Online Reputation Management Guide

The Definitive Guide to Online Reputation Management

There are a lot of misconceptions about online reputation management. Some people think it’s just social media monitoring, while others believe it has something to do with public relations, and still others have no idea the impact it can have on sales.

In this guide, I’ll explain the role of online reputation management in today’s digital age, explain why it matters, and outline 10 tips for improving and protecting your brand’s online image.

Why Does Reputation Management Matter?

Just a few years ago, the internet was very different. Companies didn’t engage customers, they just sold (or tried to sell) to a passive audience People could not express their voice in a powerful way, and the overall communication landscape was very “top down.”

The situation has radically changed. Today, websites are no longer static brochures. User-generated content is a must. And regular interactions on social networks are vital to any business success.

No matter the size of your business, people are talking about you, including prospects, customers, clients, and their friends. They are tweeting about your latest product, leaving a comment on your blog, posting a Facebook update about their customer experience, and much more.

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If you think you can skimp on reputation management, or if you think you can make it without taking into account people’s voices, opinions, and reviews, think again.

Today’s Brands Need to Be Transparent

One of the most important business commandments is “Be transparent.” Opening up to criticism and feedback seems beneficial for companies that embrace this new communication mode with their audience.

What does being “transparent” mean? Here are some examples:

  • allowing employees to talk about products and services publicly
  • establishing a 1-to-1 communication channel
  • asking for feedback
  • not hiding criticism, and addressing it publicly

Easier said than done! Most small and medium sized companies do not invest much on communication, and they struggle with this concept. As a result, their efforts usually are incorrect or inconsistent.

Being transparent is risky. But in the long run, not being transparent is riskier.

Online Reputation Management “Failures”

Being open does not come without a price. If you and your brand accept feedback, customer opinions, and so on, you also must be ready to face them promptly.

Consider these scenarios:

  1. What if your product/service sparks too much criticism?
  2. What if your employees are not social media savvy?
  3. What if your competitors take advantage of this?

These are just a few reasons you need to have a proper online reputation management plan in action before embarking on a transparency journey.

Here are three famous cases of reputation management failure in the digital era:

  • Dark Horse Café received a tweet criticizing their lack of electrical outlets for laptops. Their response was something like: “We are in the coffee business, not the office business. We have plenty of outlets to do what we need.” Needless to say, defensive/aggressive behavior doesn’t work in the online world. Many blogs reported the fact as a negative public relations case.
  • Nestlé received negative comments about their environmental practices a few years ago, and they did not address them. People started becoming aggressive and posted altered versions of the Nestlé logo, forcing the company to close its public page. Takeaway? Do not pretend people are not talking, and address criticism as soon as possible.
  • Amy’s Baking Company fought fire with fire against a one-star internet review. Their insults against the reviewer eventually were picked up by the local news. Negative attention is not good publicity.

The lesson here? Pay attention to your online reputation and respond–kindly–to poor reviews. Don’t let your ego get in the way of being professional. Remember, you aren’t just responding to the person who left a review, you are showing everyone else online who your brand is.

The Key to Online Reputation Management: Listen To What People Are Saying About Your Brand

What are people saying about you? Good online reputation management is not just reacting well to what people say about you, your brand, or your products and services, but also about whether to react at all and, if so, when.

Sometimes a reaction is not necessary, and sometimes a reaction that is too late can cost you millions.

A proactive approach to the matter consists of monitoring your public reputation regularly, and not just when you come to know about a specific event to deal with.

How do you do this? By using social media monitoring tools that keep an ear on what people are saying about your brand.

Social media monitoring allows companies to gather public online content (from blog posts to tweets, from online reviews to Facebook updates), process it, and see whether something negative or positive is being said affecting their reputation.

Social media monitoring can be both DIY (Google Alert is an example of a free web monitoring tool accessible to anyone) and professional, depending on the size of the business involved.

Watch for Online Reputation Bombs

ted mosby is a jerk online reputation management

In the online reputation management scenario, companies should be aware of two types of harmful content. One is represented by complaints on social networks. They need to be addressed properly, but unless your company has serious problems, they do not pose a real challenge to your business.

The other is what I define as “online reputation bombs,” which affect your reputation and sales long term and can severely damage a business. They are very powerful because, unlike social network content, they are prominent in search engine results.

What if someone Googles your brand name and finds defamatory content? Let’s see what they are:

  • Negative Reviews: Review sites allow users to express their opinion on your brand. Did they like your service/product? Would they recommend it? Negative content can affect your sales, and addressing the criticism on the site may not be enough. Websites like Ripoff Report and Pissed Consumer provide the perfect platform for this kind of negative content.
  • Hate Sites: Some people go beyond simple negative reviews and create ad hoc websites with their opinions, some of them containing illegal content. So-called “hate sites” sometimes address companies and public figures with insults and false information. Needless to say, a search result like “The truth about NAMEOFYOURCOMPANY” or “NAME scam/rip off” will make your potential customers run away!
  • Negative Media Coverage: Phineas T. Barnum used to say “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” That may be true for controversial public figures, but unfavorable TV, print, and online media coverage negatively impact companies and brands.

What do you do if your business is the victim of a smear campaign?

What To Do if Your Company is Subjected to an Online Reputation Smear Campaign

The first thing most companies wonder is “Can we call the cops?” I get it; being unfairly targeted feels illegal. But in most cases, online comments are not a legal matter.

Article 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Everyone has the right to express their voice about your brand. There are, however, certain boundaries that need to be respected. Some of the negative content online actually is illegal. Why?

  • It uses defamatory language
  • It reports false information
  • It is aimed at damaging the company’s reputation

How do you react to all of this? How do you defend yourself or your company from this kind of illegal behavior?

