Those of us who have been extending our business presence into the online world know that the face of online business is rapidly changing. Managing your online reputation has become more important than ever as consumers are starting to expect businesses to interact with them online.
So what do we do when it all goes wrong? How do we maintain our online reputations without causing unnatural customer interactions or making the business look out of touch? This is where the concept of online reputation management comes in.
Interestingly enough, maintaining a powerful online reputation has become a big topic in the online business world. Larger companies even hire specialized firms specifically to handle the way they interact with their customers online. There are a lot of different ways to go about managing your online reputation, but before we go into detail, let’s look a little bit at some of the things that a properly managed online reputation can do for you:
- Establishes a good line of communication with your customer base
- Allows employees and customers to discuss products and services in a public format
- Gives an effective avenue for customer feedback
- Puts your finger on the pulse of your customer base
Of course, there are plenty of ways in which managing your online reputation can go south. As a result, it’s always important to make sure you’re being careful about how you go about interacting with your customer base. There are a few ways in which your online reputation management can go wrong:
- Could attract negative attention
- Could exacerbate bad press
- Requires savvy employees
- Competitors can take advantage
Since this is an issue of transparency and responsibility, it can easily act as a two way street. Poorly responding to customer criticisms, or lashing out at your customer base can easily garner nationwide bad-press. This is why it’s important that you try to fully understand how to manage your online reputation, and make sure that you’re taking the right steps to not alienate your customers.
So now that we have some idea how managing our online reputation can go wrong or right for us, let’s take a look at some of the details, and how we can get started managing our online reputation effectively. This is a fairly well established concept, and there is a lot of information online about it. To get you started, let’s go over some of the basics.
Online Reputation Management
The fact of the matter is that your customer base consists of people, and people tend to talk. Your customers will have opinions about the things you do, the way you conduct your business, and if/how you respond to the things they say.
The most important thing here is to try and make your customers feel like they have a legitimate way of making their voices heard. When your customers feel like they can actually talk to you and have their opinions be listened to, it gives you a huge advantage over their wants and needs as consumers.
The key is maintaining this sense of open dialogue. As soon as you begin to become less transparent, your customers will notice, they will ask questions, and they will expect you to answer. Being responsive is one of the easiest ways to keep your online reputation managed properly.
One of the worst things you can do is to argue with your customers online. Refusing to acknowledge something that your customers see as a flaw will eventually signal to them that you don’t care what they think, and you do care about what they think, trust me!
So, what are some good rules of thumb we can use to make sure that we’re keeping our online presence friendly and transparent?
Rules of Thumb
- Be transparent. This is rule #1. Your customers need to feel like they understand your business, and can feel good about being a patron. Keeping your online presence transparent is fairly easy to accomplish, unless your business is reliant on things like privacy (such as with a VPN service). Even if you don’t have the leeway to be entirely up front about your business practices, making sure your customers feel like you do, is important.
- Be responsive. There’s no point to being transparent if you don’t respond when your customers come around asking questions, or levying criticisms against you.
- Be vigilant. In addition to customers posting on your website and social media pages, they will also probably talk about your services on their own social media pages too, or when they are discussing things with your friends. Being able to find and respond to online criticism independent of your own feedback channels will give you a huge advantage for managing bad press, and making sure the good press hits home.
- Educate yourself. This is probably the most effective thing you can really do. Make sure you know what your customers want, as well as making sure you know how to know what your customers want. Study social media study some basic business psychology, and try to keep up-to-date with topical issues, especially ones relevant to your business.
Overall these are some pretty basic and straightforward ways that you can jump-start your reputation management. As long as you keep a balanced approach to staying on top of these issues, you won’t have any problem making sure your online reputation stays golden.
Even if you have to deal with bad press, which can happen from time to time, you should be able to effectively minimize the risk of customer alienation by keeping these rules of thumb in mind.
So now that we know a little bit more about what we can do to manage our online reputation, let’s go over some of the deeper concepts in detail:
Types of Online Press
There are a few different places where your customer base will try and communicate with you. Obviously, your actual customer service or contact line will be the easiest to control, and won’t have too much of an effect on your online reputation unless you have a support forum or other public form of communication for your business.
The main focus of your reputation management activities will likely be comments directed at your company. There will be customers and users looking for answers, or giving feedback on your actual website and social media pages. We’ve already gone over this phenomenon a bit, and it shouldn’t be too hard for you to deal with emergent opinions on your own website and social media pages.
Making sure you have a good attitude and response time will typically be enough to satisfy the customers who come to you to express themselves; but what about the customers who give negative feedback elsewhere? Sometimes, your customers will post comments on unrelated pages mentioning your company. Obviously, you want these comments to be good ones! This type of activity is very wide-reaching, and being able to keep a handle on what people are saying to each other about your company will provide a huge advantage over your competitors.
Here are some examples of how bad press can get spread around:
- Bad reviews. This is a huge killer for a lot of smaller companies. When a well-known publication reviews your service, you want to make sure that they give you a good review. Their visibility is often a lot higher than yours, and will determine whether or not people are interested in using your service. Learning what reviewers want, making sure your service fulfills those needs, and even occasionally paying for a good review are all good strategies for making sure this stays under control.
