The Definitive Guide to Online Reputation Management

There are a lot of misconceptions about online reputation management. Some people think it’s just social media monitoring, while others believe it has something to do with public relations, and still others literally have no idea how it can impact business and sales.

In this guide, I’m going to explain the role of online reputation management in today’s business and media landscape. Companies of every size can benefit from having a clear outline of its main concepts.

They Are Talking About You

Just a few years ago, the internet was very different. Companies were not engaging customers but just selling to a passive audience; people could not express their voice in a powerful way, and the overall communication landscape was very “top down.”

The situation has radically changed. Today, websites are no longer static brochures. User-generated content is a must. And regular interactions on social networks are vital to any business success.

No matter the size of your business, they (prospects, customers, clients…anyone and, potentially, everyone) are talking about you. They are tweeting about your latest product, leaving a comment on your blog, posting a Facebook update about their customer experience, and much more.

If you think you can skip this, or if you think you can make it without taking into account people’s voices, opinions, and reviews, think again.

The Transparency Risk

transparency risk

One of the most recent business commandments is “Be transparent.” Opening up to criticism and feedback seems to be beneficial for companies that embrace this new communication mode with their audience.

What does being “transparent” mean? Here are some examples:

  • Allowing employees to talk about products and services publicly
  • Establishing a 1-to-1 communication channel
  • Asking for feedback
  • Not hiding criticism, and addressing it publicly

Easier said than done! Most small and medium sized companies do not invest much on communication, and they struggle with this concept. As a result, their efforts usually are incorrect or inconsistent.

Being transparent is risky. But in the long run, not being transparent is riskier.

Online Reputation Management “Failures”

The transparency risk led many companies to literally fail in their quest to be “radically transparent.” Being open, in fact, does not come without a price. If you and your brand accept feedback, customer opinions, and so on, you also must be ready to face them promptly.

Consider these scenarios:

  1. What if your product/service sparks too much criticism?
  2. What if your employees are not social media savvy?
  3. What if your competitors take advantage of this?

These are some of the reasons one needs to have a proper online reputation management plan in action before embarking on a “transparency journey.”

Here are three famous cases of reputation management failure in the digital era:

  • Dark Horse Café received a tweet criticizing their lack of electrical outlets for laptops. Their response was something like: “We are in the coffee business, not the office business. We have plenty of outlets to do what we need.” Needless to say, this kind of defensive/aggressive behavior doesn’t work in the online world. Many blogs reported the fact as a negative public relations case.
  • Nestlé received negative comments about their environmental practices a few years ago, and they did not address them. People started becoming aggressive and posted altered versions of the Nestlé logo, forcing the company to close their public page. Takeaway? Do not pretend people are not talking, and address criticism as soon as possible.
  • Amy’s Baking Company fought fire with fire against a one-star internet review. Their insults against the reviewer eventually were picked up by the local news. It is obvious that negative attention is not good publicity.

What’s The Sentiment Out There?

What are people saying about you? Good online reputation management is not only about reacting well to what people say about you, your brand, or your products and services, but also about whether to react at all and, if so, when. Sometimes a reaction is not necessary, and sometimes a reaction that is too late can cost you millions.

A proactive approach to the matter consists of monitoring your public reputation on a regular basis, and not just when you come to know about a specific event to deal with. How do you do this? The magic tools invented to solve this problem fall under the name of “social media monitoring.”

Simply put, social media monitoring allows companies to gather public online content (from blog posts to tweets, from online reviews to Facebook updates), process it, and see whether something negative or positive is being said affecting their reputation.

Social media monitoring can be both DIY (Google Alert is an example of a free web monitoring tool accessible to anyone) and professional, depending on the size of the business involved.

Online Reputation Bombs

ted mosby is a jerk

In the online reputation management scenario, there are two types of negative content that companies should be aware of. One is represented by complaints on social networks. They need to be addressed properly, but unless your company has serious problems, they do not pose a real challenge to your business.

The other is what I define as “online reputation bombs,” which affect your reputation and sales long term and can severely damage a business. They are very powerful because, unlike social network content, they are prominent in search engine results. What if someone googles your brand name and finds defamatory content? Let’s see what they are:

  • Negative reviews: Review sites allow users to express their opinion on your brand. Did they like your service/product? Would they recommend it? Negative content can affect your sales, and addressing the criticism on the site may not be enough. Websites like Ripoff Report and Pissed Consumer provide the perfect platform for this kind of negative content.
  • Hate sites: Some people go beyond simple negative reviews and create ad hoc websites with their opinions, some of them containing illegal content. So-called “hate sites” sometimes address companies and public figures with insults and false information. Needless to say, a search result like “The truth about NAMEOFYOURCOMPANY” or “NAME scam/rip off” will make your potential customers run away!
  • Negative media coverage: Phineas T. Barnum used to say “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” That may be true for controversial public figures like Paris Hilton, but many times unfavorable TV, print, and online media coverage impacts negatively on companies and brands.

