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Your company’s good reputation is an invaluable asset and so you’ve worked hard to ensure that your customers see you in the best possible light. As it turns out, maintaining your reputation can be more challenging than establishing it.
There is an enormous variety of online, customer-facing platforms in every industry. It is simply not reasonable to expect your communications team can control all of them without some structured advance planning. That’s why businesses are starting to realize the importance of integrating regular online reputation management into their everyday operations.
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Online reputation management: An emerging practice
Online reputation management is a new business discipline that helps employers to organize their proactive and reactive digital communications efforts so that they can be in control. When practiced right, a business knows what’s being said about them – both positively and negatively – and can effectively respond.
With the right reputation management activities, small businesses, large businesses, and individuals are in better control of most online communications about them. As with any new practice, there’s a lot of information available about this area. Unfortunately, some of what’s out there just aren’t true.
Determining what’s true and what’s not
We’ve got a list of the top ten inaccurate assumptions about online reputation management. Use it to help you know what to move forward on as you develop this area of your communication planning.
1. Assumption: Reputation management is solely focused on correcting mistakes and removing undesirable information from online platforms.
Reality: There’s a lot more to reputation management than the act of correcting misleading, or otherwise confusing public information about your company. One of the least expected but most important components of reputation management is proactive work to develop positive perceptions about you. This lays a strong foundation of trust with customers and anyone else who can influence your business.
You’ll want to be aware of every online platform that affects your company’s reputation.
The initial step is to understand all of the platforms that can affect your online reputation. It is not enough to know that these outlets exist. You have to understand how they work and then assign someone to monitor the venue appropriately. This effort will allow you to understand how you’re being perceived at all times so that you can build on anything positive and quickly address anything that isn’t before it gets out of control. Start with creating a Google alert about your company and then take it from there.
Once you’ve finished evaluating the online outlets that can affect you, identify which pieces of content you have control over. Consider how this content reflects the most important activities of your company and how well it is optimized for search engines.
If you’re not satisfied with how easily your company’s name turns up during a search, make some changes. Compare your content with that of your competitors. Conduct formal keyword research for terms related to your industry, and then naturally weave them into your existing content. Get help from experienced pros if you need to.
2. Assumption: It is hard to anticipate where damage to your online reputation will originate.
Reality: While you can’t 100% predict where damage will come from, there are some common threads to things that have been problems for companies in the past. Looking at these areas can give you a head start on knowing what issues you might have to face. If you can resolve issues privately, before they become problems, you’ll save yourself from quite a bit of damage. The best problem for you is the one that never happened online.
Here is a list of the top 10 of the most common sources for damage to a company’s online reputation:
– Customer service issues
– Problems with your product or service
– Financial issues with your business
– Competitors’ mention of your product or service
– Negative connections between your product or service and the environment
– Negative connections between your product or service and your community
– Negative connections between your company or specific employees and political stances
– Issues with how your employees are treated
– Issues with how your employees behave
– Negative comments from a disgruntled employee
As you consider this list, take the time needed to customize it. With some thought, you’ll probably be able to come up with significant additions or an entirely new issue that poses a potential problem to your business. Looking at these areas can give you a head start on fixing issues before they’re noticed online.
3. Assumption: Online reputation management means only talking about positive things
Reality: If you want to build a solid, lasting relationship with customers and other influencers, ignoring anything negative is a big risk to take. If there is anything that’s negative and then becomes a larger online story, your customers will be surprised and could become disloyal.
Being transparent will allow customers the experience of watching you work through problems successfully, in a way that keeps your product strong. Your customers will trust you and connect with you and if a dent in your online reputation occurs, they’ll be ready to ride the storm with you.
Keep in mind that this approach takes skill and sometimes a professional located outside of your company can offer a helpful perspective about what call to make.
No company wants to recklessly air the most difficult parts of their business processes. However, talking about sticky topics with professionalism, tact, and good timing gives an unmatched strength to your brand that simply can’t be bought otherwise.
4. Assumption: Companies should always respond/react to negative criticism.
Reality: Companies should sometimes respond to negative information and other times let it sit. Once you see something negative online, the first thing you should do is to pause. Take a breath. Talk to someone else about whether the criticism is warranted and how to respond.
