As a business owner, having a sterling reputation is probably of the utmost importance to you. Not only is it your personal reputation on the line for running a successful business, but your bottom line is at stake, too.
With the growth of the Internet came the growth of mobile search, local listings, online product and service reviews, and a general free-for-all of public opinions and online visibility for your business - for better or for worse. No longer can you control all of the messaging people see around your brand. For many SMBs and marketing or PR professionals, it can seem chaotic or overwhelming to monitor how all this affects your brand, and manage your company’s reputation online.
This article will guide you through how to monitor your brand online, claim and optimize your company’s online profiles, cultivate and leverage great reviews, and manage or downplay bad reviews. We also offer guidance at the end on how to know when your brand’s reputation has crossed over into dire territory and may call for professional reputation management services.
Monitor Your Brand
You have to have your finger on the pulse of your brand online in order to be able to manage its reputation and reviews. There are several ways to accomplish just that. (Warning, a lot of links to awesome resources forthcoming.)
One way to monitor your brand online is to be notified when the brand name is mentioned. Some tools to do this are Google Alerts and Moz Fresh Web Explorer, where you can specify terms and queries you want to monitor on the web, and be alerted when the name pops up. You can also create some fancy If This, Then That recipes to scour the web and various social media sites, then email you or notify you when your brand name is mentioned.
You may also wish to monitor your brand on social media specifically. This is where tools like Social Mention or Sprout Social come into play. You can specify queries to monitor on social media sites, whether or not people actually tag your brand in those updates. If you’re using some sort of social media manager like HootSuite or TweetDeck, you can also create a column that searches for queries including your brand name so you can monitor for mentions on an ongoing basis.
There are also services like mention, which comes in mobile app, web app or browser extension form. Another cool thing mention.com does is that it tries to guage the sentiment of the post, i.e. is it a positive, negative or neutral post? Topsy has similar functionality, with searches to try to find links, tweets, photos, videos and influencers for a particular keyword or brand name, and an attempt to score the sentiment of those posts.
Then comes local or directory listings that allow users to publish reviews. Search engines often show local or maps listing right in a user’s search results, and sometimes even feature information from the profile right on the search result snippet. These local or maps listings are often appear on the web whether you create them yourself or not - not to mention individuals outside your business could potentially add them if they don’t see them in the directory already. It is a critical step to managing your reputation online to claim and verify these listings, so you can fill them out with accurate information and actively manage them.
This is a lot to digest, but we offer social media services that help our clients streamline this influx of information, and stay on top of it in a manageable way. If you have any questions about how to filter out the noise and only find the stuff that matters to your brand, give us a call.
Claim Your Profiles
First, you need to own your local listing or directory profiles. Your business likely already has, or should have, listings on Google, Yahoo and Bing’s local search services, as well as local review sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, FourSquare. Some social media sites like Facebook also have business directory listings. In many cases we find that our clients even have duplicate or redundant listings, which can pose some challenges in this process. You’ll want to eliminate those duplicates and have just one verified listing on each service.
The steps to claiming and verifying your listings often include telling the site that you are the owner, then verifying your ownership through a postcard, phone call, text message, email or other method. Sometimes this process of claiming can be surprisingly tricky and convoluted, especially with Google in particular. Consult your friendly neighborhood SEO for assistance to make sure this step is done right. Having a single, consistent, accurate listing on each service is essential.
Of course you’ll want to ensure that all contact information and descriptions are completely up-to-date on each listing. You should also be sure that the profiles link to your main website URL, as well as any social media profile URLs if the listing offers that feature. You may also be able to take advantage of features like adding photos or videos to really spruce up your listing, and add a personal touch or glimpse inside the business for shoppers. Take advantage of the text input fields where you can optimize your business description for search.
There are several ways to maximize the impact of your local listings in search results and on the sites themselves, so be sure to consult with your inbound marketer on how to capitalize on those opportunities.
Cultivate Good Reviews
Part of managing your online reputation is ensuring you have plenty of descriptive, positive reviews of your business. Of course this begins with having a great product or service. At the end of the day, if you do not provide a valuable, high quality service or product to your customers, no amount of finagling is going to get you authentic good reviews on a regular basis.
One way to cultivate reviews is just to ask for them, plain and simple! When you have a happy customer who is pleased with their results, ask them if they’d be willing to share their experience online and point them in the right direction. Feel free to ask your social media following for the same! If they’re following your brand online, it’s quite possible they have an opinion they’d like to share with others. (Note that some review services discourage soliciting reviews. See below.)
Another method for cultivating reviews of your business online is by following up with past customers. Why not do an e-mail drop to your past customers or clients asking for their feedback on how their service was or how they liked their product, and linking them to some of the places they can leave a review? Even better, try segmenting your customer list. For clients who use Gmail addresses, send them to your Google+ Local page. For clients with Yahoo email addresses, send them to your Yahoo Local listing instead. It reduces the friction of leaving a review because they’re already signed in to that service.
Having honest reviews from your customers on a variety of sites can be helpful. Many of the review sites syndicate reviews and feed into one another, for starters. But also, your business’s presence on a diverse portfolio of review sites is a sign of a healthy review profile. Not to mention, many review sites have filters in place that will quickly catch if you have a sudden unnatural influx of reviews to a single site, which in turn can filter reviews (even legitimate ones), or get you banned for spam.
Google+ and Yelp in particular are exceptionally stringent on their rules for asking for or incentivizing reviews. We never recommend incentivizing, or offering prizes or freebies, for deceptive positive reviews. However, some sites are ok with offering people a giveaway of some kind in exchange for taking the time to leave an honest review on one of your listings or fill out a survey to get honest feedback. Whatever you do, ask for genuine feedback from your fans and customers. In the end, you’ll still find that mostly people with nice things to say will respond, as long as you are providing them with a great product or service every time.
