The occasional unhappy customer is inevitable for businesses of all sizes and industries. Most customer complaints can be settled quickly and efficiently by coming to a resolution through a phone call or email. However, the situation can become increasingly complicated – and potentially problematic – if the customer retaliates by leaving negative reviews about your business online. The internet has greatly reduced the space between customers, and as a result, word-of-mouth can now travel much faster and further than ever before.
The key to reducing the impact of negative reviews is to have an online reputation management strategy in place before a potential crisis arises. By planning ahead, your company may be better able to respond rapidly and effectively to minimize a financial loss.
Proactive vs. Reactive Reputation Management Strategies
In my experience, I have found that most small businesses lack a proactive approach when it comes to reputation management. Despite the commonly held belief that a widened digital marketing strategy is crucial for online success, many businesses are still limiting their online presence solely to having a website. This leaves them extremely susceptible to negative reviews appearing towards the top of a search query when potential customers look up their business. This is especially important for established local businesses, who may be frequently searched by name. In this case, having negative information ranked in branded search results can directly impact your bottom line.
Online reputation management and repair has been a growing segment of digital marketing for the past several years. Based on my experience working on numerous cases of reputation repair, it is evident that businesses that do not invest in developing their online presence and reputation proactively are more likely to pay considerably more in terms of lost revenue, damage control and correctly developing the presence they neglected.
For businesses tied closely to the identities of their owners/founders, the names of their top executives may be another area where their online reputation should be managed proactively. Some business owners try to keep a low profile online by avoiding social media in order to preserve their privacy outside of their business. The downside to this is that they have built no protection around themselves should someone choose to use their name and damage their reputation in a negative review or otherwise.
On the same note, perhaps the only thing worse than not having any social media is handling social media poorly. No one can damage your reputation as seriously as you can damage it yourself if you lack the skills needed to conduct yourself properly and professionally online. With these ideas in mind, consider these 10 strategies to help you proactively manage your online reputation.
1) Broaden Your Internet Presence
Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are often considered the “big three” when it comes to social media platforms. For businesses, however, there are dozens of other social sites you may want to look into as a way to expand your digital footprint. The key is to determine which social media platforms your target customer base primarily uses in in order to establish a presence before someone else has the opportunity to damage your name.
B2B businesses would likely benefit from having a presence on LinkedIn, where they can build professional connections with entrepreneurs who might benefit from their services. B2C industries, on the other hand, might consider showcasing their products on a visual platform like Pinterest. Businesses looking to reach a younger demographic will need to keep their finger on the pulse of emerging social platforms such as Snapchat, especially since these newer apps are not yet oversaturated with business accounts. Expanding your reach into social media will not only allow you to connect with your target audience, but it will also bolster your control over the top search results associated with your business should a negative review ever arise.
2) Pay Attention to Your Social Media Accounts
Simply having multiple social media accounts for your business is not enough to manage your online reputation – it’s important that they are current and regularly maintained in order to garner an organic following. By continually filling your social media feeds with relevant and interesting content, you will increase your influence, boost your engagement, and have the opportunity to interact with current and potential customers. Neglecting to keep up with your social media accounts past the point of creating might leave them too weak to outrank any negative postings made about your account on the given social platform.
3) Grow the Online Visibility of Brands & Products
If your company owns brands and products with name recognition outside your company name, you may need to build out your web presence and social profiles even further. Develop websites, social media profiles and other forms of rankable content for any faction of your business that potential customers might search for by name. Neglecting to claim ownership the additional brands and products associated with your business could become complicated – and potentially costly – to gain control of should someone else reserve their online usage first.
4) Protect Your Key Employees
For businesses such as health facilities, law offices and hair salons, potential customers might be searching for your services after asking their friends or colleagues “Who do you go to?” rather than “Which business do you go to?” In this case, developing a strong social media presence for your key employees is a great way to proactively manage your business’ online reputation.
