Every online business has to be prepared for “crisis management” when it comes to being slammed by angry, irate customers who have complaints. They can post angry comments; they can access review sites and complain; they can post their displeasure on your social media platforms. But most businesses have prepared for this, through social monitoring, through responding quickly to any complaint, through monitoring their Google search, etc. This they call “reputation management.” It is really a reactive strategy – wait until something goes wrong and then respond quickly.
Businesses can spend a lot of money on “reputation management.” They hire firms to handle their online problems, or they have an in-house employee in charge of responding to any negative press. And they work very hard to be diplomatic in their responses, to respond publicly, and to resolve issues so that the complaint is neutralized.
Online Reputations Are Complicated
Before the Internet, businesses hoped for word of mouth advertising to help spread their brands. They did not rely on it a great deal, however, because there was not a medium for that to happen on a large scale. Now, however, the entire landscape has changed. One individual who is either happy or dissatisfied can reach a huge audience very quickly, and his/her comments are out there forever.
Whether it is comments on social media, written reviews on niche-related sites, recommendations, mentions, or feedback on huge review platforms such as Angie’s List, consumers have a voice and a method of obtaining the opinions and recommendations of others. And they trust information from other consumers more than they do any marketing information that a company itself puts out. So, how, then, can a business get some control over this massive phenomenon that we call an online reputation?
Making the Shift from Management to Marketing
What some businesses have done, and what all must do, is make a mental and practical shift from being reactive to being proactive in advancing a reputation through a solid marketing strategy. Just like their products and services, a reputation must be seen as an asset – something that will grow their businesses. And, thus, they must market their reputations just as they do their products and services.
Where to do this? Well, obviously, you have to be on social media, and you have to have campaigns that get you a good ranking on Google; and you also have to have to understand the review sites have become one of the most important sources of information for consumers. There are the biggies like Angie’s List, Yelp, and Google. There are also niche-related sites for shoppers of specific products and services and even aggregators that tell consumers where to go for reviews on those products and services. So the first “where” to go for reputation marketing should be these review sites – they are becoming powerful indeed.
How to do this? Your reputation marketing should involve three activities – monitoring, asset increase, and amplification.
This is what reputation management is all about. And it really focuses on knowing what consumers are saying about you on these review sites. This can be challenging if you don’t have the staff dedicated to this activity and you cannot afford to employ them. And trying to do it manually yourself is just not feasible. There are two solutions for this:
- Many review sites allow businesses to sign up for alerts, and you will receive them anytime someone has posted a comment or review of your brand.
- Use a social monitoring tools that covers mentions anywhere on the web, not just social media.
Once you receive an alert, get there as soon as possible. Some small business owners just set aside a certain time of the day to do this. Remember, that review is being read by others, and you will want to read and respond as soon as possible. Don’t let it sit out there for days.
When you read a review and a customer is unhappy, do not get defensive. Instead, acknowledge that there was obviously a problem and apologize for their bad experience with your product or service. Ask the customer what would make them happier in the future and/or how can you help fix the problem now? Chances are you may be able to turn that customer around, but, more important, everyone who reads that review now knows that you are on top of the situation and that you care.
Assets are good reviews. And these are not easy to get. It’s a pretty well-known fact that consumers write when they are upset, not so much when they are satisfied. Even when they say that they plan to write a good review, they forget, they get busy, and it just doesn’t happen. You need to get a little more assertive and ask for reviews.
Your job is to ask and to remind them, and to make it as easy as possible for them to do this. Even if they may want to, and you suggest a review site, or a few, they may find it difficult to access the site and actually post a review. There are automated solutions for this, and that will certainly help, but you are the one who has to personally do the asking. This takes times, but if you can just get one or two customers a week to do it, think of the impact that will have.
Amplify – Give Yourself Shout Outs
Now that you have taken care of the alerts and you have managed to get some happy customers to say nice things about you on a number of review sites, your job is to use a “bullhorn” ad make sure that other potential customers know all about the great things being said about you.
These positive comments are what is known as “social proof.” Remember, consumers use the opinions and recommendations of others, even strangers, as they make purchasing decisions. And they don’t trust on-site testimonials anymore – they know most are fake. But is you can direct them to third-party sites to read the reviews, or, better, re-post them yourself with a link to the review site from which they have come, then those comments become credible. The point is this: you want to get as much leverage and mileage out of your reviews as you can. Re-publishing them does this.
The reputation of your brand is perhaps the most valuable asset you can have, second only to a great product or service that everyone will love. It has to be protected and managed, of course. So you must monitor and respond t any negative press you get from consumers. But, taking a proactive approach and actually marketing your reputation gets you far more into the driver’s seat and lets you control far more of the conversation.