How Is Online Reputation Management Different From Public Relations Efforts Of The Past?
In addition to guest posting on the UpCity blog, LocalBizGuru is featured as one of the Top Digital Marketing Agencies in the United States. Check out their profile!
Reputation and brand management have long been important for businesses, although for smaller businesses it has often been less of a concern. This isn’t because it’s not needed, but because small companies have long had difficulty affording proper PR.
In the digital information age, this is no longer something you can afford to get away with.
Online reputation management is important for all companies of all sizes. The challenge is doing it successfully without breaking the bank.
Why is Online Reputation Management so Important?
Online reputation management is important for a simple reason:
Communication now goes both ways.
In the past, customers would purchase a product or service and maybe tell their friends how good it was. It was relatively rare for customers to contact the business either with praise or complaint because it took more effort. (This also led to complaints being received more often than compliments, as people were and are more likely to say something about a negative experience).
People now express their opinions in all directions, constantly and in real-time. These opinions are now available worldwide!
This is both good and bad for businesses, but it makes reputation management absolutely vital.
How Does ORM Differ from Traditional PR or Offline Reputation Management?
Traditional Reputation Management
Traditional reputation management involved relatively few tools.
Although public relations has existed for a very long time (in fact, the Greeks and Romans had review systems of their own), there were relatively few options for PR people facing a reputation disaster.
They could take out advertisements, pay to get a friendly journalist to write a favorable article, or give a flattering interview on TV.
Or they could talk to customers directly, one by one.
Online Reputation Management
The advantage of online reputation management is you have many more channels to communicate with customers. The disadvantage of online reputation management is, of course, the very same thing.
Because of the far greater two-way communication, ORM or online reputation management is both easier and harder.
It is also a lot faster, with companies having to respond to issues and complaints very quickly.
Digital word-of-mouth marketing is both faster and wider than in the old days when people had to meet each other to discuss your product.
This means that online reputation management is not just traditional PR tactics (which are still effective), but also brings in search engine optimization and social media management.
Traditional PR firms seldom managed to adapt to the change.
Elements of ORM Are Often Not As Visible
A key difference is that PR tactics are often highly visible.
A story appears in the paper, a CEO is interviewed on local television, etc.
On the other hand, a lot of ORM happens behind the scenes, with tactics such as SEO and slow brand building.
Asking customers to leave online reviews, for example, is part of ORM, but is not often visible to people other than your customers.
ORM Is More Proactive
Finally, online reputation management tends to be more proactive.
Companies do not wait until a disaster or a recall happens, but rather put a lot of effort into building a positive online presence, reputation and brand so that anything which happens is mitigated.
What Tactics and Techniques Should You Use?
So, as a small business, how do you go about properly managing your online reputation without breaking the bank?
The good news is that there are many affordable options available without having to hire an expensive reputation management firm from New York.
There are several areas to focus on, and often this requires specific expertise.
Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization is one of the most effective digital marketing tactics available to marketers.
SEO is often seen as a way to attract and drive traffic to your website and thus to your online (and brick and mortar) stores. However, it also has a role to play in online reputation management.
Search Engine Reputation Management
The trick here is to create a lot of positive content that makes your company look good, such as educational blog posts that position you as an expert in your field.
SEO techniques such as content marketing are then used to push this content to the top of the search results, hopefully pushing down any negative content, publicity, complaints, or attacks by competitors.
On a local level, your Google reviews contribute to your rankability and online visibility, both in local 3-Pack and organic results. It should therefore be part of your overall SEO strategy to generate as many positive reviews as possible.
Many ORM companies don’t do SEO, because it’s hard keeping up with the constantly changing algorithms, but it’s a key part of doing this right.
Without good SEO, you can easily end up with the first thing a prospective customer sees when they Google your name being a viral complaint.
Online Reputation Audits and Management
The quickest way to do an online reputation audit is to simply open an incognito window and then do a Google search of your company’s brand name.
It’s important to do this in incognito mode so that your past searches aren’t taken into account.
What shows up on the first page of the search engine result page (SERPs)?
How much control do you have over those sites and listings? If you spot a problem, you can look into how to fix it, which might range from updating Google My Business or Wikipedia information to contacting the author of a critical news piece to give your side of the story.
Although simple, this process can be time-consuming and tedious and is often best outsourced or, if possible, automated. However, doing it regularly can help you spot an issue before it becomes a problem.
