The Web is connecting the world more with each passing day. Large corporations have had to learn to intelligently ride this wave or face the inevitable descent into irrelevance. A big part of their evolution has involved creating and implementing online reputation management policies.
Though there are many major differences between worldwide conglomerates and your small business, many of the techniques they use are also pertinent to the needs and scope of your operation. Below, you’ll find seven business reputation management techniques applicable to businesses of any size:
1. Be proactive
One of the most important rules when practicing business online is that you must be proactive — not reactive — in all of your dealings. Begin by staying on top of any negative remarks about your business or products on Google, blogs, forums, and review sites. You don’t want to be playing catch-up when it comes to your online reputation. Large corporations have entire departments dedicated to this task, but as a small business owner you can still effectively keep track of what’s being said online by leveraging free or automated tools. For example:
- Google Alerts and competing services like Mention.com can send you notifications when something new about your business appears online
- Claiming your page on online review sites often allows you to get email alerts for any new reviews
- Social media dashboard apps like Hootsuite or Sprout can automate and centralize the process of keeping up with social posts about your business
At the core of any successful large company is a strong desire to be on the forefront of its industry. Apple, for example, has built an excellent online reputation by perfecting new products and then surrounding them with irresistible hype. Build a sense of prestige around your product or service, and consumers will think of you as a leader in your field. They’ll come looking for you instead of the other way around.
Of course, this is easier said than done, but you can start small by taking a long, hard look at your competitors and finding where the gaps are. Analyze their online reviews, their websites, and their product offerings to see where you have something comparable—or where you can do something better. Then, make your novel contribution the focus of a low-budget online marketing campaign. For instance, you might create an SEO-optimized landing page, or run a promotion on Facebook or Twitter.
3. Practice transparency
A large company like Google practices transparency in all of its business relations. When its mobile vehicles mistakenly broke privacy law by picking up personal information from unsecured Wi-Fi networks, Google publicly admitted its mistake and quickly dealt with the matter. Whatever the size of your business, practicing transparency and public disclosure is an important step to maintaining a spotless online reputation.
Business owners often try to bury their mistakes instead, but this can backfire. At worst, you risk angering and alienating a customer that feels mistreated, and who in turn may decide to post a nasty online review or blog. This ends up amplifying or snowballing the problem, giving it a much wider reach than it should have.
In contrast, if you own up, you usually win goodwill from the customer. That means the problem stays between the two of you instead of being broadcast online.
4. Think globally
It’s important to ensure that the online public thinks of your business as more than just a corner market. You can develop a global reach online without necessarily increasing your size. Little things like being able to receive and process international orders can make a huge difference. Your business’s reputation can only benefit if more of the world gets to rave about your products or services.
Of course, the way you do this needs to make sense for the type of business you run. But whatever your scale, try to find something to share broadly, whether it’s a physical product or just an in-depth blog article that spreads your expertise.
5. Be charitable
Microsoft is a prime example of a company that changed its public perception through charitable work. In the mid-to-late 1990s the software giant was considered to be nothing more than money-gobbling corporate machine. Investing in charitable organizations, however, the company effected a radical shift in its reputation.
The same can work for you. You don’t have to engineer a multibillion dollar donation either; even the smallest charitable acts can help to create a better online reputation for your business. It’s also a great way to win new referrals, especially if your business volunteers in person at the charity’s events.
6. Focus on customer service
Customer service should always come first. It’s almost a cliche at this point, but it’s no less true. If you structure all of your business activities around making customers feel cared for—especially when they’re disgruntled or unhappy—you will win over loyal advocates. In contrast, when have you ever heard a story of a company fighting with its customers and coming out ahead? Customer conflict is always a lose-lose situation, especially in our era of widespread online reviews.
So what can you do to improve? The next time you have a complaint, carefully track what went wrong and how it was resolved. Even if it wasn’t your fault—e.g. a cranky customer that misunderstood your product—try to find ways of reducing the likelihood that such mixups will happen in the future. Maybe a product description needs updating, or staff need additional training on how to educate customers. Improving customer service is not usually about “trying harder,” it’s about finding process weaknesses and correcting them so that the system gets better and better over time.
7. Have fun
Successful businesses know that creating a “feeling” around their products is essential to mega-sales. Coca-Cola is one of the 30 most reputable companies in the world. Why? People associate drinking Coke with having fun.
If your product or service elicits good feelings from your customers, you’ll be well on your way to more sales and a positive online reputation. Even if your business has to do with traditionally unappealing activities (sorry, dentists), implementing ways to lighten the experience will put you in high demand. For instance, a little self-deprecating humor on a dentist’s website can go a long way to humanizing the experience and making patients more comfortable.