When developing your online presence, you have complete control over the content, images and design you use on your website. But your site is just one factor in your overall success online. Another vitally important factor is your online reputation.
What kind of online reputation do you have? When people first discover your brand online, will they be reassured by glowing testimonials from satisfied customers? Or will they be scared away by complaints and criticism?
Our complete guide to online reputation management has everything you need to know about creating a positive, lasting impression for your brand. We’ll also show you a variety of strategies to minimize any existing negative issues. Ready to put your best foot forward online? Let’s get started:
The Importance of a Great Reputation
Managing your online reputation can often feel frustrating and unfair. After all, you have no control over what other people say about you online. Just one complaint or negative story about your business can shoot to the top of the search engines. As Mark Twain once said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
Whether the basis for the complaint is legit or not, your business will still be affected. Customers will notice bad press at the top of the search results. Just one negative article on the first page can cause a 22% drop in potential business. And the more negative items appear in the results, the more business you lose.
Online reputation management has two major parts. First, you have to create a positive impression of your brand online. This involves creating content on your website and social media pages. Then you also need to understand how to respond to any criticism posted about your brand.
The Power of Transparency for Your Brand
In the days before internet reviews, a few customer criticisms here and there could fly under the radar. Unless your business somehow wound up in the national news for fraud or some other outrage, potential customers would have no idea your brand had PR problems.
Today, that’s no longer the case. The business of your business is, well, everyone’s business. You want to get ahead of any potential problems by making your brand as transparent as possible. Seventy-two percent of all businesses don’t feel prepared to deal with social media criticism. Transparency is a key strategy to help prepare for any potential PR problems.
So, what is transparency? Here are some common examples of what not to do and what to do instead:
DON’T develop an overly rigid communication structure within your business.
DO allow employees and company reps to talk about products or services in open forums.
DON’T create a “faceless” communication system between brand and customers.
DO respond to customers in an individual, one-on-one basis.
DON’T shy away from criticism.
DO request and solicit feedback from your customers and social media followers.
DON’T ignore or hide complaints or criticisms.
DO address any and every complaint in a public forum.
This isn’t always easy. Traditional public relations strategies tend to center on minimizing the negative. But you can’t outrun the internet. Online reputation management is about tackling those PR problems head-on and turning a negative into a positive.
Common PR Pitfalls and How to Respond
A transparent company can be a vulnerable one. If delivering feedback and opinions is made easy for your customers…. well, feedback and opinions are what you’re going to get. You need to be ready with proper responses.
Here are some common scenarios you want to be ready for:
- A newly launched product or service receives a storm of criticism
- An employee or brand rep makes a major mistake on social media
- Competitors launch an attack on your brand based on a PR blunder
Once your brand takes a negative PR hit, the clock starts ticking. You need to respond quickly and decisively. A negative experience isn’t always as devastating as you might think. Studies show over half of all customers will change their opinion of a company from positive to negative if they receive a timely response. Almost a quarter of those customers will actually go on to post a positive comment on the brand’s social media pages.
You absolutely can turn a negative experience into a positive. Having a contingency plan in place is a must.
Online Reputation Management Case Studies
Certain businesses have excellent reputations for quality customer interactions. And then there are these guys. Let’s check out three brands which have struck out big-time in the world of online PR:
Dark Horse Espresso
This Ontario-based coffee shop is relatively infamous for their response to a customer’s complaint. As a coffee shop, many of their in-store customers use laptops and other electrical devices. When one customer complained about a lack of electrical outlets, Dark Horse tweeted back this absolutely wrong response:
“We are in the coffee business, not the office business. We have plenty of outlets to do what we need…”
This defensive, snarky and downright insulting response didn’t exactly win them a lot of friends. Instead, they came across as openly hostile and indifferent towards their customer’s needs. The negative backlash gave their brand a lot of exposure – and none of it was positive.
Amy’s Baking Company
Featured on the reality show Kitchen Nightmares, this Arizona restaurant engaged in all-out war with their customers on social media. They personally insulted and threatened practically everyone who left a negative response on their social media pages. Perhaps not surprisingly, the negative PR actually led them to close up shop in 2015.
This worldwide conglomerate has been faced with pretty consistent criticism for their environmental practices. While Nestle never actively pushed back on these complaints, they also never addressed their bad reputation at all. Eventually, overwhelmed with criticism, they were forced to close down their public page. A classic example of why a brand should always take quick, decisive action when any criticism first appears.
Reading the Social Media Tea Leaves
Responding to criticism is a delicate balancing act. You can’t just ignore criticism like Nestle. The internet doesn’t really provide anywhere for a brand to run and hide. You can’t overreact like Amy’s Baking Company. Customers don’t want to do business with an angry, reactionary brand. You do want to respond as quickly and directly as the Dark Horse Café – but your response must be helpful and positive.