Hear From Industry Experts
Read the latest tips, research, best practices, and insights from our community of expert B2B service providers.
Monitor, And Deal With Customer Reviews
Use a brand monitoring tool to monitor your reviews. In some industries, it is not appropriate to respond to positive reviews, in others it is and it can be valuable.
Deal with negative reviews by responding to them in public. (Again, there are some industries where this is not acceptable, but it’s very normal in others, such as hospitality).
Crafting good messaging for dealing with negative feedback is essential.
This shows that you are responsive, approachable, and care about customer experiences.
Bad reviews are the kind of customer feedback that can tell you what you are doing wrong and where you can improve. Unfortunately, they can also cause your site to go down in the rankings.
But don’t worry. Getting a bad business review is not the end of the world.
So long as you’re getting it right more often than not, learn to ignore the effects of the occasional negative review.
Studies have shown that a perfect 5.0-star rating is more suspect than an imperfect one with only 12% of people requiring a perfect score. Getting an average of between 4 and 5 stars is the sweet spot to aim for.
So don’t sweat the occasional negative comments or reviews, and endeavor to always meet or exceed your customer’s expectations.
Be Proactive In Getting Reviews
Your review score (the quality and quantity of your online reviews) is usually the first impression a potential customer has of an online brand.
Doing outreach to your loyal customers and reminding them to leave reviews can help increase the number of positive reviews and help build a good reputation.
A dedicated review generation email campaign can be an effective tool to bump up your Google or other platform’s reviews.
Never be tempted to fake reviews.
Most companies that try this do get caught and it can create a far worse PR disaster.
Also, avoid incentive programs and paying for reviews. This is against the terms of service on many sites.
Remind your customers right after they buy and consider a second reminder via email a little bit later.
Including a direct link to your review profile will help maximize your chances of actually getting those coveted positive reviews.
Brand monitoring is the process of tracking conversations and mentions related to your brand, your competition, or relevant keywords online.
This takes place all over the digital landscape including online forums (like Reddit), social media platforms and social networks (like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & LinkedIn), review sites and aggregators (like Google My Business, Yelp, and the BBB), influencers social media profiles, blogs, websites, and so on.
Knowing how and where people are discussing your brand and products, will give you a better understanding of how people generally perceive them and allows you to collect valuable feedback from your audience and potential customers.
Additionally, it allows you to keep a finger on the pulse and avoid potential crises and respond to criticism before things get out of control.
Use a Brand Monitoring Tool
The sheer volume of online channels across the world wide web makes it humanly impossible to monitor manually with any degree of effectiveness. That’s where the benefit of brand monitoring tools comes into play.
At its most basic level, setting up Google alerts for key terms and phrases is the least you should do.
However, to be effective, there are many brand monitoring tools available that are relatively inexpensive and are free to try.
They offer comprehensive features that enhance your ability to manage your online reputation and control the narrative as much as possible.
Many social media marketing and management tools like Hootsuite have app integrations that allow you to do comprehensive and effective brand monitoring. (Mentionlytics is one such example but is by far not the only one available.)
While there may be a nominal cost involved to monitor your brand online, leveraged properly, it more than makes it a worthwhile investment.
Digital Press Releases
Much like the traditional press release, a digital press release is another type of online content and is one of the most powerful public relations arrows in your ORM quiver.
The obvious advantage the digital press release has over the traditional method is that the distribution is immediate, worldwide, and is far more cost-effective.
Another advantage often overlooked by business owners is the link-building potential this type of content creation affords your brand.
By getting hundreds of backlinks from the syndication to the various online news outlets, a digital press release builds your site’s domain authority and improves your SEO.
Have a Plan of Action
You need to have a plan both for your overall strategy (which can differ by industry) and what you are going to do if something does go wrong.
Your plan needs to include monitoring your brand for negative mentions, watching industry trends for things that might put your business under stress, and make sure that everyone knows their role in both crisis management and generally maintaining a good brand image.
It’s important to know where your audience tends to hang out online and choose that as your primary communication space, as you need to react very quickly.
The Bottom Line
Developing an online reputation management strategy for SMB owners is a challenge, involving effective SEO, creating quality content, employing classic PR tactics, and savvy online marketing.
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be a point of frustration.
There are many effective tools available to you as a business owner as well as reputation management companies providing a myriad of reputation management services willing and able to help you do it successfully.
If you’d like more information on devising an ORM strategy, contact the experts at LocalBizGuru to find out how we can help support your brand’s reputation and success online.