All businesses face the same issues when it comes to managing their online reputations. It’s no longer a novelty concept that all mentions should be captured and monitored in order to ensure a positive brand image.
What would you do if you were bombarded with harsh criticism and dissatisfied customers? Burying your head in the sand would not make the problem go away. A negative review should never be brushed off or responded to discourteously.
Even large, successful businesses are subject to negative opinions spreading like wildfire around the web. Our online reputations are not fixable with a mere flip of a switch. That’s not the way it works. It’s a process and an ongoing effort.
Some companies choose to have experts monitor their online brand in-house, while others outsource the job to professional online reputation management services. There are several options available and a number of tools and resources that will help you bring your brand name back into a good light and guide you through maintaining your online search results and keeping your social reputation clean.
Begin with Introspective Analysis
More often than not, we tend to dive head first into taking action when it comes to conducting reputation management. However, if your reputation has tanked, then you need to take some time to reflect on why you are in the predicament.
Why did your reputation plummet? Are your products and services lacking, or do you have below average customer service? Maybe you have seen customers complain about their experience on your website. It’s definitely not easy to admit fault, but it’s the first step in taking responsibility and getting back on your feet.
Take the time to explore before beginning the reputation management process. This is one of the best things you can do for your business. If you have been faced with a dwindling reputation, remain calm and challenge yourself to get back up and develop a plan of action. Today, I’m going to help you do this.
Ask Yourself These Questions
- What are people saying, both good and bad? Where is it coming from? (There will be more on tools for gathering this information later.)
- Which departments internally need to be addressed?
- Have we addressed any issues publicly and how did we respond? Was it well received?
- Do the complaints share any commonalities?
- How can we amend our reputation and change the way people view our business? Brainstorm here and try putting yourself in your clients’ shoes.
- What are some of the things that your clients praise you for? Can you increase your efforts without significantly increasing your overhead?
- What are the things that are causing clients to be unhappy? List all possible solutions and a detailed plan of how you are going to implement them in your organization.
Asking these questions and analyzing the answers objectively will help take care of the problem from where it initiated. It’s hard to admit our flaws, but a healthier perspective includes leveraging all criticism to improve the way we serve our clients.
Search engine results and client reviews aren’t permanent in their order or placement and thus in the amount of visibility they have. They can change, and they can change rapidly with proper, diligent online reputation management. It is possible to use various content management methods to bury negative search results and promote positive ones, including customer reviews on various sites.
However, these are not things that can be done only one time, and they cannot change overnight. Maintaining and managing your online reputation is a continuous process that requires constant attention and hard work in order to remain on top of it. Let’s do this together.
Assemble All the Facts
Gather all mentions and information necessary regarding your brand on the web. Tools like Mention and Radian6 are great for gathering what’s being said about businesses. (We use Radian6.) Some tools will give you the option to drill down and slice the information demographically and/or geographically, and they will even provide options that group the information in a much more manageable way than a long list of mentions.
Ex: slicing the information by language
Ex: slicing the information by source
Gathering information doesn’t stop with a mentions aggregator. You can extend it to online surveys (see examples below) and use any previous offline data you have available.
Sort the Facts into Three Groups
Now that we have the data in hand, we are going to sort it into three main groups. If you use a tool/software to do that, it will save you a lot of time. In many cases, it can be done with the click of a button. For small businesses that are in need of business review management only, I suggest manually running this process. There is no need for fancy software or a service. Categorize results into three groups:
- Positive – These are easy to spot and also the easiest to take action on, because there is very minimal action for these findings. You will, however, want to make note of some positive feedback because this will help you identify some of your strengths and will leverage your sharing power on social networks. By no means am I suggesting you ignore the positive input, but initially focus on taking action on the negative incoming data.
- Neutral – These are the middle of the road comments, reviews, opinions where users were neither ecstatic nor displeased with your products or services. Just like negative feedback, this will serve as insightful information. Ask yourself “What could have been improved in order to change their neutral opinion into an outstanding outlook on the business?” Also, in many cases, neutral feedback is merely a mention without any subject matter as the focus, making it irrelevant to participate in the conversation.
- Negative – For obvious reasons, the negative reviews and mentions are going to be the first ones you will want to take action on. These are the most detrimental and the highest priority for getting your business reputation back on track. Make a list of the different areas of concern. This will help you sort out where to begin. For both negative business reviews and negative content on the search engine results pages (SERPs), put strong websites as a higher priority because they have more visibility and will be harder to fight. Assess the strength of a website by checking its domain authority. You can use this tool for that: http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/.
Manage the incoming mentions – credit Radian6
Build an Action Plan
For every search term, there are 10 results per page, giving a maximum total of 1,000 results to assess (100 pages of results on the major search engines). Start by taking the first page of negative results of your main key terms and brand terms, and build a plan to remove or change these results so positive reviews and mentions appear instead.