Should We Call The Cops?

Article 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

It is obvious that everyone has the right to express their voice about your brand. There are, however, certain boundaries that need to be respected. Some of the negative content online actually is illegal. Why?

  • It uses defamatory language
  • It reports false information
  • It is aimed at damaging the company’s reputation

How do you react to all of this? How do you defend yourself or your company from this kind of illegal behavior? Depending on the scope of the problem, several paths can be pursued in order to restore your online reputation:

  • Aggressive SEO: If someone googles your name, appearing on page 1 and 2 of the search results will be much more important than your business card or website. They will show at a glance several high ranking web sources talking about you. If they display false information, the first thing that you or your online reputation management company should do is devise a search marketing strategy that increases the ranking of positive content, owned by either you or third parties. The search engine game is too important to be ignored, and it is the first step in restoring your image.
  • Review removal: Did that user claim something false about your company? Is that review clearly aimed at destroying your reputation rather than providing feedback? Does it contain improper language? Legal liaison and speed of reaction will make it possible to remove the negative review.
  • Online investigations: In case of serious attacks to your brand image, it may be necessary to hire skilled online analysts to investigate untraceable threats and attackers via email tracing, data cross-indexing, and other information collection techniques. Cyber investigations are the definitive path to get to the bottom of difficult reputation management cases.

10 Online Reputation Management Commandments

Calling it “online reputation” really is redundant. Your online reputation simply is your reputation. In the digital era, nothing is protecting you from criticism anymore. This is good from a freedom of speech perspective; bad if your company has been defamed and attacked.

To conclude, ten practical tips that sum up what we have covered in this guide. The world of brand reputation will change in the coming years, but following these simple “commandments” definitely will benefit you and your brand:

1. Become well respected

According to several business experts, trust is a perishable asset and it is hard to gain. Making people respect you and your work is more important than any other online reputation management commandment.

2. Be radically transparent

After years of hiding critics, Mc Donald’s publicly forced egg suppliers to raise hens’ living standards according to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals request.

3. Monitor what they are saying about you

Apart from the aforementioned reasons to monitor your online reputation, social media monitoring also can bring business! These days, lots of people ask questions via Twitter and Facebook because they are evaluating whether or not they should buy from you.

4. React quickly and politely

In case of a customer complaint via Twitter, for example, a prompt and simple “We are aware of the problem. We are working on it and will get back to you as soon as possible.” is better than a late reply with more information.

5. Address criticism

In 2009, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s WSJ op-ed on Obama healthcare reform caused a controversy among WF customers. Two days later, the company provided a response statement recognizing there were “many opinions on this issue, including inside our own company” and invited people to share their opinion on the matter.

6. Treat your Google page 1 as your business card

First impressions count, and we do judge many books by their cover. If the words “scam” and “rip off” are associated with your brand, then that is something you should worry about.

7. Understand your detractors

Criticism can be the chance to learn more about your audience and craft a better message in the future. Motrin’s controversial “baby wearing moms” commercial sparked a lot of criticism. It did not come from competitors or illegitimate attackers, but from people in Motrin’s target audience who felt offended by their promotional content.

8. Attack your illegitimate attackers

Sometimes we simply have 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 is people who post false information on the internet. Sometimes, if you don’t sue them, they might do it again.

9. Learn from your mistakes

Sony certainly learned a reputation management lesson back in 2005. The company placed copy protection (XCD) on its CDs which created computer vulnerabilities that malware could exploit. Instead of being upfront about their mistake, Sony stonewalled criticism and lost millions in class-action lawsuits.

10. Ask for help if necessary

If your online reputation management efforts are not enough to protect or restore your brand image, you have the choice to request help from a professional.

About the Author: Dan Virgillito is a content strategist for Massive PR, providing online reputation management services (i.e., helping companies monitor, defend, and restore their brand reputation on the internet).

  1. Thanks Dan. Great article. Online reputation management is probably the most critical element in any business at the moment, with the proliferation of social media sites and the time of everyone’s voice being heard.

    • Thanks Haroun, yes it’s definitely critical at this very moment. With so many voices being heard, it’s not easy to stay on course.

    • Absolutely Haroun, managing the business’s reputation on social media is becoming ever so difficult. Even occupying the first page of the search results on both Google and Bing for the brand name searches is very important.