Depending on the scope of the problem, several paths can be pursued in order to restore your online reputation:

  • Aggressive SEO: Ranking on pages one or two of Google for your industry and brand name is one of the best ways to push down bad publicity. The first thing that you or your online reputation management company should do is devise a search marketing strategy that increases the ranking of positive content, owned by either you or third parties. The search engine game is too important to be ignored, and it is the first step in restoring your image.
  • Review Removal: Did a user claim something false about your company? Is that review clearly aimed at destroying your reputation rather than providing feedback? Does it contain improper language? Legal liaison and speed of reaction will make it possible to remove the negative review.
  • Online Investigations: In case of serious attacks on your brand image, it may be necessary to hire skilled online analysts to investigate untraceable threats and attackers via email tracing, data cross-indexing, and other information collection techniques. Cyber investigations are the definitive path to get to the bottom of the most difficult reputation management cases.

These strategies are only required in the most extreme cases. Most businesses can manage their online reputation by following these 10 tips.

10 Online Reputation Management Tips

Calling it “online reputation” really is redundant. Your online reputation is your reputation. In the digital era, nothing protects your brand from criticism. This is good from a freedom of speech perspective; bad if your company has been defamed and attacked.

To help you stay on top of your reputation, here are ten practical tips that sum up what we have covered in this guide. The world of brand reputation will change in the coming years, but following these simple tips will help you keep your name.

1. Become Well Respected

Trust is a perishable asset and it is hard to gain. Working to build respect work is more important than any other online reputation management commandment.

2. Be Radically Transparent

After years of hiding critics, McDonald’s publicly forced egg suppliers to raise hens’ living standards according to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals request.

Being transparent about shows you care about your customers and are willing to make changes when things go wrong.

3. Monitor What People Say About Your Brand

In addition to all the reasons to monitor your online reputation, social media monitoring also can increase sales. These days, lots of people ask questions via Twitter and Facebook because they evaluate whether or not they should buy from you. Showing you are responsive makes your brand look reliable.

4. React Quickly and Politely

In case of a customer complaint via Twitter, for example, a prompt and simple “Thanks for making us aware of the problem. We are working on it and will get back to you as soon as possible.” is better than a late reply with more information.

5. Address Criticism

In 2009, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey wrote an op-ed on Obama healthcare reform, which caused a controversy among WF customers. Two days later, the company published a written statement recognizing there were “many opinions on this issue, including inside our own company” and invited people to share their opinion about the article and health care changes. They didn’t just ignore it and hope it would go away; they addressed the issue head-on.

Online Reputation Management Guide

The Internet is a powerful marketing tool and helps your business reach a wider audience than any traditional advertising channel in existence. This means it has a huge potential to either help — or hurt — your brand.

That’s what makes online reputation management so important. In today’s Internet-driven world, your business simply can’t afford to appear anything less than reputable and trustworthy when potential customers look you up online.

In this guide, you’ll learn why online reputation management is so important, how you can do it, and how to take a proactive approach to making sure that your brand is represented well everywhere it appears.

Introduction to reputation management

What do you see when you type your company’s name into search engines like Google? Ideally, you’d see your company’s site, your various social profiles, and maybe even a news article or two discussing your recent successes.

But that’s not always the case, and you may find some unfriendly reviews or critiques among the search results. You may think that these results are completely up to chance, and that there’s nothing you can do to change the irrelevant or unflattering results that appear below your site. Fortunately, that’s not the case at all. So if a search for your company’s name brings up pages that have nothing to do with your business or – worse – negative reviews, you can change that with reputation management strategies.

Reputation management involves monitoring every aspect of your brand’s online presence and doing what you can to improve it. And in some cases, it also involves handling negative press or reviews in a professional manner. But in order to be effective, your strategy should be proactive and not reactive.

Many companies choose a reactive approach and only think about their reputation when it’s threatened. Unfortunately, this makes handling issues much more difficult when they arise, and it means missing a huge opportunity to build a positive name for your business online. After all, reputation management isn’t just about damage control — it’s about improving your image as a whole.

Why manage your online reputation?

Many business owners never think about online reputation management until a PR disaster – like a negative news story or a social media rant by a former employee – comes to light. This is an unwise approach. When done well, online reputation management not only serves to preserve your reputation, it should actively build it over time.

So if you’re on the fence about online reputation management, here are a few things it can help you do:

Build a positive reputation

Spreading positive news about your company, building friendly relationships with customers and clients, and establishing your site as a valuable source of information can all help you build a strong online presence. And considering that today’s consumers use Google for virtually every business they plan to visit or buy from, you need to be sure that the results that display for your name show that you’re worth their time and money.

Beyond the search results, you can also build your reputation by reaching out to news publications, sharing on social media, and gaining brand exposure in a variety of other locations. As Internet users see this information over time, they’ll make positive associations with your company.

These associations can then go beyond your online presence, as people begin to share their opinions of your company with their friends and family. Then, when they later have a need for the products or services your company offers, they’ll already know that you’re a trustworthy provider.

Stand out against the competition

Along with your own reputation, it’s important to consider that your competitors also have a certain reputation both on- and offline. And with online reputation management, you can make sure that the results showing for your company are better than your competitors’.

Today’s consumers don’t just go to the first business they hear of – they do their research, read reviews, and ask their friends and family for advice. So even though you may think that your four-star Yelp rating is enough, if your competitors all have five, you won’t look good in comparison.

As a result, a strong reputation management strategy involves not only monitoring the conversations surrounding your own brand online, but also those about your competitors. That being said, we’d never advise you to spread negative press about other businesses. Instead, work towards strengthening your own company’s reputation to raise the standard of your industry.

 

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