t getting the job done, hire someone to handle it for you.
By following this simple list of tips you can put your business in a stronger position if or when someone decides to write a negative comment or review. While proactive reputation management will cost you something to put in place, it will also save you some money in the long run if the nearly-inevitable occurs. Think of it as a form of insurance. It won’t absolutely keep you from getting damaged, but it could mitigate the damage and keep it from becoming catastrophic.
It is important to be prepared for the worst: If you or your business end up being attacked with criticism online there are a number of strategies that can be implemented.
For search engine optimization it is vital to have many pieces of collateral — your website, blog, social media profiles, and more — all set up optimally to rank for your brand names. We then work to try to help those collateral pieces to outrank any negative materials.
If all else fails legal action may be taken if someone has portrayed you or your business inaccurately. One site that is well known for helping to disseminate misleading and damaging information is RipOffReport.com – and while it can be difficult and costly legal action is one way to force them to remove the information.
Local businesses are much more susceptible to online reputation attacks because they lack the deep pockets and experience that large corporations have. Being proactive when it comes to online reputation management is the best way to protect yourself from both negative statements and the financial loss that often comes as a result of them.