This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.
A strong business reputation is essential in today’s marketplace. It is what sets you apart from your competitors and enables you to attract and retain customers. As such, it’s worth a lot of money. In fact, according to a recent study, “at least half of a company’s market value can be attributed to reputation.”
Therefore, it’s vital that you take control of the search results for your business and minimize the damaging effects of negative, misleading, or false content online. The best way to do this is to invest in a comprehensive reputation management strategy that presents a positive online image to customers, investors, and potential employees.
A bad reputation can harm you
Imagine this scenario: You’ve spent years working hard, sacrificing your personal life to build your business. Now that your company has achieved a certain level of success, you start to think that you can finally relax—until one day, the phone stops ringing and customers grow scarce, and you have no idea why.
Your products haven’t changed, your service is still top notch, and the customers you encounter seem very satisfied, but your business is starting to suffer. Eventually, a loyal customer mentions that your company has several very negative online reviews. This explains the downturn. Someone is deliberately trying to hurt your company’s online image. Unfortunately, numerous businesses across the country experience situations like this every day.
There are many reasons individuals post negative comments online. Sometimes, people resort to nasty reviews to get free products and services out of you. Other times, customers with whom you have had a difficult interaction have decided they were in the right and want to publicly shame you.
Occasionally, unscrupulous competitors post fake negative reviews to drive away other businesses’ customers. One company, Long’s Jewelers—a family-owned firm that had been operating in the Boston area for over 100 years, and which enjoyed a very loyal customer base—experienced an unexpected onslaught of 1-star reviews on November 9, 2016, a few days after ramping up its social media presence.
Upon studying the reviewers’ profiles, the company’s social media manager noticed that the reviews were all posted within a few minutes of each other. Further investigation revealed that these “reviewers” attended fictitious schools, resided in made-up American towns, and posted fake reviews about dozens of other businesses. As a result of this malicious attack, the company’s Facebook rating fell from a stellar 4.8 down to 2.3 stars.
According to a Harvard Business School study, every additional star you get on Yelp’s rating system leads to a 5 to 9 percent jump in revenue. Therefore, attacks like the one perpetrated on Long’s Jewelers can seriously impact your business’s bottom line.
What if you run an offline business?
Businesses that don’t have any social media accounts or business websites still need to worry about their online reputation. For one thing, if you don’t own any content that Google can pull up in response to a search for your name or your business, then Google will display results that might have little to do with you and could possibly harm your reputation—and over which you have no control. This is a very vulnerable position to be in.
Additionally, you are not as offline as you think you are. People are probably already talking about your brand, whether you are aware of it or not. And these conversations are what define your online reputation.
Why you shouldn’t just ignore negative or incorrect information
Unfortunately, overlooking negative search results isn’t an option because people tend to believe what they read on the internet.
- 98% of consumers think online reviews are a vital resource when making purchasing decisions—PowerReviews
- Only 3% of people would consider doing business with a company with an average star rating of two or fewer stars—BrightLocal
As the internet becomes more and more integral to every part of our lives, you have to put some effort into constructing your online reputation if you want to have any control over it. If a potential customer, for example, who has never heard of your business, comes across a negative review about it—and you haven’t posted a response to the review—then you have let the reviewer make your first impression for you.
And letting the internet define you is a very risky proposition as online commenters have accused companies of anything from refusing to serve veterans to participating in illegal activities. Consequently, a reputation management strategy is a requirement in the modern business environment.
Can’t you just take people who say negative things about you to court?
Possibly, but keep in mind that legally speaking, people are entitled to their opinions. Establishing whether or not an online comment qualifies as slander or defamation can take months, even years, and cost thousands of dollars, with no guarantee of success. And fighting back might even damage your online image further. There are ways to counteract defamation and slander that don’t involve the courts.
Legal action shouldn’t be a part of your image management strategy unless absolutely necessary.
What can you do to fix your online reputation?
The best way to affect your search results is to use reputation management techniques to stay on top of what people are saying about you and, when necessary, take action to maintain a positive online image. Although the concept is fairly simple, the work involved often takes a lot of time and effort.
With the right reputation management strategy, you can establish a prominent presence on the web that could help you secure a promotion, get into a great school, grow your business, and expand your professional network. Proactive, web-based reputation management also enhances your social media persona, laying a foundation for a wide array of digital marketing endeavors to fuel good publicity for a company you own or a project you oversee.
Further, reputation management tactics applied in a thoughtful manner can draw attention away from any negative content linked to your name. Often referred to as reactive reputation management, the process of suppressing derogatory search results is extremely complex in nature, requiring a great deal of technical knowledge about search engine algorithms and design.
Here are a few basic ways to improve your online reputation, as well as some links to more in-depth resources to help you get to the next level.
Get on social media
Start your own social media presence, and update it regularly—Being active on social media will help place your business at the top of the search results. This is essentially as good as deleting negative content because nearly 95 percent of users do not look past the first page. Even if you create a Twitter account with no intention of sharing your 140-character thoughts with the world, just going through the registration process can help you take ownership of your search results page.
Of course, it’s good to have some kind of plan before you start posting on social media. You’ll need to define who your target audience is and what social media channels they use and create posts that are consistent with your brand and appeal to this demographic. For a more detailed explanation of how to build a solid social media strategy, see this post by Rebekah Radice, author of “Social Media Mastery: A Comprehensive Guide to Strategic Growth.”
You’ll also need to establish some kind of company guidelines about employees posting on social media, whether they post on their own account or a business account. This is important because employees’ actions still reflect upon the company, even when they aren’t actively representing it.
Claim your business on local review sites
This will let you know when reviews, regardless of whether they are positive or negative, are posted. Read all reviews carefully; they can be your first indication of an emerging issue that needs your attention. When you become aware of a negative review, respond quickly and professionally. A quick, polite reply is often your best tool. Moreover, research by the Boston Consulting Group shows that just the act of creating a Yelp listing can garner a business about $8,000 per year from the review site.
Some popular local review sites are:
Start a blog
It doesn’t matter what you write about—it can be anything from sharing your favorite recipes to a photos-only presentation of your latest vacation—but the (search) results don’t lie. Use a high-profile platform like Tumblr, WordPress, or Blogger and take advantage of their SEO-friendly strategies to help drive people to your blog’s home page. With luck, your content will bump an undesirable link to a less heavily trafficked section of your search results.
Just like with social media, your blog doesn’t need to become popular for it to be an effective tool. And you don’t need to invest a ton of time maintaining it either. Simply creating one in your name will go a long way toward improving your online reputation. Just make sure that whatever topics you choose to write about support the image you’re trying to convey.
Don’t worry about whether or not people will want to read your blog. Your experience is valuable and worth sharing. More importantly, your writing can help establish your brand as an authority in your market space.
Set up a Google Alert
Setting up a Google Alert for your name will let you know when Google indexes new information about you. You can celebrate if it’s positive and an accurate reflection of who you are—and, if it isn’t, then you can get proactive about managing it so that a rogue result doesn’t negate the work you’ve done in tailoring your online reputation.
Your search results page is definitely worth the time it takes to manage. Look at it as your digital resume or portfolio—vital information that communicates volumes about who you are. If you need more information to help you fix your brand image, check out these articles in our Resource Center:
- The definitive guide to online reputation management: This detailed and easy-to-follow guide will walk you through the various steps involved in establishing and improving how you look online.
- How to build a good business reputation: Read this article to learn some business-specific tips for promoting yourself and dealing with negative content online.
- How to remove negative reviews from the internet: This article teaches you how to maintain a strong business reputation by preventing and correctly responding to negative reviews.