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Your business’s reputation is everything. For better or worse, what people are saying about you online can make a huge impact on your sales or on the overall success of your business.
This isn’t news to most people and as a result, a Google search using the words “online reputation management” yields more than twenty pages of results. These pages list example after example of articles on the subject. It is also full of suggestions for companies willing to manage the anxiety-inducing problem of how to repair your online reputation.
You may just be starting to realize that this is something you have to pay attention to, or you may be trying to decide if you need to call in help to keep this part of your business under control. Regardless, you owe it to the health of your business to develop a working plan for online reputation management. Below is a shortlist of things to consider as you begin this task.
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Overall planning focus
As you develop this plan you’re likely to notice that most of it involves getting out in front of small business disruptions before they become an issue. That’s because the best way to deal with potential harm to your online reputation is never to have a big problem in the first place.
In the same way that you can pull garden weeds more easily when they’re small, if you catch reputation problems early then you can keep them from becoming too large to contain. It is crucial to front-load your planning focus with tasks that give you an understanding of what potential problems can be about and then put structures in place to identify issues early on. These help you stay ahead of anything that could cost you sales or otherwise damage your business.
As you start your plan, you may want to phrase this principle as a type of goal or objective that’s listed before anything else. It will keep you focused on the main emphasis of what your planning is about.
First step: Consider all of the online platforms that impact you, then list them
Your website is just the first platform that impacts your business’ reputation. Now more than ever before, there are a lot of other websites and social media outlets that can impact how people think about you. Once you start to consider them, the numbers of online influencers to your customers might surprise you.
As online locations that affect your business come to mind, start to make a list. A whiteboard maybe your best friend in this process. Write down the obvious places like websites, your business’ Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts, and Yelp review pages. Then add in places that are specific to your industry. Craft beer businesses, for example, may want to monitor how their products are listed on Beer Advocate lists or Untapped rankings. Hotels and restaurants may need to look at TripAdvisor
Don’t be overwhelmed, just continue to be as complete as possible and start to compile a list of everything that’s coming to mind. Then transfer it to an online document where it will become a core part of your official reputation management plan.
Next, formally list outlets and develop an ongoing process to monitor them
A plan to monitor the online platforms that you’ve identified is another large part of your reputation management planning. To start, divide your online outlet list into places where you can proactively affect what they say about you and areas where you can’t.
After you list each platform, create a brief statement that indicates how you’re going to monitor it. Does it need to be checked once each day, several times each day, or just once or several times a week? Write this information next to the publication. Follow that statement with a note on who is responsible for the monitoring. It can be yourself, your marketing staff, or another employee.
Beware of overeager monitors. At this stage, a monitor’s job is simply to be as aware as possible of what is being said about your company on the platform and bring any positive responses or negative problems to your attention. That’s it. Although a monitor might be tempted to jump in with a response, discourage that at all costs as responses to negative issues should be well-considered and strategic.
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Step three: Build a positive presence online
Once you have a thorough understanding of all of the places online that your company can be talked about, take some time to share the positive aspects on those platforms. Online reputation management is one case where the cliché is true: Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.
The good news is that there are a lot of different ways for a business to share their positive story online. It is possible to be both positive and transparent. You want to be both.
In addition, when you have a customer that you know has had a positive customer experience with your business, ask them to share it online. You may even want to provide them an incentive, such as a coupon or added service, as a thank you for their recognition.
Understand what issues can negatively impact your online reputation
To get ready to manage negative feedback online, it is best to know what to expect that could go wrong. Here are some general categories of things to look out for:
· Issues with inferior product or service
· Bad customer experiences
· Anti-environmental activities
· Past employees who didn’t leave on good terms
· Breaches of data privacy
· Simply losing your “top of mind” space in customers’ awareness
While these are general problems that could happen, you’ll want to customize it for your business area. When it is complete, consider ways in your business that can get ahead of the issues in the first place.
Designate specific individuals to respond to negative online comments
Another important element in your reputation management plan is to create a formal listing of the people who are responsible for responding to social media posts. This may not be the same people in your monitoring group. These should be people who have significant experience in your business and with your company or who are seasoned media pros. Designate those people, and only them, as people who will respond to negative press.
