You undoubtedly realize that the Internet offers one of the greatest marketing opportunities in the history of business. Unfortunately, the web also provides a (let’s call it) worldwide forum, where businesses can be bashed unfairly, because of the full anonymity that is provided to anyone wishing to hide his or her identity. This is why online business and corporate reputation management is now standard operating procedure for most firms.
Small Business Reputation Management
The success of any small business depends on consumer reviews and word of mouth. Although it is difficult to imagine it now, Apple was once a failing company, which was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy until it started to create innovative products like the iPod.
But as soon as that happened, consumers were so enthralled that they enthusiastically started to recommend the gadget to their friends. This social reaction completely turned around Apple’s business and continued to be the most important driving force for their business, with positive word-of-mouth making the iPhone, the iPad and iTunes huge successes.
The Apple story is a positive one indeed, but very few businesses receive such a great support from their customers. This explains why small business reputation management is critical.
Most business owners assume that successful online reputation management means winning arguments with online consumers, but nothing could be further away from truth. Reputation management is in fact a form of customer service. To manage their reputation online, small businesses should:
- Purchase a web monitoring application or service.
- Set the software/service to search for any mentions of the business or its products every day.
- Review the messages mentioning the business.
- Respond appropriately.
The fourth step is the one which gets most small businesses into trouble.
The best approach is to communicate directly with the poster, and see if you can find a resolution to his or her problem. Most people will be surprised by the effort you’ve put into this, and will become more reasonable.
If a solution can be reached, the person who spent time bashing you will often times make another post, reporting that you have stepped up, fixing the problem. This will do a world of good for the reputation of your business.
A huge benefit of online reputation management which very few businesses recognize is the valuable data provided by actual customers. Time should be spent each week analyzing both positive and negative mentions on social media and on consumer review sites.
Look for trends, particularly negative trends, showing that customers are discussing a common issue with your business, products or services. Then, take action to resolve that issue and follow it up with a press release announcing the changes. This way, you will improve your product or service without spending a dime on market research.
If you haven’t already, it is time to accept that the future of your small business relies on the way your company is seen in the digital world. Reputation management is a critical part of ensuring that future. If you do not have time to handle the work yourself, there are a number of experienced reputation management firms which can assist you.
Corporate Online Reputation Management
Corporate online reputation management is essential because – whether you realize it or not – lots of customers are talking about your business online. If you are not there to respond to direct messages and participate in the conversation, your corporate reputation is going to suffer over time.
Simply Google “worst customer service” or “customer service hall of shame” and you will see that many corporations are doing a very poor job.
As a corporate entity, you must either establish an in-house reputation management department or hire an outside firm which provides ORM services. The volume of online comments and reviews for a major corporation is so large that assigning the task to a single employee is useless.
If you plan to build an in-house online reputation management department, the team must be provided with tools to monitor the web for all comments regarding your company, executives, brands and individual products.
Various policies must then be established, addressing how different online risks will be handled. As a general rule, providing soulless, cold, corporate responses is a very poor strategy. Responses should be personalized and specific to the issue being raised.
Most people are surprised to receive personal responses from large corporate entities, so this is a great way of turning a negative customer experience into a positive one.
Brand Reputation Monitoring and Management
Before the web became as universally-used as it is today, most businesses had little idea of how their brands were actually viewed by customers, unless they did expensive and extensive research.
Not only can you now assess brand reputation easily in the online environment, but you can also actively monitor the positive and negative attitudes toward a brand, while defending against unfounded negative reviews and comments.
A great example of successful brand reputation management came when a picture of a Burger King worker stepping in bins of lettuce made the online rounds. Needless to say, the Twittersphere was aghast at the image.
However, the company was able to use a few software tools to analyze the image and determine where the picture was taken, figure out who the worker was (by matching his shoes to the photo), fire the worker, and then post the resolution and an apology on all social platforms – in just over one day. This is the perfect way to implement and use reputation monitoring and management.
Effective Brand Monitoring Tools
To do the job right, you need effective tools to monitor your business and brands online. A great place to start is Google Alerts.
You can ask Google to send you an alert any time it finds a piece of web content mentioning specific keywords which include your name, business name, and the name of your products and brands. When alert emails arrive, review the content and formulate an immediate response if appropriate.
Of course, you are also going to need to monitor social media websites. Actionly is a tool that monitors activities on the most important social and consumer review sites, including Yelp, Twitter and Facebook.
The software can be configured to send you an immediate message when a mention occurs, or compile a list for review at the end of the day. Actionly is definitely a time saver when it comes to brand monitoring.
Social Media Management for Business
Social media management for business involves joining the online conversation about the company’s brands, products and services. Use a social media monitoring tool to identify negative comments, and then respond publicly to those complaints.
Speak to individuals as if they are people you’ve met while walking the dog in your neighborhood. This approach will usually diffuse any anger on the part of the poster and facilitate a resolution of the problem.
International Reputation Management
International reputation management is similar to its domestic cousin, with a few key twists. They involve recognizing that there are also websites in specific countries which require an online presence and monitoring.
As an example, if you sell consumer products in China, your company should also monitor dianping.com, because Dianping is the Chinese equivalent of Yelp. Customers will be leaving reviews about your products on the site, so your reputation management department needs to be actively monitoring, evaluating and responding to those reviews as well.
The Dianping example also points to a second major twist in international reputation management. You must have individuals in your company who speak the language of the nations in your market and are familiar with local customs.
The average New Yorker is probably not the person who should be posting replies to negative product reviews on Dianping; a college graduate who is fluent in Mandarin and familiar with the Chinese culture is a far better choice. Know your markets, and then hire people who are intimately familiar with those areas.
Online Reputation Management Is a Must
Small business and corporate reputation management is no longer just an option. The entire world is interconnected now, and the internet is the place where your customers are communicating with each other. Any business – be it small or large – which fails to participate in that conversation is risking its future.