  2. Great, man. Excellent write-up. I think this must be referred to as the essential course for everyone who has something to do with an online presence!
    Thanks for inviting to read this!

    • Thank you for the kind words Raheel, there’s still much to say on the topic but a list of main points can be helpful sometimes.

  3. We are the victims of a deliberate attack as defined in “Reputation Bombs” in this article. Although it is not affecting us too badly, we hate seeing it out there. Steps we have taken are as follows:

    1: Paid rip-off report their $2,000 fee but this has resulted in nothing
    2: Tried to contact pissedconsumer but no reply.
    3: trying to get court order to compel google to release name of the anonymous poster and shut down the site.

    But we still need help. Most reputation management companies want $10,000-$15,000 but guarantee no results. This is as bad as ID theft but in a larger scale.

    • Hi Rudy, sorry to hear you company has been attacked. I understand you want to get rid of those “stains” as soon as possible. Honestly, I think there is no point in hiring a reputation management company if they don’t guarantee results!

      If you want to know more about how we can help you, I just added you on Facebook and emailed you.

    • Rudy,

      I am sorry you were attacked. Unfortunately, this is happening more and more nowadays as businesses understand the negative impact they can have on their competitors. Take a look at http://www.reputationsuperstar.com. They have a tool that might help you in the future. And if you need help managing your reputation, just contact them.

    • Hi Rudy,

      The reason no one can give a guarantee is because no one controls Google. Algorithmic changes happen frequently – organic search results are always changing.

      In 2013, Google took direct action against mugshot websites that extort money from individuals by posting their mugshot on their site. Hopefully, we’ll soon see similar action against BS sites like ripoffreport and pissedconsumer.

      For pissedconsumer, we tried a strategy to replace the negative article with a positive article and it worked well. The client still has a pissedconsumer listing in their search results, but now when people click on it, they see that it’s a positive review. You can do it yourself – details are at: http://affordablereputationmanagement.blogspot.com/2013/11/push-down-pissedconsumer-negative.html

      As for ripoff report, there content is protected because they’re operated outside of the United States. You’ll never get content removed, the best you can hope is to win a judgement and legally require Google/Bing to remove the page about you from their indices. Here’s an audio interview I did with a client who went through this process. You’re looking at about $7-10k to engage a lawyer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0zIzYVx-eo (First person speaking is my client).

      Aside from those actions, contacting either site is pointless, as you know. If you want to get rid of that stuff from page 1 of Google, you’re going to need to do one of two things:

      1) Create a LOT of content of your own and also try to get published on high authority websites. This is going to cost you a lot of time and money.

      2) Engage in reputation management. Now, I know you have done this and it was ineffective. If you’ll indulge me, my firm does this kind of work, but we are very different from the corporate firms you’ve hired. We’re extremely affordable (usually half the cost of firms like reputation.com and brand.com) and we give you a flat fee to run your campaign. One price, no recurring monthly fees. We ask for 50% up front and don’t collect the rest of our fee until your ripoffreport and pissedconsumer reviews are off page 1. This way, we’re as motivated as you are to finish the job.

      I hope I’ve given you and others some tips you can use. We do this stuff everyday.

      All the best,
      Mike

  4. As in your examples above and the recent debacle @ NBC, the first rule needs to be open communication within your corporate culture that allows people to vent frustrations openly without using media tools, i.e “don’t air you dirty laundry in public”; it’s bad manners. Secondly as the coffee example illustrated, don’t make excuses, understand that if it’s voiced, it’s an opportunity not a problem (first rule of sales). Lastly, just as in relationships, reputation is the sum total of all the things you are and whether mentions are on offline, online or in-person understand that some people have only one perspective or one opportunity to know who you are while others have many, drawn from multiple interactions, i.e. they are invested!
    One final point, decide who you are and focus on that. If you are a coffee shop and want to only sell coffee, then buy a food truck or cut your square footage down to a counter and if you don’t like people wanting more from you then get out of retail! It’s a people business. If you need lobbyists, government backing or investiture, remember that those organizations are made up of people who impressions come from many sources. Don’t expect them to work too hard to understand who you are and what you can do for them and expect passive exposure to count. Online reputations should reflect who you are, not define it. Many organization try to “tell” people who they are while the best stories allow people to identify the heroes and the protagonists on their own.

    • Yes Ellen, your point on the coffee shop is perfect. Your customers’ needs define who you are. Maybe burying your head in the sand could work 20 years ago, but definitely not now.

  5. Can you expand on ” devise a search marketing strategy that increases the ranking of positive content?” There are no guarantees there, right? Pretty tough for one company to out-do sites like Yelp with SEO.

