As more and more people seek out information online, creating and maintaining a solid online reputation that holds true to your brand is a must for any company or business owner. We’re not exaggerating: “97% of consumers read online reviews for a local company” and “88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation”.
A Brand is What Makes a Company a Company
Your brand is not just the product or service you provide. It’s a culmination of design items like a logo, website, tagline or color scheme and, more importantly, the culture — the employees and the values adhered to. It’s also how companies interact with the public through advertisements and on social media channels; a brand is the overall feeling, emotion and lifestyle a company conveys to the world. Highly successful brands include Nike, Apple, Coca-Cola…you get the idea.
Brands have become more visible to the world thanks in large part to the internet, which is good. But it also means more opportunities for people to voice their opinions, good and bad, which can then create positive or negative impressions of a brand.
Regardless of whether your company is large or small, people are talking about it, and you need to be aware of and able to manage what is being said. You may ask, ‘How does one manage that reputation?’ and ‘Are there any best practices when it comes to managing an online reputation?’ The answer is YES, there are a number of ways to manage your reputation and there are best practices when it comes to online reputation management.
What is Online Reputation Management?
You may think that online reputation is what people see related to your business or company on a Facebook business page or your actual company website. While these things are important and definitely part of your online reputation, the reality is that an online reputation is much much more.
An online reputation is a mix of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and public relations like your company’s response to tweets about itself. It’s not just what people are saying about you or your company – it also includes how you react and handle feedback, questions or criticisms from customers and other users online.
In short, you’re paying attention to what you post, what others post about you, and then how you react to it. This could be on Facebook, Yelp, Twitter, or another website altogether. As a business owner, it’s vital your company has a positive online presence and brand associations to continue to drive new leads to your site and grow your customer base.
Why is it important to manage your online reputation?
With the advent of social media and free access to the internet, we don’t have the means of controlling what gets out there. Websites likes Facebook, Yelp and Twitter allow anyone to comment on whatever they like, which means users are able to comment on your business, whether it’s true or false, good or bad, an accolade or a criticism.
Managing your online reputation is key to protecting your business, especially when it comes to negative content. Negative reviews and criticisms are inevitable – you can’t make everyone happy. Because of this, having a firm understanding of best practices when it comes to replying to comments on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and review sites (if you can) is a huge asset to your business.
What should you be doing?
Online reputation management isn’t easy. It takes effort and requires time, so it’s not something that can just be accomplished overnight. The best strategy to approaching online reputation management requires certain steps.
Step 1: Google your business
You want to actually Google your business (or do a search for your company/brand in a search engine). This will show you how you appear to others online. You’ll likely see your website, any social media accounts you own, and then you’ll be able to see reviews and other information offered by other users. Take some time to look over Facebook comments, Yelp reviews, and comments left on review sites. You’re essentially performing an audit of what people can find about you on the internet.
Step 2: Monitor What’s Being Said
After the initial search and general overlook, the next step is to monitor what people are saying about you. You’ll likely find a mix of comments, suggestions and experiences. The reality is that you will find negative comments (and if you don’t, then you’re amazing). Negative comments happen because you can’t and won’t make everyone happy. When you see negative comments, you can’t have a knee jerk reaction to what’s posted.
You don’t want to become defensive. When you become defensive you immediately alienate those that may have a valid suggestion or did have a negative experience. When you see negative posts, you want to approach them thoughtfully in order to build a good reputation with your current and potential followers.
Step 3: React Quickly and Politely
Should you find something that needs to be addressed – a negative experience, someone who didn’t receive the item they ordered, or anything that is a legitimate concern – feel free to respond to it. Reply to the comment as quickly as possible.
When you reply, be polite, offer additional information if you can (but limit what you do provide), and ask the person to direct message you to get more information about what happened. If the person is legitimately upset, don’t let the exchange play out in the public arena. Take it to a private level, that way should the person become more upset, you can manage the exchange more intimately.
Step 4: Address Criticism
This is an important part of managing your online reputation. Open and public social media channels allow anyone to post anything they like. If you find legitimate criticism, address it, especially if someone is misinformed and posts/shares incorrect information.
It’s also ok to acknowledge that the company made a mistake (if one did occur). In admitting the mistake, you also have the ability to address how you’ll fix it in the future should it happen again. By doing so you remain transparent with your followers and continue to foster a good reputation and sound relationship with your customers.
It’s important to discern legitimate criticism from those who are bordering on trollish behavior. An online troll is someone who is just looking to be mad or upset about anything. They’re actively trying to get a rise out of you and your followers, maybe even inciting an online mob against you. Don’t reply to trolls. No matter what you say, do or offer, you’ll never appease them. The best tactic with trolls is to ignore them. Facebook and other social media sites are notorious for trolls. If the language is actively abusive – just delete it.
Your Main Goals for Online Reputation Management
Managing your online reputation is a never-ending job. Every task should accomplish a set of goals, and when it comes to your online reputation, your goals should include:
Trust and respect are an important part of any reputation, whether online or not. By being honest, forthright and actively helping your customers with their concerns, you will gain respect and foster a solid reputation for years to come.
Understand Your Criticizers
While criticism can be viewed as something negative, it’s important to understand why someone is criticizing you. If someone is upset because your product might exclude a specific group of people from using it, then that’s a legitimate concern and it’s important to understand why they’re upset. If someone is upset because you made your item purple instead of blue, well, you can’t please everyone. Use sound judgement when addressing critics, and pay attention to what is being said.
Be Adamant About Legitimate Attacks
If someone is legitimately attacking your brand or company with false or fake information, do not ignore it. Make it clear to your followers and customers that the information is not true. If someone is purposefully posting false information about you online, don’t be afraid to take legal action in order to protect your business and reputation.
Admit Your Mistakes and Learn From Them
For many, admitting to a mistake can be difficult. When it comes to a reputation, especially one you’re trying to grow, admitting to mistakes is an important part of a reputation management strategy. The last thing you want to do is pretend you’re right, especially when you know you’re not.
It’s ok to admit to mistakes – it’s even better when you learn from them. Don’t be afraid to say, “We did this and it didn’t work. Now we know what to do in the future should the same thing occur.”
Transparency is important when it comes to a reputation because it shows your followers you’re not secretive or trying to hide something. If you have a large group of people who have an issue with something about your company, don’t be afraid to be transparent and address the issue or concern. By doing so, you let online users know you hear their concerns and are looking for ways to address them, which inevitably shows you do care about your customers and followers.
Ask for Help
Online reputation management is an important part of having an online presence. Large companies and corporations have employees whose sole job is managing and monitoring social media accounts and reaching out to those that have questions or need help. If your company doesn’t have the means or resources to manage an online reputation, don’t be afraid to ask for help from others. There are companies that specialize in management techniques and strategies and are more than willing to help you out. This could be part of a larger digital marketing strategy, or a specific campaign to improve your online reputation.
Take some time and audit your brand’s online reputation. Start working through the 4-step process, and build an internal company process that ensures online brand reputation management is a regular part of your work week.