There are many misconceptions about online reputation management. Some people think it's just social media monitoring. Others think reputation has something to do with public relations, and still others have no idea what impact reputation can have on sales.
In this guide, I'll explain the role of online reputation management in today's digital age. I'll explain why it matters and give you 10 tips for improving your online reputation and protecting your brand's image. Why does reputation management matter?
Just a few years ago, the Internet was very different. Companies weren't attracting customers, they were just selling (or trying to sell) to a passive audience. People couldn't express their opinions in a way that made an impact, and the general direction of communication was "top-down."
The situation has fundamentally changed. Websites today are no longer static advertising pamphlets. User-generated content ー a necessity. And regular social media interaction is vital to the success of any company.
No matter the size of your business, people are talking about you, including potential clients, customers and their friends. They tweet about your latest product, leave comments on your blog, post Facebook posts about their experiences as a customer, etc.
If you think you can save money on reputation management, or if you think you can build a reputation without considering people's opinions and feedback, rethink that.
One of the most important commandments of business ー "Be transparent." For companies that use this new way of communicating with their audiences, it turns out to be helpful to be open to criticism and feedback.
What does it mean to be "transparent"? Here are some examples:
Easier said than done! Most small and mid-sized companies don't invest much in communication and struggle with this concept. As a result, their efforts are usually wrong or inconsistent.
Being transparent is risky. But in the long run, non-transparency is more risky.
The key to online reputation management: listen to what people are saying about your brand
What are people saying about you? Proper online reputation management ー is not only about responding correctly to what people are saying about you, your company or your products and services, but also about knowing whether and when to respond at all.
Sometimes you don't need to respond, and sometimes responding too late can cost you millions.
A proactive approach in this matter is to monitor your reputation regularly, not just when you become aware of a specific event that needs to be dealt with.
How to do this? By using social media monitoring tools that keep track of what people are saying about your company.
Social media monitoring allows companies to collect publicly available online content (from blog articles to tweets to online reviews to Facebook posts), process it and see if the negative or positive is affecting the company's reputation.
Social media monitoring can be stand-alone or professional, depending on the size of the company.
In an online reputation management scenario, companies should be aware of two types of malicious content. The first type ー social media complaints. These need to be handled correctly, but unless your company has a serious problem, they are not a big threat to the business.
The second type ー what I call "online reputation bombs," which affect your reputation and sales in the long run and can seriously damage your business. They are very effective because, unlike social media content, they are prominent in search results.
What if someone bugs your company name and discovers discrediting content? Let's see what that might be:
Most companies wonder, "Can we go to the police?" I understand, being unfairly defamed is considered illegal. But in most cases, online comments are not a legal issue.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any means and regardless of national boundaries.
Everyone has the right to express an opinion about your company. However, there are certain boundaries that must be respected. Some negative content on the Internet is actually illegal. Why?
How do I respond to all this? How do you protect yourself or your company from such illegal behavior?
Depending on the extent of the problem, there are several ways to restore your online reputation:
These strategies are only required in the most extreme cases. Most companies can manage their online reputation by following the 10 tips below.
Calling it "online reputation" is really unnecessary. Your online reputation ー is your reputation. In the digital age, nothing protects your company from criticism. It's good from a free speech standpoint, but it's bad if your company has been slandered and attacked.
To help you stay on top of your reputation, I provide ten practical tips that summarize what we've covered in this guide. The world of company reputation will change in the coming years, but following these simple tips will help you keep your name alive.
Trust ー is a perishable asset and hard to gain. Working on building respect ー is more important than any other online reputation management tip.
After years of running away from criticism, McDonald's has publicly forced egg suppliers to raise their chickens to the demand of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Being open shows that you care about your customers and are willing to make changes when things go wrong.
In addition to all the reasons for tracking online reputation, monitoring social media can also increase sales. These days, many people ask questions through Twitter and Facebook because they're figuring out if they should buy from you. If you communicate with them, your company will look trustworthy.
In the case of a customer complaint on Twitter, for example, respond quickly and simply with "Thank you for letting us know about the problem. We're working on it and will get back to you as soon as possible" is better than a belated response with more information.
In 2009, Whole Foods CEO John McKee wrote an article about Obama healthcare reform that sparked controversy among WF customers. Two days later, the company issued a written statement acknowledging that there were "many opinions on this issue, including within our own company," and invited people to share their opinions about the article and the health care changes. They didn't ignore the situation or hope it would go away; they worked openly with the issue.
Responding to negative feedback shows that you care and are working hard to fix any problems.
First impressions matter, and we judge many books by their covers. If the words "scam" and "scam" are associated with your brand, you should worry about it.
A strong SEO strategy ー your best defense against negative press, reviews and false rumors.
Criticism ー chance to learn more about your audience and formulate a better message in the future. Motrin's scandalous commercial about moms carrying babies in sling bags drew a lot of criticism. The outrage came not from competitors or abusers, but from people in Motrin's target audience who were offended by the advertising content.
If the online responses to your company are legitimate, it may be time to reconsider your marketing strategy or responses.
Sometimes we just need to fight illegal behavior. In 2009, Domino's Pizza employees who posted disgusting videos of themselves playing with food were fired and arrested. Another example ー people who post false information online. If you don't sue them, they may do it again.
Sony certainly learned a lesson in reputation management back in 2005. It placed copy protection (XCD) on its CDs, which created computer vulnerabilities that could be exploited by malware. Instead of openly reporting the mistake, Sony stubbornly kept quiet and lost millions in class action lawsuits.
If you made a mistake, admit it and take action to fix it.
If your online reputation management efforts aren't enough to protect or restore your company's image, you can enlist the help of a professional. Working with an internet marketing agency or reputation management company may be your only option.
Managing your online reputation starts with listening to your customers and finding ways to connect with them. Responding to online criticism is crucial. Also, developing an SEO strategy is critical, but it may not be enough to protect your business from smear campaigns. In such cases, it may be a good time to seek professional help.