    • Hi Kim, outranking big sites is not something you can do overnight, but you can increase the visibility of the content that really represents you. If online reviews (for example those on Yelp) contain false information, legal liaison and review removal is the best path.

  6. Nice article Dan. I don’t deal too much with online reputation management clients, but it’s such a vital component of any business with an online presence.

    The way a business responds really comes down to the mindset of the owners. For example, that coffee shop example shows the owner or person who replied that tweet, has a “we are what we are, if you don’t like it, fuck off!” You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

    But people with adaptive mindsets would have responded with, “Oh, sorry for the inconvenience, we’ll try and sort that out as soon as possible, thanks for feedback.”

    As you said, if a business can be transparent and lose that defensive attitude from the very beginning, then they’re in a much stronger place.

  7. Great article sums up reputation MANAGEMENT very well but I believe in reputation MARKETING, being pro-active and getting a 5 star reputation in all review sites that I see whan I Google a clients business. Having a great zagat score and 5 star reputation elsewhere is where the Internet is now, no longer is being no. ! in a search engine the b all and end of all

  8. Great article. It seems the best defense is an offence i.e. create lots Google listings of positive messages in advance of any negative content showing. That way it is much harder for negative content to stick or even be noticed. If the only listing a business has is their website, then positions #2 to #10 are wide open waiting for some kind of content – make it yours and make it often.

  9. Great article. Reputation management has to be a part of regular brand maintenance instead of a reaction to attack. Being proactive not only strengthens your brand, it also creates a history of responsible and credible content that can create a cushion should your brand take a hard fall. Bad comments should be looked at as opportunities to add value to your customers experience and work out any kinks that may have been invisible before. Aloha.

  10. Nice article. One other lesser utilized channel for reputation management (and media monitoring in general) is good old RSS feeds. I use Feedity (http://feedity.com) for monitoring and it works really well for outlets without feeds.

  11. There are a lot of misconceptions about online reputation management. Some people think it’s just social media monitoring, while others believe it has something to do with public relations, and still others literally have no idea how it can impact business and sales. Thanks for sharing those guides to us.

  12. Great post as usual. While it is unfortunate that most companies who are lambasted by negative social comments don’t do much about it, there are those companies who legitimately do try to respond but lack the resources or knowledge in doing so. Some of them that I know, had to cut down on their resources – social listening included – due to internal company issues/woes. This post should/could definitely help those types of companies out in dealing with negative online reputation.

    I love how Ellen talked about the nature of sales and retail in her coffee example retort. I agree that in this information/hi-tech age, it is better to cater to the customers who DO WANT to engage with your business and bring their technology along with it. Not supplying the needs of your customers who are interested in becoming repeat business/customers is turning away revenue that is willingly being given to that business.

  13. Very true and excellent explanation on how to handle your reputation in the world of negative approaches. There are good viewers and bad viewers too. I only think that by understanding the reviews of negative feedback one should try to convince it and make me happy by how it can be helped.

  14. Some good points raised here and finally a focus on a variety of online reputation aspects instead of the usual one. In my experience business owners associate reputation management with SEO, and just SEO.

    In my experience a radical change in the way of thinking is required from business owners who suffer from shaky online reputations. No point of us reputation managers plugging the holes in the ship if the business owners keep creating leaks.

    Sometimes you end up more a business consultant than a reputation manager, especially in hospitality.

  15. At present, in the modern world of marketing and promotion, every professional entrepreneur might think that whether the on-line reputation matters for their business or not and how to improve online reputation; It is one of the most significant and common factors which the prospective clients require to deal with a company they rely upon. Thereby, each and every small and medium sized business enterprise require to safeguard and improve their online reputation now more than ever with the increasing popularity among the different websites including face book, twitter, Google+.
    At Present, both clients and prospective clients depend upon the diverse internet sources for the fulfillment of the objective of researching about the different companies and their products and services medium sized entrepreneurs might be little overwhelmed with the fact of considering the engagement of social media market to secure their online reputation management.

  16. As a business owner you will understand that you need to have a direction and a way to measure your progress for everything you do. It is only with tracking and measuring that you can adjust to ensure you stay on track towards your goal. This can be a lot of work for the already busy business owner hence a lot of marketing methods we see being conducted by businesses are fairly scattered.

  17. It is a good post of handling the reputation management.I could say there are both kinds of people taking one thing in a good way and in a bad way.So it purely depends on once mind to take the thinks and convince their mind

  18. The most important part of reputation management is being proactive. Always taking an opportunity to get a good review from your happy customers. So by the time you get a bad review (an it is just a matter of time), you will have twenty or may be even hundreds (depending on your business volume) good reviews to vouch for your company.

  19. What tools are best for automated OIM?

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