Before you respond to negative content, pause.
Responding to negative content is a decision that takes judgment and strategy. While you may have a desire to quickly shut down any kind of negative information, sometimes responding can seem defensive and give the impression that your company has something to hide. Alternatively, it can keep a negative conversation going longer than it should.
Depending on the nature of the criticism, professional assistance from outside your company can be helpful in making a decision about how to respond.
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5. Assumption: Once people start to think of something negatively, they will talk about it forever.
Reality: The news cycle changes more quickly than you’d think. When managed the right way, the majority of situations feel intense at the moment, but dissipate by the next moment. Once the media is talking about something else, you have the opportunity to double down on positive stories and on building relationships with customers.
While waiting for a news cycle to change is always something that a business should consider, it isn’t always the right thing to do. Again, some companies benefit from having a perspective of someone outside of their business when they’re deciding what call to make.
6. Assumption: Once something is online it stays there forever.
Reality: Sure. A lot of things can stay online for years. We’ve all heard stories about people who post photos of their life when they were young that they regret having available online as they age. However, negative information doesn’t have to be permanent.
Keep in mind that there are lots of things that can be done to correct errors in the past. There are professional services that have the tools to comb through anything online, identify problems, and then contact the poster and have the misinformation removed. This kind of expertise goes a long way to fixing problems.
In addition, if you’ve got an online information funnel that regularly shares information about your company, this activity will help immensely. The positive, more recent information will push the negative details onto the second or third page of search results and into the past where they belong.
7. Assumption: Anyone with some knowledge of social media or of your business can be tasked with responding to negative comments.
Reality: Responding to negative online criticism is tricky. Responders are essentially acting as spokespeople when they address an issue online. These individuals should be very well versed in your business and skilled at public relations. You’re trusting them with one of your company’s most valuable assets.
As you consider this issue, be prepared that many employees, board members, investors, and other stakeholders are enthusiastic supporters of your business and are going to want to help. This is especially true if you’ve asked them to keep an eye on your social media for you. Take some time to consider how you’ll address their desire to comment in advance of any time that a response to something negative is needed.
8. Assumption: Your business doesn’t need to take the time to create talking points in order to address a ding to your online reputation.
Reality: Some extremely small online reputation issues can probably be addressed without talking points. Many can’t. If the situation begins to grow larger, take the time to pause, and then formally write down a crafted strategic response.
Investing the time to do this early in the process ensures that your public messages are coordinated as early as possible. With talking points, anyone who is speaking to the public is saying the same thing. This kind of consistency makes your company sound more professional and credible. It goes a long way towards rebuilding trust in the areas of your brand which have been weakened.
9. Assumption: Companies only need to consider reputation management for their business.
Reality: The reputation of high-profile individuals or your employee group as a whole can also affect your business. For example, consider how the media coverage that founders of top U.S. tech companies receive affects how their business is perceived.
Sometimes reputation management involves individuals who are key stakeholders in your company.
It is worthwhile to take time to consider if there are individuals in your business whose reputation will have either a positive or negative effect on your sales. You may want to conduct some reputation management activities for them
10. Assumption: You don’t need to take the time to develop a full reputation management plan. If you understand the basic concepts you can easily blend those tasks into your business’ daily operations.
Reality: Many people think that they’ll be able to put their online reputation management plan together quickly if they need to. In reality, those companies who are prepared ahead of an issue will remain calmer and achieve better results in a crisis.
It is a good idea to have a reputation management plan that’s been developed in advance and to have vetted outside companies ahead of time so that you know who you want to work with if you need help. The advanced research process is worthwhile, but it takes a lot of work. It’s also not something you’ll be able to do at the last minute if something goes wrong.
The good news is that taking advantage of outside support can lead to a number of benefits for your company. Primarily, it will prevent both long-term and short-term sales losses. You’ll find that any expense will more than makeup for the initial planning investment in time or money.
Hiring a reputation management professional will also give you peace of mind when dealing with one of the most stressful situations your company will face. The right professional will have both the experience and technology to address your issues. They’ll help you to push negative content out of the public’s mind quickly and, hopefully, permanently.