Tactics for how to respond to negative reputation impacts
Despite your best efforts to get out in front of any negative online media attention for your business, it can still happen. A disgruntled employee may feel they have the right to troll your company on social media or to post negative product reviews. There may be an environmental impact to your product or service that you weren’t aware of. Maybe there was a customer that just couldn’t be satisfied.
Below are some typical negative online experiences you may encounter and potential ways to react to them. Though it isn’t required, you may want to add this information to your plan as possible scenarios to look out for. Keep in mind, however, that in all of these situations, you’ll need to use situational judgment about ways to respond. How you respond to negative online information can greatly impact future sales and can make or break what your customers think of you.
Uninterested social media comments or reviews: If you experience a social media comment that is less than positive, pause before you respond. Consider if it is true, and if so, what the remedy for it should be.
Here are some of your response options:
- Leave it alone – if the comment is minor and no one is paying attention to it, having a quick, defensive reaction from your business will make it seem like a bigger deal than it is. It can be one of the toughest things to not respond, but sometimes that really is the best option.
- Make a carefully crafted statement in response – Try to bridge your statement to something positive within the company. Include an apology only if needed. Be transparent about what happened and talk about what you’re going to do to repair it. Tell your side of the story, and correct any factual inaccuracies in the negative coverage.
- Takedown the negative posting – If the commenter is grossly inaccurate and simply trying to inflame a situation without cause, you may be within your rights to remove the information entirely.
- Contact the negative commenter – While this approach should be used as rarely as possible if the problem is particularly severe and if you have an offline avenue to talk to the commenter, consider reaching out. Be warned –this is a pretty dangerous approach. Don’t go this route lightly.
- Trolls: Sometimes negative commenters or reviewers are simply spiteful and relentless about what they’re saying about your product. When they do this, they’ve become trolls.
- Stay calm – In this case, try not to react. They’re looking to get your reaction, they don’t care if their original post was correct
- Respond lightly – If you feel compelled to correct an inaccuracy, do so, but just do it once or twice. Don’t continually repeat it or you’ll further inflame them.
- Remove the poster/post – As with generally negative postings, there may be a time when you feel you need to remove the posting from your site. Sure, you’re within your rights to remove posts, but never do so lightly.
Negative product reviews: As with any kind of more general negative comment, if there is a negative product review, first consider how much merit it has. Respond by thanking the commenter and showing empathy for the fact that they feel they have a bad experience. Then address any factual inaccuracies in their comments or explain what may have happened and what you might do to rectify the situation. For good examples of this, scroll through hotel listings on TripAdvisor.com. You’ll be able to see responses that worked and that backfired.
· Negative press articles: These are from a third party and can damage your reputation, but if you react too quickly or defensively you run the risk of creating more damage.
o Request a correction – Consider any factual inaccuracies that may be part of the articles. If there are any, immediately approach the newspaper for a correction.
o Let it stand – Consider simply leaving the press alone. This will let the news cycle naturally shift into another topic and you will have escaped the risk of inflaming the situation.
What to do if things continue to escalate:
Online reputations are known for getting out of control quickly. If this happens to you, here are some options to add to your plan as things to consider:
· Develop a set of talking points and specifically designated spokespeople: If things continually escalate, you’ll want to be sure that everyone who is responding to the situation has a coordinated, well-considered, and strategic set of messages that they’re delivering to the public. Write these out ahead of time, review them, and then use them.
· Know when to get help: At a certain point, you may get to the point where you decide that you want to take your reputation management activities out of the house. If so, you wouldn’t be the only business to make this call. Having problems with your online reputation can cost your business serious amounts of profit and though it may be an investment to contract with a company, it may be more expensive to try to manage it yourself and lose sales.
· Go Deep: If you have had to hire an online reputation management company in the middle of the crisis, consider having them stay on to handle the tasks of thoroughly correcting any inaccuracies that may stick around and damage your online reputation for the long term. They’ll also have the resources and knowledge to be able to go deeply into any platform that says anything about you online and have inaccurate or extremely hurtful information corrected.