Some Right (and Some Wrong) Ways to Enhance Your Business's Online Reputation
Every business, from a multinational corporation to a mom-and-pop corner store, can benefit from a healthy dose of effective online reputation management. Because business owners know just how damaging a negative newspaper article, blog post, consumer review or tweet (yes, a simple tweet) can be, they go to great lengths to ensure a positive online presence for their products, services and brands.
This article will examine some of the methods — both good and bad — companies use to manage their business's online reputation. Let’s start off with the wrong ways.
Black hat SEO marketing
Black hat search engine optimization (SEO) uses unethical methods (e.g., keyword stuffing, invisible text and doorway pages) to enhance search results. This is a bad idea. This sort of SEO exploitation was far more effective back in the day, before search engines had developed algorithms sophisticated enough to detect it. Using these techniques today could get your webpage delisted or de-indexed by Google — which brings us back to the bad idea part.
Astroturfing is a form of promotion that uses seemingly objective reviews from “real people,” when, in truth, the testimonials come from the company itself. Though based on ancient — and thoroughly deceptive — business practices, astroturfing has enjoyed widespread popularity in the modern era, as people look more and more to online review sites like OpenTable to figure out where to eat dinner, which car to buy and where to get the best nose job. Highly tempting for the business owner with more than a few negative online reviews, astroturfing can ruin a company’s reputation, destroy its credibility and even result in litigation.
Similar to astroturfing, Internet defamation uses grassroots techniques to disparage a competitor’s products and services. It often looks like this: A representative of Company A pretends to be an unsatisfied customer of Company B and attacks Company B through a negative online review. Sometimes the “customer” will then go on to praise the services of Company A in the same review (though this strategy is usually too transparent to work, as Scott Adams alludes to in this hilarious "Dilbert" comic strip).
Internet defamation is currently the subject of much litigation in the US and abroad, with numerous lawsuits filed against the websites hosting the negative reviews. More recently, these lawsuits are beginning to shift away from the review websites themselves — which are largely protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act— to focus on the individual users who post the negative reviews.
Managing your online reputation the right way
Now let’s examine some right ways to enhance your business's online reputation. A few basic ideas should be apparent after examining the strategies to be avoided:
- Online brand and name recognition are extremely important.
- Revenue is greatly affected by how a brand or name looks online.
- Using deceptive, fraudulent or unethical promotional tactics carries severe consequences.
- Business owners, PR managers and Internet marketers should take the high road in their online reputation management practices by developing a comprehensive, clean and considerate image.
Designate someone within your company to manage your business's online reputation.
Depending upon the size of your company (and the size of the problem), this can look like one person dedicating a few minutes each day to managing your online image, or a full-time team dedicated to online reputation management and Internet brand promotion.
Build a website. Make a Facebook fan page. Create a blog. Whatever you decide, make sure you update frequently with fresh, engaging content and monitor all applicable review websites to see what customers are saying about your company.
Ask your customers to share their valuable feedback.
Because so much of today’s business is driven by consumer feedback and peer recommendations, you should solicit your customers for testimonials whenever appropriate. Resolve negative comments by contacting the authors of online reviews and looking into the validity of their complaints as quickly and courteously as possible. The old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” also applies to today’s Internet era.