Often, this can be done by opening social profiles on sites with high authority (like Facebook and Google+) to appear at the top of the page. You can do the same with other authoritative websites that neither you nor your business is listed on already. Then, this will push down those negative results to the second or third page (which is the goal) where visibility is less than 5%.
Another way to prioritize and fight the negative impact is by going after the criticism coming from influencers or mentions on websites with high volume traffic, or pages with the most social impact. This is a common and effective way to execute reputation management, but it also requires advanced tools that are capable of doing this slice-and-dice technique. (There is a higher cost for this, but it is worth the expense if you are dealing with a large number of mentions.)
Execute an Action Plan
The strategy for executing an action plan is to reach out, actively respond, and address all negative feedback using a variety of tools and resources. The following is our process and how we execute our reputation management program at Dynamic Search:
First things first, if there are legal issues involved, it never hurts to ask. Many times, website owners will be happy to remove the content. Reach out to share legal ramifications and request to have content removed from those websites.
If there is failure to remove results, the next step you may want to consider is to actually move forward with legal action (depending on the situation). More often than not, webmasters and other individuals publishing content on the web are not aware of the rules and regulations for what they can say or write. This is considered an easy fix because most people will not want to be in any kind of legal trouble and will act immediately.
If it’s a client review that doesn’t meet the review site guidelines, you can write an email to the legal or customer service department. If it’s content showing up in the SERP, you can use this link to request that Google remove the content: https://support.google.com/legal/troubleshooter/1114905?hl=en.
Find strong websites with high domain authority (DA) to share positive content like the BBB, Chamber of Commerce, and social sites like Google+ and Facebook. This gives you an opportunity for increased credibility and more importantly an opportunity to push down negative results in the SERP. The trick is to fight back with higher DA websites than those that are showing the negative content in the SERP.
Here is an extensive list of 500 sites with high DA that you can start using right away: http://moz.com/top500. There also are many more in your specific niche that will be more relevant and have a higher chance to show in association with your website.
For example, if you have negative content coming from hubpages.com (DA 88), you can fight it by placing content on blogspot.com (DA 93). This is not a guaranteed method, but it works a good majority of the time if you create better content, promote it, and have patience waiting for it to kick in. It works even better if you build some links to your new content.
Address negative feedback with real time responses on all review sites, blogs, and social accounts. Whatever you do, do not get into a commenting war, become defensive, or offer ill-informed responses. This only digs a deeper hole and will worsen the situation. Even if the person making the claim is inaccurate with their information, it’s your job to amend the situation, regardless of who is right. Maintain composure and review the following pointers prior to responding.
When faced with harmful accusations:
- Take responsibility and notify users in a timely manner. Don’t wait a week to work up the courage. It’s always best to share pertinent information as soon as possible. This shows that you respect users and their time.
- Reply with a personalized response. Address each concern individually and tactfully. Show that you understand exactly what each individual is saying and sincerely want to help. While it may be tempting to send a sharp response, always keep in mind that the online world is a public platform that anyone can access at any time. There are eyes constantly evaluating your every word.
- Offer some kind of solution. Even if you can’t offer a solution to the exact problem right away, offer something that may change their opinion of the business. Make sure products and services are backing up any claims made. There is nothing worse for your reputation than making promises that fall flat.
Gather Additional Feedback (Optional)
For SaaS and e-commerce businesses, use exit surveys to determine why your customers are abandoning your business. It might not be a fun read, but it will undeniably be one of the most valuable tools you have to make positive changes. This can be done through either an unsubscribe process or separate follow-up email.
Survey Monkey and Survey Gizmo are a few simple tools for creating exit surveys. Questions like, “What made you decide to go elsewhere?” and “What are some things we can improve upon?” pinpoint areas where you may be lacking.
You might be thinking, “What does this have to do with reputation management?” The fact that you are reaching out to customers, showing genuine concern for their experience with your business, and looking for ways to better yourself does amazing things for your online reputation.
Having a dialogue with unhappy customers decreases the likelihood of them going elsewhere (like a review site) to express their feelings and also helps you collect information on how to fix the root of the problem.
For those of you who want business reviews, using a tool like grade.us to create a review funnel and reach out to former clients to ask them to review your business is an additional option. (We recommend doing this in segments rather than all at once or your reviews will be filtered.)
Be in control of what your brand is projecting to the world. Your business reputation is one of your greatest assets, and it should be treated as such. Protecting your online reputation is important because it can affect your bottom line.
When the public has immediate access to spreading their thoughts and opinions online, there always will be some criticism. Everyone at one point or another has to face this reality. The key is to not be too late in facing it, and to properly address it.
I personally know businesses that have suffered for many years due to one individual expressing their opinion online. These businesses simply weren’t aware of any possible solutions. More often than not, the solution can be simple and pain free. Start taking action today because it will pay off in the long run.
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About the Author: Asher Elran is a practical software engineer and a marketing specialist. He is the CEO of Dynamic Search and the founder of Web Ethics.