The short answer is: Never spam. Never buy fake reviews. Never have your employees review your own service. Never incentivize good reviews. Keep it legit.
Highlight Good Reviews
Below we will cover how to respond to bad reviews, but first, we want to talk about how to highlight the good ones! You don’t just have to respond to the customers with problems. Also take a moment to thank the positive reviewers for visiting for the first time or being long-time loyal customers, and for taking the time to share their experience with others online. This can make those customers feel special, and keep them coming back to support your business. You are more likely to see these individuals become true brand evangelists, who are happy to refer friends and family to your business - and we all know word-of-mouth marketing is the best kind you can get.
Sharing these positive reviews can be especially beneficial if the person is considered an “influencer” in your space. For example, if you are Reebok and you recently released an awesome new shoe for CrossFitters, and some high ranking trainer from CrossFit HQ touts your the shoe and raves about how great it is, you should be running with that! The authority principle of persuasion can work in your favor here.
Since 71% of survey respondents say that reviews have an influence on their decision-making process, you should also be leveraging these reviews to work in your favor in other arenas. Social proof is an important component that can impact how people perceive your brand, and your ability to persuade new customers to come on board. There are several ways you can leverage those positive reviews. Use these reviews as testimonials on your website or in your marketing. Consider A/B testing how testimonials affect your website’s conversion rate in places like your product or pricing pages, FAQ or resource articles, on your home page, and so on.
You may even wish to share snippets of particularly positive reviews on your social media profiles. Even better if the person is willing to let you use a photo of them, which helps create trust and credibility for the review - double points for actually using the product or service in the photo. If the review is for a specific product, link directly to that product if you can, so your social media followers can click through to learn more.
Let’s not forget your e-mail marketing, too! If you do e-mail drops to your past customers and people who have signed up for your list on your website, these are a great place to highlight some of your favorite recent glowing reviews.
Manage Bad Reviews
As I mentioned above in the “Cultivate Good Reviews” section, keeping bad reviews at bay is highly dependent on the quality of product or service your business offers to customers. If you constantly struggle to keep bad reviews at bay and bring good reviews in, it’s probably time to look inward.
All that said, you can’t please everyone, and sometimes bad reviews are just going to happen. Everyone is looking for something different and has a unique opinion on what makes a business good or bad, so the occasional bad review is almost inevitable for any business. It’s almost expected to have a less-than-stellar review from time to time. A bad review is not the end of the world. If you had only 5-star perfect reviews every time, potential customers and the review sites might find it suspicious and question whether those are reliable, or even from real people and not the company itself.
For many business owners, the immediate reaction is a desire to censor bad reviews, or even to report it to the companies or mark them as spam. Other business owners want to instantly log onto the site and defend themselves with a scathing reply. But I urge you to resist the temptation to stifle honest, negative opinions. In my experience, businesses who try to suppress negative reviews, or try to publicly fight back, end up paying the price when the reviewer finds out and becomes much more adamant about spreading the world online about their displeasure. It tends to have a snowball effect and draw more attention, creating a much more visible embarrassing situation that is infinitely harder to control.
Social media and review sites are an extremely useful customer service tool. Often, online reviewers want companies to respond to their concerns. According to this Maritz Research study, some 86% of their survey respondents said they would have appreciated hearing from a company regarding their online complaint. Reviewers often want a fast and pleasant response, even more than they want a solution to their problem. Instead of panicking and trying to hide the critical feedback, create an environment where customers can feel welcome and comfortable airing their grievances, and then seize the opportunity to manage that feedback.
Take the opportunity to respond to individual bad reviews personally, quickly, and constructively, with a genuine intent to help. Don’t become defensive or argumentative with the reviewers. Instead, give them the benefit of the doubt, thank them for their honest feedback, and even apologize that they didn’t have a great experience - and mean it. Encourage bad reviewers to contact you directly or message you privately (on the same service - don’t make them switch to an e-mail or phone call if they’re complaining on Twitter or Yelp), so perhaps you can find an amicable way to help them out, or turn their experience around.
Everyone wants to be heard, and as a business owner, you are in the unique position to listen and respond to your customers who are struggling. This is your chance to make things right. Take it.
When to Hire Professional Reputation Management
When does the occasional bad review cross the line and become a flood of potential online damage to your business’s reputation that needs professional management? Once again, I have to reiterate - no amount of reputation management can fix a downright bad business. If you see a chronic pattern of bad reviews or accusations of illegal activity, you need to take an honest look at that - and probably contact your lawyer.
On the other hand, if you are experiencing what you suspect is an attack from a competitor, or a persistent and pervasive attempt at revenge from a disgruntled former employee or customer, it may be time for reputation management. In some cases, this activity may even be illegal on their part, and you should consult your legal counsel first.
You may reach a point that you have so much feedback of all varieties (positive and negative) coming in that you’re not sure what to do with it or how to keep up, much less highlight the good stuff. You may also reach a point where your business has fixed any internal issues that may be causing chronic online reputation problems, and you’re actively engaging with both positive and negative reviewers on social media and review sites. If you’re at that point, and yet you still struggle to have your brand name represented positively in the search engines, it may be time to consult professionals about professional reputation management services.
The essence of online reputation management is using tools like public relations initiatives, content creation and social media marketing to capture more real estate in the search results that highlights the achievements and positive contributions your business makes. This may also include website outreach to request that they take down incorrect information, training and implementation of responding to consumer complaints, or using surveys and other methods of collecting feedback from customers to make actionable decisions to improve your business and its reputation.