- Negative coverage in media. This is something that can totally destroy any project. If you garner bad press in media outside of the internet, it can spread bad information about your company like wildfire. Even if your service operates primarily through the internet, there are a huge amount of people who read magazines or watch TV on a daily basis. There isn’t a whole lot you can do when you get bad press in other media, other than respond and try and be transparent. That being said, you may have some options at your disposal (more on this later).
- Social media posts. Once again, this will be the bread and butter of your online reputation management. Keeping on top of what people are saying about you on social media is the easiest way that you can control how your potential customers will see your company. If you have a responsive, respectful, and honest social media presence, it can even do a good job at countering some bad press you receive elsewhere.
- Shame sites. This is a big one that can be hard to deal with. Some competitors or especially offended customers may even create websites to shame your company, attracting traffic based solely on the idea that your company is bad. Obviously, this can be very harmful, as you may not even know that these sites exist, and it can be very easy for bad information about your company to get distributed very quickly. Like with other negative coverage, there may be options at your disposal, which we will discuss a little later on.
These are some of the most impactful avenues in which you can expect to encounter negative press. Some are easier to deal with than others, but if your company is good and you have an honest and responsive online presence, it should be fairly straightforward to maintain your online reputation.
Now that we understand what we’re dealing with a little better, let’s go over some of the tools we have at our disposal to deal with bad press when it presents itself.
What Can We Do?
No matter what kind of negative press your company is receiving, there are usually a few options at our disposal for addressing and responding to criticism, misinformation, and general bad publicity. We mentioned above that there are some avenues of criticism that can be hard to counter or respond to. While this is unfortunate, there are actually some situations in which we may be able to effectively respond, even if we don’t have the resources or know-how to publish our own articles or advertisements.
The first and easiest method for countering aggressive bad press, is to fight fire with fire! Go full-tilt with your SEO, and make sure that your website is performing well on results pages for the right keywords. Also, make sure that when you Google your company, the stuff that comes up is what you want your customers to see. Don’t forget that using sponsored content or paid reviews can be a good tool for accomplishing this.
When SEO alone isn’t enough to counter your bad press, there may be some other options at your disposal, as well. If somebody has claimed something false about your website, or their choice of words was vague enough to indicate something that is untrue about your services, you may be able to get that article or review removed from the internet. Even reviews which simply use offensive language could be subject to removal by the right legal liaison.
If you are dealing with especially libelous reviews, or aggressive misinformation campaigns, you may even be able to hire specialized analysts to investigate bad press and reputation attackers using email tracing methods, cross indexing, or other methods. If you can’t determine the origin point of an especially aggressive misinformation campaign, this might be necessary for getting to the bottom of what’s going on.
These are just some of the methods at your disposal for countering some of the more intense bad press you may have to deal with. Usually, stuff like this only becomes a problem once you start attracting negative attention from competitors. If your company doesn’t have any serious problems, you most likely won’t have to deal with stuff like this, unless you’re in a highly competitive industry.
So now, we’ve gone into detail about the kinds of bad press you’re likely to encounter, and how you can generally deal with such press and come out with a well-performing online presence. Just to keep this stuff fresh in your mind, let’s go over a few of these things again:
- Stay honest and transparent. Your customers will notice if you don’t respond to criticism, or if you beat around the bush answering questions. Always be up front about your company, even if it means admitting to things that may make you look bad, your customers will respond well to your honesty in most cases!
- Earn your customers respect. Conducting your online activity with respect and honesty will build trust among your customers which will give them confidence that your company is good, which can even protect against some of the bad press you may encounter.
- Be responsive. The internet moves quickly, ensuring that you respond quickly to any criticism or questions from your user base will make your customers feel more like you are paying attention to what they say, which will make them more comfortable giving feedback and dealing with your services.
- Educate yourself. Aside from SEO techniques and reputation management, read a bit about what your customers want, and always educate yourself on how your customers are talking about your products and services. Keeping an educated awareness of what’s going on around your company’s online presence will allow you to be more responsive and effective with your online reputation management.
- Go after aggressive attackers. If you have legal recourse to have bad reviews removed, it is wise to do so. There’s no reason you should put up with aggressive misinformation if you have the right to remove it. Responding traditionally without litigation or attempts to remove the offending material can even fan the flames, so make sure you stay on top of this!
As you can see, a lot of this stuff can be distilled down to some pretty straightforward rules-of-thumb. Keeping this stuff in mind will make your online reputation management a breeze, even if you have to deal with some more extreme forms of bad press.
Online reputation management can be a very straightforward undertaking, but it can quickly become very complex if you aren’t prepared to be responsive and transparent about your business. Another really important thing you should remember, as well, is that you have a lot of options at your disposal. Awareness is key.
If you’re having some more specialized problems with reputation management, or you want to read some more about how you can manage your online reputation, don’t forget that there are specialists out there that can help you with your reputation management, don’t be afraid to use all of the tools at your disposal!
So, that’s basically everything you need to know off-the-hop for reputation management. Like anything else, it’s mostly a function of awareness and responsibility. The more responsive and transparent you are with your user base, the easier you will find it to manage your online reputation!
As always, if you know something we missed, or if you just want to let us know how our recommendations worked out, feel free to let us know!