The importance of Online Reputation Management is now beyond dispute. Google long ago became a verb – we ‘google’ before making a decision about almost everything. Managing your reputation is all about controlling, or at least guiding, what people will find when they search for information about your organization. Ignore it and your business could meet an early end.
Here are seven concrete actions you can take to protect and enhance your brand:
1. Analyze and Prioritize. This step is foundational and it is important not to skip or rush through it. First, make a list of all the places on the web and social media spheres that customers can interact and publicly comment about your business. Once you have a list, analyze it in the following ways:
Which sites or reviews are the most influential for your business or particular industry? Obviously, the answer for a hotel (reviews on booking sites) will be different from a solo-preneur (LinkedIn). The point is to put the list in order from most influential to least in a way that makes sense for your business.
Next, tally up negative versus positive comments and interactions on each. What patterns do you see? What can be exploited and what needs to be corrected?
Finally, define what would be the ideal comment or interaction on each site. Why do this? Once you determine what result would best help your organization, you can begin to channel things in that direction. While you cannot ultimately control comments, you can focus on delivering an experience that will make customers or clients rave about you in very specific ways.
2. Monitoring Mentions. If you haven’t already, set-up Google Alerts for a very basic look any relevant search terms. Besides the obvious (your business name), you should also monitor mentions of products, executives, and even competitors. There are also more in-depth services available that will track social media mentions, review sites, and provide more detailed data. However you choose to monitor mentions, it is important to look at it as more than just data. These are real people interacting with your brand; they just happen to be doing it digitally.
3. Positive Amplification. The natural tendency is to think of reputation management from the defensive posture of protecting your brand from online negativity. There is an old sports expression that is appropriate here: “Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.” Translated to online reputation management, that means thinking of ways to spread positive interactions. One simple idea: take a screen shot of a great review on an independent site. Post this screen shot on your Facebook page and include an enthusiastic thanks for the great comments. This looks less like bragging and more like gratitude.
4. Handling Negativity with a Smile. It is not exactly original to say don’t overreact. But it also happens to be correct. You’re human, so hurtful reviews or negative comments about your business means you want to strike back. And the more unfair you perceive it to be, the harder you want to hit back. Instead, develop a protocol for dealing with negative comments and follow it. This will help you keep the emotion out of it.
One piece of advice that you hear often is to always respond quickly to negativity. That is only half-right. Yes, you should respond in a timely way. But sometimes a negative comment will need some time to be digested and investigated. So yes, acknowledge the negative comment right away but add that you are gathering information and will respond more fully soon. Whenever you do reply, always keep a tone of humility and straightforwardness. Avoid the extremes of groveling or sarcasm.
5. Control the Real Estate. As your business grows, carefully consider buying domain names that could hurt your brand. It is not unheard of for vengeful people to purchase things like [yourbusinessnamehere]sucks.com and other not very witty alterations. Yes, these people need better hobbies, but if your business is getting big enough to be a target, consider spending the very minimal money it takes to control these kind of domains.
Much more importantly, make your SEO efforts as strong as possible. If someone ‘googles’ your brand and the first two pages are all from your site or those friendly to your business, the power of negative comments is marginalized almost to the point of irrelevancy.
6. Google+ and Twitter. These two sites deserve special mention when it comes to managing your online reputation.
There is a truly wide range of opinion about the future of Google+. Well-respected voices, including Guy Kawasaki, believe it is building and will eventually reach its tipping point and become dominant. Others believe it came along too late and is too complicated and call it the next MySpace. For the purposes of reputation management, it doesn’t matter. Be on Google+. If it gets big, you are already there. If it never goes anywhere, it is still helping your SEO right now. And as was just pointed out, controlling your SEO as much as possible goes a long way to protecting your brand.
Twitter is especially important for reputation management. It is arguably the most transparent and easiest interaction tool in all of social media. Because you can share links, photos, and comments easily, and because re-tweeting is so simple, you should use it to the full for the ‘positive amplification’ mentioned above. Twitter is also a forum where customers expect rapid reaction to negative comments.
7. Give to Get. Do you help partner companies build their online reputation? If you have a supplier that goes the extra mile or a client that you particularly value, do you go online and find ways to tell others about it? Plain and simple, you should be doing this. It will not always lead to a reciprocal action, but often it will.
You can also “give to get” by training your staff to ask for good reviews after delivering excellent service. This has to be handled with care. It is a big mistake to give the impression you trade great service for reviews. Instead, develop a handout that allows employees to direct positive customers to a website to leave a review. As the employee gives them the handout, they can say, “We love getting feedback from our customers. If you have time to visit the site listed on this handout and leave us comments, we are appreciative.”
Pulling (and Keeping) It Together
Since the web has infinite nooks and crannies, managing your online image can seem bewildering. Using the structure of these 7 steps will keep you focused on what really matters for growing and maintaining your online reputation.