As mentioned earlier, trying to keep a low profile by avoiding social media platforms only makes it easier for someone to tarnish your reputation with as little as one negative post written about you. This could, in turn, tarnish the reputation of your business. In any business where the company’s identity is directly or indirectly associated with their executives, a solid online reputation management strategy is essential for ongoing success.
5) Generate and Respond to Online Reviews
One of the most effective ways to build up your business’ online reputation is to let your happy clients and customers build it for you through online reviews. According to the 2018 Local Consumer Review Survey, a massive 86% of people read online reviews for businesses before deciding to make a purchase. With this in mind, asking your customer base to provide reviews on Google My Business, Facebook and/or Yelp will help your business generate a positive reputation in order to build consumer trust.
In addition to collecting customer reviews, online reputation management also depends on how your business responds to any less-than-stellar reviews your company might receive. Rather than ignoring negative reviews – or even worse, becoming combative – apologize for their experience and attempt to come to a solution via a phone call or an email. Many times, the reviewer will be willing to update their original feedback with a higher star rating after addressing their concerns and coming to a resolution.
6) Update Your Blog Frequently
Blogging is great for online reputation management for several reasons. First and foremost, regularly blogging allows you to demonstrate expertise and thought leadership in your field. Your blog also provides you with the opportunity to gain a loyal following by providing your readers with a bevy of answers to common questions related to your industry. As an added bonus, blogging provides a rankings boost for local SEO as well as creates content to share across social media platforms.
7) Listen to Your Customers
When responding to negative customer feedback, it is important to consider that there may be some validity to the comments being made. This is especially true if you receive frequent negative feedback regarding a specific concern. Rather than simply disregarding online complaints as a case of a bitter former customer, make sure to address all concerns professionally while considering whether or not this feedback can be used to improve your business operations moving forward.
Businesses must always treat customers with respect and demonstrate that you value their feedback, especially because you never know how many potential customers may be reading your responses before deciding if they’d like to work with you. The way you face criticism online could very well be driving current and potential customers into the arms of your competitors without even knowing it. Make it a point to listen to every customer complaint – whether you agree with it or not – and respond with respect rather than defensiveness.
8) Make Genuine Amends
Human error is an inevitable part of life, but it can be detrimental to your business if not handled quickly and efficiently. If you and/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 followed by unconditional amends works wonders when it comes to diffusing a situation and repairing a professional relationship.
9) Refrain From Online Arguments
It does not matter who is right or who started the dispute – engaging in online mudslinging almost always comes across as unprofessional. If you allow yourself to react to criticism emotionally, you could end up saying or doing something that tarnishes your reputation.
The best way to avoid getting into a public online argument is to try to move the conversation offline in an effort to fix the problem. Staying professional will likely win over more customers than being “right” in an online argument. If you find yourself or your business being pulled into a digital dispute, take the time to step away from the computer until you have a professional strategy in place to diffuse the situation.
10) Invest in Online Reputation Management
Establishing your reputation online requires an investment of time and money. Regretfully, many small businesses neglect to proactively manage their reputation until there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
Proactive online reputation management is an essential element of any modern-day digital marketing strategy. If you lack the know-how needed to manage your business’ reputation, doing so yourself may be frustrating, time-consuming, and/or potentially alienating to your customers. A well-managed online reputation is always worth the investment – if you don’t have the time, don’t know where to start, or simply aren’t getting the results you want, hire someone to handle it for you.
It’s Never Too Soon to Start Managing Your Business’ Reputation
Adhering these 10 tips for improving your online reputation management strategy can put your business in a stronger position if or when someone leaves a negative comment or review. While proactive reputation management will likely require an initial investment, it will also save you money should the nearly inevitable occur. Think of it as a form of insurance – it won’t make your business immune to attacks on its reputation, but it could mitigate the damage and prevent 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 to repair the damage.
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.
It’s never too soon to start implementing an online reputation management strategy for your business. Chat with our team to learn what your business is doing right or wrong already, as well as where you can build up additional collateral to bolster your online reputation even further.