How to Manage your Online Reputation
Richard Branson, a man who knows a thing or two about building a brand, once commented “Your brand name is only as good as your reputation.”
In the old days, reputation was built up through a combination of word-of-mouth and skilful publicity. These days, word-of-mouth (WOM) can have an impact which is both rapid and global and can be either hugely beneficial or utterly devastating to a company’s business. Because of this, those with the ability to manage a company’s online reputation have become very much in demand and reputation management is now big business.
Reputation management for SMBs
It’s important to realize that online reputation is as much applicable to small businesses as to larger ones. In fact, from a certain perspective it is even more so.
Larger companies with hundreds of thousands of comments and reviews to their name should, if they are well managed, benefit from aggregation. In other words, if a larger business provides quality products and service then overall their online profile should reflect this and the occasional negative comment will not affect them too much. Indeed, engaging with unhappy customers leaving negative comments can actually have a very positive effect on a company’s reputation, online and otherwise.
Handling complaints correctly is vital
Smaller companies, however, can fall victim to the impact of negative reviews on a fledgling online profile. If your first customer review is negative, regardless of whether or not it’s justified, then you already have 100% negative feedback and that can impact on your ability to generate enough custom to demonstrate that the first review was unfair (or at least unrepresentative of your general service).
It’s also worth remembering that these days, companies are on the web whether they like it or not. Chances are the even the smallest company in the most obscure town will generate some sort of result if typed into an internet search engine.
Consider brand associations
Reputations can also be damaged by association. John Smith’s plumbers may offer excellent service and have completely satisfied customers but if John Smith’s electricians offers appalling service and has thoroughly dissatisfied customers, a casual search will just show up John Smith and a slew of complaints.
This means that while, for all practical purposes, the starting point for reputation management is Google, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on other search engines too as their algorithms work differently and they capture different users (not to mention social media).
Start by doing a search on yourself. If there is nothing of concern, then you have an excellent starting point for proactive reputation management. If there is then you will need to take steps to have it either removed or devalued by Google.
Dealing with negative comments
Negative comment can only be forcefully removed if it is in breach of the law or of the site’s policies; essentially if it can legally be considered defamatory. It can, however, be possible to persuade the writer to remove it, or at least update it, if their issue is resolved or at the very least if the reason for a particular situation is made clear to them and, if necessary, you explain what you will do to ensure that this does not happen again.
Remember the old IT adage, it may not be your fault, but it’s your responsibility. If you have problems with your suppliers, then either these problems were caused by legitimate issues which couldn’t have been avoided (such as extreme weather conditions) or they could have been avoided in which case the writer deserves an explanation of why they weren’t and what will be done to make sure they are in future.
If your supplier continually causes issues, then change them, because it’s your reputation on the line.
Devalue negative content
Content which the owner won’t remove needs to be devalued. Basically this means ensuring that when your name goes into a search engine, it will find content which it judges to be more relevant than the negative comments and will give it a higher ranking.
Generally speaking, people tend to stick to the first page of results, of which the top ten and in particular, the top three are the most important. The starting point for doing this is taking control of your name. While it can be a lot harder to get your domain name of first choice these days, it is still possible to get a domain name (and the new extensions should make life easier all round in that regard) and that domain name will essentially act as your virtual calling card.
Make time to put some decent content on the site and keep it updated. Sites can be technically simple and still very effective. Users may be briefly amused by fancy effects, but what they really want is engaging content. Create a profile for your organization on the major social media sites (currently Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+) and make sure it is complete and references your own website.
Use social listening tools for picking up negative comments on social media, there’s plenty to choose from and they can be invaluable for picking up reputation damaging content and addressing it,
If your company does find itself was a significant image issue which needs to be resolved, it can be possible to do so on an SME-friendly budget. New York newcomer Brand Yourself offers free online lessons in online reputation management and for more serious cases, offers reputation management services at prices which are designed to be within the reach of small companies and even private individuals.