In order to understand how and why to respond, you need to have a clear picture of how the general public perceives your brand. The best way to gauge public opinion is through a series of techniques called Social Media Monitoring.
Social Media Monitoring gathers public opinion from a variety of sources including:
- Comments on your social media pages
- Online reviews
- Status updates from customers
- Hashtags related to your brand
- Blog posts
Smaller brands can monitor their own social media. Google Alerts are an effective tool to stay on top of brand mentions. Medium and large sized business will probably get the best results by hiring internet marketing professionals to run their Social Media Marketing efforts.
How to Respond to Social Media Complaints
Probably the most common type of issue you’ll face is criticism on your social media pages. Negative comments are simply a fact of life for practically any brand. Here’s how to respond:
Ideally, you want to post a response within half a day.
Even if the complaint is a profanity-laden rant, remain professional and polite in your response.
Try to Fix the Issue…
If at all possible, try to solve the issue. Offer a refund, replacement item or anything else reasonable to correct the situation.
..but Don’t Go Overboard
Some complaints are going to be outrageous and nonsensical. If solving the problem isn’t possible, simply offer your apologies. Don’t become involved in an extensive back-and-forth with a customer. You want to shut the situation down as efficiently as possible.
Remember, social media pages are public forums. You’re not just addressing the person with the complaint. Other potential customers will be watching your responses to see how you treat complaints. If you’re professional and fair, people will appreciate your efforts.
Big-Time Reputation Blunders
Social media complaints come and go. If you respond to them in a timely, appropriate manner, you’re unlikely to experience any long-term consequences.
Other situations have more of a potential for disaster. These are PR blunders which go viral. What makes a simple mistake catch fire on social media? Usually a spectacular tone-deafness and even some unintentional comedy.
For instance, DiGiorno’s Pizza accidentally tried to sell their products by attaching them to a hashtag related to domestic violence. While there’s certainly nothing funny about domestic violence, the internet had a field day mocking DiGiorno’s lack of social media savvy.
When a mistake on a social media page expands into the larger internet, you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Customers aren’t going to comb through old social media posts to read about individual complaints. But major issues which show up in a Google or Bing search absolutely will drive customers away.
Types of Major Social Media Mistakes
Here are three areas you’ll want to watch out for:
Review sites allow users to express their opinions on your products or services. Roughly 90% of shoppers say an online review influences their purchasing decisions. Yelp, Ripoff Report and other sites are very popular enough to influence brands in practically every product niche.
These are a bit rare but they can be very damaging. In this context, hate sites are websites dedicated to trashing a specific company. They’ll show in auto-fill search results with phrases such as “The truth about COMPANY” or “COMPANY rip/off.” Each site is usually the product of just one individual. While these sites usually appear very non-professional, they can impact search results.
Negative Media Coverage
Remember “pink slime?” If your online reputation issues spread offline onto traditional media, you’re going to be in a real tough spot. Even worse, news coverage on your PR woes can lend the issues credibility to the search engines.
Improving Your Negative Reputation
Sometimes despite your best efforts, your online reputation will take a hit. Don’t despair. There are a few effective strategies.
First, you’ll want to apologize. The quicker you can respond, the better. Don’t give bad news a chance to go viral. Remember when the passenger was dragged off a United flight? United took far too long to issue an apology. The story had become completely beyond the company’s ability to contain.
Next, you’ll want to create positive content. There’s only so much space on the first page of search results. Creating a bunch of new content can help move the negative stories away from the top results. While you can’t eliminate the negative stories entirely, you can limit their visibility.
You’ll want to create a fair amount of new content. Blog posts, videos, podcasts and more are all effective. This content should be controversy-free. Search engines will notice how-to guides, product demonstrations and other SEO-friendly topics. While pushing bad content out of view does take time, it can be done.
Creating and implementing reputation-improving content usually requires the help of experienced SEO professionals. But allowing negative items to remain associated with your brand can be an absolute business-killer.
Potential customers will carefully consider your online reputation before purchasing your products or services. Almost every online business will encounter some public relations hiccups from time to time. But if you develop a clear plan beforehand, you’ll be in good shape to handle the occasional blemish to your reputation.
Even if your brand’s reputation suffers from a massive, viral-level blow, recovery is still possible. Planning for a worst-case scenario is often a great idea.
At the end of the day, polite and professional interactions with your customers will have a big effect on creating a positive reputation. Always remember you’re dealing with real people. Be respectful and show you care. A well-established positive reputation should be strong enough to weather the occasional small storm.
How is your brand’s online reputation? Do you have any questions or concerns about online reputation management? Feel free to ask any questions below: