Benjamin Franklin said it best: “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation and only one bad one to lose it.” Your brand’s reputation is no exception.

Technology has completely changed the way businesses today can (and should) approach reputation management. Thanks to social media, consumers have come to expect almost instantaneous interactions from the companies they choose to do business with. And this is especially true in times when something isn’t going well.

This means that social media is not just a viable option for reputation management. It’s a necessary one.

Let’s take a look at what happened at Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) in Houston recently. Over a period of three days, a total of eight chemical tanks containing components used to make gasoline caught on fire. Smoke could be seen throughout the entire city of Houston, and residents in the surrounding communities were concerned. Personally, I was as well. I live about 15 miles away from where the fire occurred, and it’s hard to deny the potential for harmful toxins in the air with chemicals burning for several days straight.

ITC addressed the community throughout the entire three-day period with updates via press releases and press conferences. However, their presence on social media was limited, and this led to a firestorm of negative publicity for the company.

Unfortunately, ITC isn’t the only company that’s fallen into this trap. In fact, 58 percent of executives believe online reputation management should be addressed, but only 15 percent actually do anything about it.

Long story short: If you aren’t utilizing social media to manage your brand’s reputation, you need to start … and quickly! If it’s not a priority, you’re going to have a hard time maintaining trust with your loyal customers and potential prospects alike.

Although most people view reputation management as something that is only necessary during a disaster like the one at ITC, there are several other instances where social media can be leveraged to maintain your reputation. Let’s dive in!

Responding to Negative Reviews

Let’s face it—no matter how great you are at what you do, you are always going to run into dissatisfied customers. It’s a natural part of doing business. However, the internet has made it difficult for companies to conceal when someone is unhappy with a product or service. Over time, these negative reviews can degrade any trust that’s been built with customers and potentially limit the possibility of future business.

Let’s stop for a moment to consider these stats:

  • 60 percent of consumers say negative reviews turned them away.
  • 85 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
  • In Google search results, online reviews have a 7 percent influence on rankings.

This may seem shocking, but negative reviews should be seen as opportunities, not hindrances. Why? Because 30 percent of consumers believe that the way a company responds to a negative review is a key factor when judging the credibility of a local business.

So how should you respond?

  1. Take some time to think through your response. It doesn’t have to be a ton of time, but enough to get your thoughts together so you aren’t acting out of an emotional reaction. Remember that whatever you put out there could either help or hurt your reputation, so respond wisely.
  2. Be genuine. Consumers today are savvy, and they will likely be able to tell if you are using a canned response to address their issues. Respond specifically to their concerns and make them feel like you genuinely care and are listening.
  3. Take the conversation offline. A person who has left a negative review about your business is likely either unhappy or downright upset. It’s best not to get into the situation’s specifics in front of everyone else in case things get heated. Also, if you end up offering a discount or coupon to remedy the situation, others won’t feel tempted to post a negative review to get one as well.
  4. Don’t ignore it. The absolute worst thing you can do with a negative review is not respond. Think about it: This is your chance to turn things around, show others you care about people on an individual level, and maintain your reputation as a brand that consumers want to do business with. Ignoring the review will only give the perception to others that you don’t care to improve or make the customer experience better.

Remember, negative feedback or criticism is an opportunity to grow and learn from your mistakes, so the next time you see one come in, don’t be afraid. Approach it with an open mind and show everyone that you care!

Combating Trolls

If your business has an active presence on social media, you’ve probably encountered a troll. No, not the cute kind with the crazy, colorful hair. I’m talking about the ones who are motivated to wreak havoc on your reputation—for fun.

Admittedly, it can be hard to differentiate between a troll and someone who is genuinely upset. However, there are several key tactics that trolls use, including:

  • Strong language such as “never”, “horrible”, “hate”, or “worst”
  • Personal attacks or name calling
  • Poor grammar including the use of excessive punctuation or all capital letters

If you determine that you are, in fact, dealing with a troll, here are some things you can do:

  1. Remain polite and cordial. Trolls are only looking for one thing—an argument. Don’t give them the fuel to make that happen. As frustrating as it may be, just breathe and reply in the most cool, calm, and collected way that you can.
  2. Follow up your response with facts. More often than not, trolls haven’t had a legitimate experience with your brand and are saying things that simply aren’t true. Prove them wrong and show everyone else why they should believe you over them.
  3. Don’t engage in an argument. If you notice the troll taking the conversation off track or making the attacks personal, don’t give in. Keep your cool and continue to diffuse the situation with facts.
  4. Don’t delete their comments. Although it may feel tempting to remove the incriminating comments from your account, resist the urge. Deleting comments can actually make the situation worse and demonstrate to the troll that you’re upset. That’s all the fuel they need to keep going.
  5. Know when it’s time to stop. You may reach a point when you realize that the conversation is going nowhere. It’s OK to end it—just make sure it’s on a high note. Remember, your community is watching to see how you will handle the situation. So act with grace and politely excuse yourself.

Posting an Inaccurate Message

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not perfect. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my career, and some of those have included posting inaccurate messages on social media. Embarrassing? Absolutely! The end of the world? Hardly.

What can you do if you find yourself in the same situation?

  1. Own your mistake. Yes, it can be difficult to admit when you’re wrong, especially on a public forum like social media. But at the end of the day, we’re all human, and everyone has made a mistake at some point in their life. One of the best ways you can build trust when something like this happens is to own up to it. Admit where you were wrong and then put a plan into place to make it right.
  2. Don’t delete the original message. Even if you recognize an error shortly after it’s been posted, chances are that there are people in your audience who have already seen it. Deleting a post after it’s been made public can not only be disorienting to your audience, but may also make them question why it was deleted. You don’t want to give your visitors any reason to distrust you.
  3. Offer the correct information in a separate post. Begin the post with a disclaimer that lets your audience know they are reading the most up-to-date and accurate message. It can be as easy as adding something like “update” or “new information” before the content.

Whether you like it or not, social media is here to stay. And although it can definitely present some challenges when it comes to reputation management, it’s also an opportunity to address your visitors in real time, build trust, and maintain a strong relationship with your community for years to come.