If a customer telephoned or walked into a ‘brick-and-mortar’ operation to raise a complaint, no doubt the management team would immediately jump into action.
Conversely, if a customer contacted a business to compliment them on a job well done, the same team would want to acknowledge not only the customer’s efforts but also their loyalty.
The same holds true online. Every business needs to think about managing its reputation online where every day presents a new opportunity to connect with a customer.
Reputation management is defined by Wikipedia as “understanding or influencing a business reputation.” The term is rooted in public relations, but with the advancement and relevance of internet marketing online reputation management has become ever more important.
Paying attention to your business reputation just makes sense. And there are several, and often free, online tools that can be used to help you maintain a good reputation. At the same time you will be improving your search engine optimization or SEO.
There are some grey areas to be mindful of — such as censoring negative reviews, to manipulating search engine optimization tools to unduly influencing the search engine results page. But you must be aware that search engines don’t take to kindly to these kinds of tactics and have no hesitation in penalizing businesses.
Corporations, where the stakes are higher, may consider hiring a reputation management firm, but the average SMB can probably properly maintain their own reputation internally.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
> Do pay attention to what is being said about your company: Don’t underestimate the potential damage a bad online reputation can do to your business. A recent Forbes article said “a reputation manager estimated a loss of $2 million per year (based on rankings in prior year revenues) because the company’s name in the top 7 out of 10 Google searches were negative.”
Google Alerts is an excellent tool for finding good and bad comments. Manage the bad comments and capitalize on the good ones.
> When it’s positive, ask to publish: Every customer is happy to complain but more often than not, a customer won’t think to pen a positive review unless encouraged or simply asked. It’s also a good idea to provide them with ideas as to where they can have their say.Customer reviews make excellent content. Having clients share their boating adventures on a Facebook page for example speaks volumes.
> Deal with negative reviews: Don’t panic. It’s unrealistic to think every business is going to perform well all the time, there’s bound to be a negative review. It’s the business response that is critical.Admit when you’re wrong and be gentle when the customer is wrong — unless the situation gets out of hand.
> Post on behalf of customers: Posting on behalf of a customer is one thing, but crafting reviews isn’t wise. Of course there may be extenuating circumstances where you may post an anonymous review, but those should be few and far between.
> Have an excellent online presence: And that includes all properties from the business website, social media pages, LinkedIn profiles etc. and they should contain well-crafted and timely content.
> What about review sites? Certainly restaurants live and die by the reviews on Yelp or Urbanspoon. These reputation sites have become successful from the sheer volume of content on their sites, making them of interest to search engines. Many a business has found their Yelp listing above their own website on the SERP pages.
Beating them is near impossible, joining them is easier.
Most of these of sites offer a free online business listing, as a lost leader to get a business to advertise. Claiming it and beefing it up with great content works to every business’ advantage. It’s about controlling the message while capitalizing on some good search engine optimization.
And these sites will start soliciting for advertising and some offerings might be worth considering. According to the Yelp Sales Sheet, their strongest demographic are the two age groups 25-34 and 45-54. Since anyone who comments has to join the site and offer up their email address, that translates into a reliable and powerful mailing list and a great way for any business to connect with a new customer base.
Word of Mouth has always been a powerful ally. And now the same is happening online. Maximize the online reputation of your business to transform customers into leads.