In a Local Consumer Review Survey from this year, BrightLocal found that 85% of consumers are using online reviews during their decision making process, which is a 9% increase from last year. Local search engines (Yelp, CitySearch, Google Reviews), customer review forums (Angie’s List, BBB) and social media platforms are all providing consumers a VERY public place to voice their opinions about your business. The lack of control you have over these comments and reviews can be disconcerting, but by proactively managing your reputation, you can help positively influence the online buzz about your business.
Companies like Reputation.com, Integrity Defenders, and Brand.com offer reputation management services to businesses, but costs can range anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on your current situation, the size of your business, and the breadth of your online presence. With outsourcing also comes the possibility of extortion from unreliable companies claiming to “manage your reputation” when they are damaging it in the first place, or simply not producing results. Although outsourcing these services can be a good fit for your business, join that 85% and do your research before hiring a reputation management company to handle your business’ image online.
Bottom line, reputation management starts with YOU. Take matters into your own hands and consider these tips for controlling the ongoing conversation your customers are having about your business..
See what’s out there.
The internet is vast and there are plenty of avenues for customers, businesses, and other influencers to generate content about your business—welcomed or not. Luckily there are tools to monitor what’s being said about you and your business, and many of them are free.
Other than a good old fashioned Google search, sites like Social Mention work just like a search engine, scouring news feeds, blogs, reviews, and social media platforms for content about your business based on specified keyword searches. Type in the name of your business and a message pops up saying “searching content from across the universe…” then search results show you mentions, sentiments (positive, negative, or neutral), reach, and sources. Google Alerts is another great tool that operates in a similar fashion, but actually alerts you via email when someone searches for your specified search queries. You can target your alerts for certain types of content, and how often you would like to receive alerts. Pretty cool, huh?
Don’t just limit monitoring your reputation to your business. Monitoring the buzz about competitors can help you gain a competitive edge by identifying their weaknesses, reaching out to customers who had a bad experience, and staying on top of industry trends. Individual’s reputations within the business—owners, partners, employees—also have an influence on the reputation of an organization as a whole, so keep track of those issues as well. And this brings me to my next point…
Reputation management starts internally.
Where do bad reviews come from? Bad experiences. How do you combat bad experiences? By ensuring that customers have the best experience possible. Sounds simple, but staying on top of your reputation in the eyes of your customers is a lot easier than damage control later on.
Run your business like you know you should and then encourage your customers to speak publically about their good experiences. This starts with making it a part of your dialogue with customers and that comes down to each and every employee. There are plenty of sites people are using to review their interactions with businesses. Google Reviews are great, because they will show up in search results killing two birds with one stone. Yelp is a huge influencer right now, but they are very picky about reviews and how you obtain them, so I don’t recommend putting links to Yelp on your website or in emails. Social media is huge, and a great place for ‘call to action’ messages about testimonials, reviews, and recommendations. Make it easy for your customers to brag about you. Your website should have links to your various social media platforms, and follow-up emails or calls can be extremely helpful in gaining good reviews on other sites.
In addition to being proactive in gaining positive buzz online, you also need to be thinking about the influence your employees have in their own personal interactions online. It’s smart to have policies in place regarding sharing business related content on the web, especially when it is damaging to your public image.
Promote positive content with SEO.
The majority of content affecting your reputation is being found by potential customers on the pages of Google; hopefully the majority of this content is good, but this unfortunately doesn’t exclude the negative. Although there isn’t a quick fix for this dilemma, there are search marketing strategies that will help.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, building your web presence through relevant and interesting content is key to optimizing your visibility on the internet. This is done through your website, blog, social media platforms, and other various strategies and is an ongoing process. By dominating search engine results with content that YOU have produced or promoted, you push negative content down the pages of Google. SEO also shows that you’ve done the work that it takes to become a top ranking business for the services that you provide.
Turn the negatives into positives.
So now that you’ve picked up some tips on controlling your reputation online, how do you make the best of the stuff that you can’t control? Many businesses facilitate in-house customer service surveys to improve customer experience. Fortunately for them, these responses aren’t publicly displayed on the internet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use negative input from your customers in a positive way as well. This is honest feedback straight from the people who matter, so use it to improve your products and services.
One advantage to the transparency of online customer reviews is that your customers can also see the way that you handle these types of situations. You should handle each with care and use your own personal judgment to decide on the best way to respond, or if you should respond at all. Sometimes a response could encourage more negative content, drawing more attention to the interaction. But if you are going to respond, do so politely and don’t leave complaints unanswered for long. Reach out to them personally on social media if you have the opportunity, and who knows, they might even remove their comment when the issue gets straightened out.
Every situation is different, and sometimes the public viral nature of the internet can get you into some sticky situations. Know that you aren’t alone, and that these tips can help alleviate the stress of reputation management and damage control for you and your business.