Reputation Management for Businesses

When a customer has a good experience with a company, they are likely to tell one or two people. If they have a bad experience, they'll tell 20 - or blast it out on the internet.

You can spend all the time you want planning and implementing your brand strategy, but there is a part of your brand perception that is out of your control. But that doesn't mean you can't influence it.

Reputation management should be an important part of any company's marketing program. But this is especially true for small businesses, where one runaway comment can have cascading negative effects. In fact, many community groups on Facebook don't allow negative posts about local businesses because the mob mentality online can doom a company for a single mistake, or even the perception of a mistake.

There are three broad components to a reputation management program:

1. Know What People Are Saying

It's logical that you can only address and manage what you know. Companies need to be proactive about understanding their reputation in the world, especially online.

There are several ways to keep your own awareness levels up.

  • Claim your profile on review sites. Whether Facebook, Google, Yelp, Capterra, FitSmallBusiness or any other online profile that accepts reviews, enter your contact information and turn on notifications.
  • Set Google alerts. Set Alerts for your business name, the owners' names, and any other variation that people might plug into a search engine.
  • Proactively research your online reviews. Check in at least twice a month, if not more frequently.
  • Use a social listening tool. There are plenty of free or low cost options, such as Awario, and some larger, more robust tools like TrustPilot. They will not only listen for mentions of your company name, but also provide a portal to manage responses.

In a recent study by Referral Rock of a diverse set marketing executives about their brand reputation management programs, about half of the respondents said they use a software program. Of those folks who do, many use more than one program.

According to Referral Rock: Brand managers often use more than one tool for monitoring online brand reputation.

Don't forget to track your competitor's reputations also. It will give you insight into what makes them stand out or areas of weakness that you can exploit. This will help feed into your future messaging and marketing campaigns.

2. Respond to Negative Reviews Quickly

The closer you respond to issues in real-time, the quicker you can deescalate the situation. A negative review can be a blow to the ego and feel unjustified, but you have to keep your calm.

Regardless of what the actual truth is, you have to respond to the perception of truth.

  • Educate yourself on what happened. If there are any clues from the name or the details in the review, quickly ask your team for the rundown of what happened. Get all of the facts in line before you respond.
  • Start from a place of empathy. Even if the person is remembering details wrong, acknowledging their disgruntled feelings will go a long way.
  • Apologize whenever possible. If you did make a mistake, own up to it. If you don't think you did, you can at a minimum say your sorry that communication wasn't more clear.
  • Respond with two audiences in mind. While you are addressing the concerns of the reviewer, don't forget that you are really writing for the benefit of all future prospects who might read the review. Anything you can do to demystify what happened (or didn't happen) to the next person can be helpful.
  • Outline a future plan of action. Be transparent about what's going to happen next. How will this review impact your business processes? Will you use it as a teaching moment internally? Will you be reaching out to this customer offline to follow up?
  • Be brief. While this seems like a long list to cover, try to keep responses to no longer than a paragraph. Too much detail can make you seem defensive or aggressive.
  • Have someone review your response before posting. Do a quick gut check with a colleague to make sure your intended tone is shining through.

Top tips for managing online reviews

3. Proactively Manage Reputation

The more positive reviews you have, the less impact a negative review will have. If you have a sea of positive reviews, one negative one will be diluted easily.

We've already covered tips on how to get more online reviews on this blog. It all boils down to one piece of advice: ask, and ask repeatedly. Ask in phone call follow ups. Ask in email follow ups. Put review links in all email correspondence. Make people aware of your online review profiles and give them the option to use their preferred platform.

One word of caution, though: Several platforms out there will discredit or even hide reviews that they deem suspicious. (We're looking at you Yelp!) When this happens, high quality reviews often get swept up in automated cleanups. For example: High volumes of reviews coming in on a specific date can be one red flag that you have been actively soliciting reviews - and an assumption is made that you pushed a campaign only to happy customers to receive positive endorsements.

Don't try to game the system, just be honest and persistent about it. Ask for reviews from everyone by simply making asking a part of your follow up routine.

And when someone does leave you a review - make sure to acknowledge it and thank them as soon as possible. It helps build your brand as being responsive and appreciative.

What you can learn from reputation management

Brand reputation management isn't just a burden, it can be an excellent learning experience.

  • It can teach you about broken areas of your process, by understanding where expectations weren't set properly. Perhaps the issue is a need for better communication, better internal training, or maybe the process needs to be overhauled.
  • It's a great way to put yourself into the shoes of your customers, understand what is important to them, and understand what truly makes you stand out as a provider. This will all provide feedback into your brand and marketing strategy to leverage your strengths to better meet consumer needs.
  • It can also be a way to identify your top performers, who are working hard to build brand loyalty in how they treat and interact with prospects and customers. It will help highlight best practices that you can share with the rest of the team.
  • It can also provide insight into competitive strengths and failings, which can provide opportunity for you to more effectively communicate why your company is a superior choice.

Brand reputation management is an important part of any integrated marketing program. Perception is reality -- but perception can also be influences.

It doesn't have to take a lot of your time, and is a critical part of creating a conversation with prospects and customers. Most small businesses can implement a reputation management program on their own, although there are companies out there who you can hire to manage it for you. Regardless of how you do it, we recommend you start doing it today.

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