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Managing Your Online Reputation

You can’t escape it, critics are everywhere. People with smart phones weigh in with reviews on everything, from the food at a restaurant to the décor of their dentist’s office. Many take those reviews to heart when making a purchasing decision. Furthermore, what was once focused more on restaurants, hotels and tourism now encompasses all types of businesses – including those focused on B2B.

Warren Buffett once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” With the constant stream of information now available, a reputation can suffer some serious damage in much less than five minutes. Managing your company’s reputation in this age of instant reviews is an art, requiring careful monitoring and a plan of action to address negative publicity.

Understanding How to Manage an Online Reputation

Some businesses exist that have no clue about their online reputation nor of how it affects sales. The proliferation of review sites makes that attitude untenable with every passing day.

The big names in social media and online review sites include:

  • Angie’s List

  • Twitter

  • Facebook

  • Yelp

  • BBB

  • Google

Beyond those, just typing in “Company X reviews” in a search engine brings up plenty of other review sources.

Bad Reviews or Nagative Criticism

Some online comments about a company include helpful suggestions. Complaints are certainly warranted in some situations. Outrageous statements, however, often morph into near libelous language.

Some reviewers take complete advantage of the popularity of online reviewing, threatening bad reviews unless they receive extra services or a discount. There is a legal term for this: blackmail. Most review sites have some type of policy for reviewing blackmail as well as slanderous and libelous statements:

  • Angie’s List states that if a “…company ever harasses you be sure to let us know. We take these situations very seriously and actively track this type behavior.” That said, Angie’s List never removes a review except if:

    • The member who posted the feedback contacts us to remove it.

    • The review is a successful part of Complaint Resolution.

    • We confirm that the comments were fraudulently posted.

    • The BBB recommends, when dealing with potential blackmail situations, never paying any money and collecting as much information as you can, filing a police report, monitoring online reviews, posting updates and even filing a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.

Managing a Public Complaint

There are many businesses offering services to wipe out or delete negative reviews online. Their effectiveness varies, but if your budget allows for their services, many provide good information on what is happening to your company’s reputation on a regular basis and then providing solutions to complaints and bad press. Just make sure to conduct thorough research first in order to make sure you choose a reputable company.

There is nothing wrong with addressing the issue yourself, however. First, immediately respond to the complaint, sincerely and in a personal manner. Try not to engage them in a battle of words.

Depending upon the content of the bad review, and the writer’s response to your reply, you should check into the review site’s policy on negative reviews, and follow their guidelines. It may result in removal of the review if it fits certain conditions.

However, in order to do these things, you need to be aware of your negative online reviews. Several tools exist for exactly this purpose. Some, such as Brandify, are paid services offering “insight into your complete online presence.” There are also free services such as Google Alerts, which claims to “Monitor the web for interesting new content.” It allows you to set up an alert regarding just about anything.

Proactive Reputation Management

In an interview with Forbes, Don Sorensen, the president of an online reputation management company, enumerated the following as ways to manage your company’s reputation from the outset:

  1. Own your SERP (Search Engine Results Page): strive for complete domination of the page, not just a few results near the top.

  2. Control your business’s social media profiles across every social media platform.Obtain a domain with your company name and then blog on it. A lot. However, only include well written, quality content that highlights all the great things about the company.

    • Keep posts updated

    • Link all your business’s social media profiles.

  3. Encourage customer input about the products, but through novel means. In the Forbes article, Sorensen suggests asking customers for YouTube videos about how they use a product.

  4. Use public relations as a way to publicize products in innovative ways.

    • Use press releases showing products in real life applications.

    • Sponsor events and then brag about it through a press release.

Justifiable Complaints

Approach negative reviews with an open mind. If you are honest, you realize that the writer has a legitimate beef with your business. Take the opportunity and turn it into a positive by:

  1. Personally responding to the complaint on the forum or review site. Canned responses are easy to spot and held in low regard by review readers.

  2. Do not make excuses. Remedy the problem, and tell the reviewer how you will go about fixing things.

  3. Offer the reviewer compensation of some sort so that they will try your business again and, with any luck, write a positive review.

If the entire response process appears within the rating site, potential customers will see it as more of a customer support dialog rather than a big complaint. People place a lot of value in a business that actually responds to their concerns. By acknowledging and addressing an individual’s concerns, you may come to find that you make a sale as a result.

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