We are two decades into the internet age. By now, every business owner, executive and manager realizes the immense benefits which arise from having a strong online presence: exposure, brand building, and most importantly, revenue.
However, just like many companies that were too late at the party when the internet was blossoming as a powerful tool for commerce, many businesses remain unaware of potential problems which lurk in the online shadows.
I am talking about faulty search results here, about bad customer reviews, and even campaigns that are launched by competitors who want to damage certain brands and their positive search engine results. Sadly, most business owners don’t know what to do, even if they are aware of the problem.
Smart executives understand that it’s no longer enough to present a positive appearance and message on their websites and on social media. It is crucial to monitor their company’s overall online reputation on a daily basis, and repair any damage as soon as it occurs. And with the ubiquity of smartphones, tablets, laptops and other devices used for immediate social sharing, that damage can occur quickly.
Full-time internet monitoring is not a job most firms are able to handle on their own. That’s why many now hire companies which provide ongoing online reputation management services (ORM).
Online Reputation Management Benefits
All of the key benefits a company can receive from online reputation management can be condensed into a single sentence:
Online reputation management can prevent severe damage to a company, its brands and its bottom line.
One or two bad customer reviews on Google, Yelp or other popular sites can quickly appear at the top of a firm’s search engine results, and then be reposted on many other sites throughout the internet.
A competitor could even launch a number of websites aimed at destroying a company’s reputation. This way, a business’ carefully-crafted (and expensive) internet presence can be damaged or even destroyed in days.
Put simply, ORM can be thought of as insurance for the major investments of time and money that a company makes in its internet business, and just as importantly, an insurance for the revenue stream which results from online operations.
Internet Reputation Management Terms
As with any specialty, there is terminology commonly used when discussing internet reputation management. Here are a few of the terms to understand before hiring anyone to manage your reputation online.
- Social Media Monitoring – the use of both people and software tools to track all mentions of a company online in order to monitor comments, particularly negative ones.
- Social Media Analytics – tools and techniques which can survey social media sites to determine consumer opinions about a company and product, and help craft future strategies.
- Negative Organic Content – legitimate online stories which portray a company in a negative light.
- Reputation Bombing – actions by disgruntled consumers or competitors aimed either at gaining high search engine rankings for sites which attack a company, or gaining traction for social media attacks (or both).
- Astroturfing – establishing fake, anonymous personas to post comments (positively or negatively) on review sites.
- Inoculation – promoting positive listings and reviews to protect against current and future negative feedback.
- Transparency – a company’s commitment to speaking honestly and openly with customers about their products and services, encouraging feedback and criticism and responding publicly and properly.
- Customer Experience Management – a program designed to encourage positive customer reactions to a company after establishing transparency.
What to Expect From Your Reputation Management Company
First and foremost, the reputation management firm should be willing to work hand-in-hand with your customer service team or department. Establishing a long-term program to protect and defend your company’s brand and image involves not only internet wizardry, but a proactive approach to customer feedback and complaints.
Once the need for such a working relationship is understood, an ORM company should provide most or all of the following services:
- Reputation Audits and Reports: comprehensive surveys of your company’s online profile, determining how you are positioned online and recommending courses of action.
- News and Social Media Monitoring: continual monitoring of all online mentions of your company name and brands, to facilitate a quick response whenever it is needed (or to promote positive reviews and articles).
- Negative Review Monitoring: continual monitoring of review sites, including (but not limited to) Google, Yelp and Angie’s List, to facilitate proper responses.
- Design and SEO Consulting and/or Services: maximizing positive company exposure in the search engines’ results pages, through proper website design and search engine optimization.
- Social Media Consulting and/or Services: developing a strategy for proper company promotion on social media, and crafting systems for a quick and responsive reaction to negative comments.
- Strategic Positive Content Publication: writing and placing authentic, positive content online to further your company goals and brand image.
- Takedown Services: issuing the proper takedown notices in order to remove libelous or defamatory comments about your company on websites or social media.
- Inoculation: constructing a strong plan for ensuring continuing positive reviews and mentions of your company, including (but not limited to) gaining additional search engine listings for your company in order to “push” any negative sites or comments outside the first search results page.
Online Reputation Management Scores Explained
Increasing concern over negative buzz on the internet has given rise to a number of tools designed to give businesses a snapshot of their online reputation. Most of the top tools use a ranking system of 1-100 (with 100 being the highest), but each score has a slightly different meaning. Here are two of the most important metrics:
- Klout, perhaps the most widely known score, measures the influence your business has online based on social media activity, number of followers and Wikipedia mentions. The three ingredients of your score are the number of people you reach (true reach), your influence (amplification) and how influential your followers are (network).
- PeerIndex relies on how highly your social media content is valued by followers, in order to determine how much of an authority you are in your industry. The three key factors for your score are the number of people you reach and impact (audience), how often your content and shares are used by others (authority), and how active you are, how many communities you’re a part of (activity).
Internet Reputation Management Statistics
Anyone who has spent enough time online intuitively understands the need for online reputation management. But research done by a variety of academics, including some at Harvard Business School and the University of Michigan, makes it crystal clear that ORM is crucial for any serious business:
- 79% of consumers put as much trust in online reviews as they do in recommendations from friends and family.
- A Yelp rating increase of one star produces a company revenue growth of 5…9%.
- 73% of consumers trust a business more after reading positive reviews, 77% make a decision after reading five reviews or less, and 85% research a product or business online before deciding on a purchase.
- More than 50% of people surveyed in a recent study said that the online reputation of a doctor or dentist matters most in their decision-making process.
Under these circumstances, it is clear that maintaining a clean online reputation is critical in today’s environment.
Online Reputation Management Techniques and Tips
Internet reputation management can be quite complicated and time-consuming, but here are three things all business owners or managers can do to get started on their own.
- Monitor Your Brand. By using Google alerts and social media monitoring tools like Hootsuite, TweetDeck, Social Mention and Icerocket, you can watch for mentions of your company and products on a daily basis and respond accordingly and promptly.
- Claim Your Profiles. Do a search to find the major websites where consumers can rate your business; you will discover that your business probably has a “placeholder” page or profile on most of those sites. Claim these profiles and populate them with positive content about your company, and then monitor them for reviews which might require responses. One of the most important profiles is the one on Google+, because a well-engineered Google+ page can rank highly in Google’s local search results as well.
- Establish And Enforce Effective Customer Experience Management. It isn’t a secret that treating customers well is good for business. It’s crucial that all employees act appropriately and responsively when dealing with a customer issue or complaint online, because a momentary lapse in judgment can go viral in a heartbeat, doing a long-lasting damage to your brand.