By Manish Dudharejia
Eventually somebody will write something unpleasant about your business. You better have a plan.
Reputation management in the age of the internet is essential to business like water is to humans.
Well, maybe not that extreme. But you get the idea.
You’ve probably stumbled across a statistic or two about how impactful online reviews and feedback are on purchasing decisions. The bottom line is that public brand sentiment is a game changer in how people shop these days. This is a reality that all entrepreneurs must come to terms with.
The task of managing an online reputation is not an easy one, nor is it a one-size-fits-all process. The goal is to make sure you don’t have to learn the biggest lessons the hard way. That said, here are four things that many entrepreneurs get wrong about managing their online reputation.
1. Underestimating the value of consistency.
As many entrepreneurs quickly learn, managing an online reputation isn’t something that can be done in an afternoon or over the weekend. If there is one overarching buzzword attached to this process, it’s consistency.
For as long as your business is operating, shaping and maintaining an online reputation is a job that never ends. In the beginning, the steps involved in getting the ball rolling can likely be done single-handedly. These initial steps typically include:
- Setting up Google Alerts for anything brand-related.
- Claiming your business on the major platforms like Yelp, Google My Business, and niche review sites.
- Setting up social media monitoring accounts (Hootsuite, Brandwatch, Mention).
- Getting your blog up and running.
In the startup stage, consistently interacting with people online, responding to reviews, and creating thought leadership content won’t require a momentous time commitment. However, once business picks up, maintaining consistency will start to become harder and harder. As a general rule, if you are spending between one and two hours per day staying on top of your online reputation, it’s probably time to consider bringing on a specialist – at least on a part-time basis.
2. Assuming star ratings are all that matter.
To reiterate, customer reviews are an essential ingredient to an online reputation. A big part of the process is simply getting customers to review your product, service, and overall experience. Truth be told, most people won’t leave a review on their own. The good news is about 70% will if they are asked to, according to a study by BrightLocal.
Over the years, the very concept of online reviews has seen an interesting evolution. The era of online reviews started back in the late 1990’s during the Clinton presidency. Gradually, websites like RateMD.com started popping up in which people could review doctors.
Fast forward to today and there are niche review platforms designed for restaurants all the way to software solutions. In terms of the reviews themselves, a good or bad online reputation goes far beyond just the number of star ratings.
Consumers these days have more options than ever before. People can now be extremely picky in terms of how and where they spend their money. They look to online reviews to get an unbiased third-party opinion of a brand, product, or service. As you develop a strategy to gather reviews, you need to design prompts that give people the whole picture of what it’s like to do business with you.
Now, this can be tricky. You want to get substantial feedback, yet you don’t want to make it too time-consuming for the customer. When you send out follow up emails asking people to review, keep the prompt simple. Ask them what the pros were, the cons, the general overview, and advice to the company. This works to give people a 360-degree view of your business from a customer’s perspective.
Keep in mind, in the world of online reviews, honesty reigns supreme.
3. Negative sentiment should be left alone.
No one likes getting negative reviews. You put your heart and soul into your business; seeing unhappy customers rip it to shreds in a public arena is tough to watch.
However, negative reviews are not the grim reaper – believe it or not.
The way you react to bad sentiment says WAY more about your business than the review itself. To reference the BrightLocal study again, nearly 90 percent of consumers read business’ responses to reviews. Moreover, Google has confirmed that responding to reviews improves SEO value.
So, regardless of how painful it is to read bad reviews, you need to bite the bullet and make an effort to respond. If you play your cards right, you can turn this into a positive and gain a loyal customer. Zappos is famous for going above and beyond to turn bad customer experiences into extremely memorable positives.
Responding to negative reviews requires a certain touch. First and foremost, you don’t want to respond right away. Let the bad sentiment marinate for a day or so. The last thing you want is to respond while emotions are high. Second, and this should go without saying, try your best to empathize. Ultimately, your brand reputation depends on your ability to put yourself in the shoes of the customer and meet their needs.
Lastly, do your best to try and take the conversation offline – whether it’s on a review platform or social media. The initial public response should be cordial, but then encourage the bulk of the interaction with the nitty-gritty details to take place in private. This is for both your protection and that of the customer.
4. Thinking there is a ‘quick-fix’ for reputation issues.
An online reputation can always take a bad turn. There is a common saying that goes, “A reputation is something that can take 30 years to build, yet be completely destroyed in 30 seconds.”
In the age of social media and constant connectedness, we see crises happen all the time. United Airlines, Uber, and Wells Fargo are just a few examples of a reputation falling apart in an instant. If this unfortunate event happens to you, the key is to not let panic set in, as this leads to rash decisions.
In the old days of the internet, many companies assumed they could combat poor sentiment by forging their own positive reviews or paying professional writers to write long, detailed praises on major review platforms. While this certainly worked for a hot second, review sites wised up to these devious tactics. Trying to sidestep the process of gaining authentic reviews can get you into serious trouble.
Additionally, the simple fact that people nowadays are bombarded with insane amounts of brand messaging every day, most consumers have gotten pretty good at spotting BS. Resorting to sketchiness to try and mend a damaged reputation can often times put you even deeper in the hole.
When you are in a pickle, you need to accept that there is no quick solution. Getting people back on your side is a long process that often times requires deep-seated change. Take Uber for example. When they were in hot water from poor practices behind the scenes, they essentially cleaned house and rebuilt their company culture from the ground up. While they still have a long way to go, the new CEO is doing the right things to turn Uber’s image around.
The most important thing you can do is critically listen to what people are saying and make a conscious effort to usher in a fundamental transformation.
Over to You
The task of managing your online reputation will be around as long as your business’s doors are open. Not everything is going to be peaches & cream. You are going to hit bumps in the road and need to know how to handle it.
Hopefully, this post has given you a good idea of what you should do, and more importantly, what you should not do.
Feature Image Credit: 10’000 Hours | Getty Images