This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.
Customers decide to trust and engage with your business based on what people say about it online. Whether these conversations take place on social media, review hubs, or on your own website, other people’s opinions form the bulk of your business’s reputation.
Unfortunately, this means that your reputation is easily damaged, and this can impact your bottom line.
Simply put, reputation equals revenue. Research from the Reputation Institute found that nearly 40% of a public business’s market performance is due to factors related to its reputation. And according to Bright Local, a single bad review can turn away roughly 22% of customers—and three negative reviews can drive off 59% of customers.
The truth is, you will never be able to please everybody. In the end, no business, no matter how hard you work at it, is 100 percent perfect. Think of all the restaurants you’ve visited in your life where the food was good, the service was good, but you just didn’t feel a pressing need to return. The same will be true of your business. However, if you treat every customer fairly and honestly, even the people who don’t come back will still be happy they came.
But how do you do that? The specifics will change somewhat depending on your business model, but here are some general tips to help you craft a personalized plan.
Build your own best practices
According to social marketing strategist Ted Rubin, you can build a positive business reputation by “prioritizing relationships, living up to your values, and capitalizing on memorable moments.” This means you need to leverage your daily experiences to proactively construct the image you want to portray to the world.
One of the most proactive things you can do to protect your business’s reputation is to ensure your employees remain above reproach. Every industry has best practices and a code of ethics. Use these as your guiding principles when building a positive business image. Make sure every employee understands what the ethical situations are, why it’s important to abide by these practices, and what to do when they encounter a difficult situation.
Further, you need to include these practices in your business’s mission statement and communicate to your employees regularly about the importance of transparency, accountability, honesty, and other key values. By doing so, you will nurture a culture that inspires respect from customers and competitors alike.
Become an authority in your field
Don’t let other people define your company. Take control of the conversation by putting yourself out there. People want to do business with companies that are authorities in their field. After all, if you are going to buy a product, it makes sense to buy from “the best.”
At ReputationDefender, one of our key strategies is to highlight our clients’ accomplishments and authoritativeness. This increases their trustworthiness, which is a key component in a strong reputation. For example, if an art gallery owner is an expert in Italian Renaissance art, we would tap into and highlight this expertise in the materials that we build out and promote online.
To position your company as an authority, you need to get involved in online discussions. Those discussions can take many forms, but some of the most effective include:
- Answering consumer questions
- Posting articles about industry developments
- Hosting webinars or online workshops
- Making guest appearances on podcasts
Each time you engage with people online, you leave a digital footprint that adds to your overall reputation. Think of it like a brick in a wall. The more footprints/bricks you create, the stronger your wall will become.
Increase your corporate social responsibility
Reputation building is about making your company visible—in a good way—and corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an increasingly important factor in a company’s reputation. According to a 2017 study, nearly 80% of Americans stated that they expect a business to address social issues in addition to their core business activities.
It’s important to remember that sponsoring a Little League team or any other charitable endeavor is as much about making yourself a part of the community as it is about getting your name out there. Doing good works not only puts your business’s name in front of potential customers, but it also shows them that you act on your values. Moreover, research by John Peloza at the University of Kentucky shows that positive CSR not only protects a business’s reputation in the wake of negative publicity, but it also reduces any financial impact the firm might experience from such an event.
Monitor social media
You need to know what people are saying about you in order to do anything about it. Social media offers you multiple avenues to communicate with your customers and fans. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube—they all offer unique opportunities to reach out to your customers. But each also has its own individual culture you need to be sensitive to.
For example, the comments section of YouTube is infamous, with remarks that can draw notoriety to even the most innocuous product, so you need to learn about the etiquette before you start posting. Any social media presence needs to be monitored carefully, both for general unpleasant behavior and specific complaints about your product; angry comments can go viral if you don’t address them right away.
Track search trends
It’s a good idea to monitor trending topics and search volume for your company. If you see a sudden spike in activity, it can be an alert that your company is attracting attention, and direct you to precisely why–which is the foundation of good brand reputation management.
Some things you might want to track are your company name, your marketing campaigns, and your competitors. Luckily, there are numerous tools available to help you do this. Some of the most popular include the following:
- Google Trends: This tool lets you see what people are talking about on a wide variety of platforms, including websites, blogs, videos, and less well-known social media sites. This broader view of what is trending can help you make informed decisions regarding your marketing and promotional efforts.
- Social Mention: With Social Mention, you can follow and measure trends about you, your business, a new product, or any other topic in real time on more than 100 social media platforms. Social Mention also offers a point-in-time search and analysis service, as well as daily social media alerts.
- BuzzSumo: You can follow trends on BuzzSumo by simply choosing a time frame and then entering a keyword you are interested in. Alternatively, you can just enter a URL to see useful data on what’s doing well in your field or subject area. BuzzSumo also lets you identify industry influencers and what content from a specific domain is doing well. Another handy feature this tool offers is the ability to check content backlinks, which you can target as part of your content marketing plan.
Read review sites
Depending on your industry, reviews may also form a part of your business reputations. For example, services businesses generally have to keep an eye on Google, Yelp, and Facebook, while product-based companies keep an eye on Amazon. Generally, you’ll want to read each review closely to see what’s consistent between them, both good and bad. These are valuable (and free!) insights into what your business is doing well and where you can improve. Use what you learn from reviews to help you define a reputation management strategy.
A good way to simplify the process of keeping up with your online reviews is to use review management software, such as our cloud-based ReputationDefender Local solution, which aggregates reviews for you, provides configurable alerts and digests, and even lets you respond to reviews and mount review request campaigns.
Respond quickly and professionally to complaints and negative reviews
At some point, everyone in business gets unhappy customers. They might scream at you over the phone, curse you out in front of other customers, send you a nasty email, or increasingly—they might post a hostile review online.
First of all, before you do anything, give yourself a moment to calm down. Replying calmly, politely, and clearly to negative reviews is your best bet, even if you’re incensed. (For more detailed tips, see our article on how to handle hostile reviews).
According to John Rampton, a serial entrepreneur and business advisor, “Companies who address the issue and apologize have a big opportunity to build brand loyalty.” If potential customers see that you treat even the worst customer fairly, it’ll impress on them that they’ll get a fair shake, thus increasing your business reputation.
Reaction time is critical. If a customer comes to you with a concern, whether it’s a minor question or a fairly serious problem, you should respond as soon as possible and find out what happened. If possible, contact the person directly, and then listen carefully, take notes, and discuss with them what you can do to rectify the problem. Often, the simple act of hearing someone out and then trying to make things right will impress the customer.
Defend yourself against false claims
Occasionally, you’ll have a customer who goes well beyond the range of “dissatisfied” and heads straight into outright hostile territory. This could be for any number of reasons, ranging from personal problems that have nothing to do with your business to people being just plain mean-spirited. It’s important—especially with a customer who refuses to speak to you or to discuss the matter—to keep an eye out for false claims and calmly refute them when you can. There’s no point in letting incorrect information harm your business reputation.
If someone writes a review about you or your business that is slanderous (for example, the reviewer accuses you of a crime you didn’t commit or makes otherwise damaging personal attacks), there are two things you can do:
- File a complaint with the review site. Often, the hosting site will remove the offending review without much hassle.
- Post a public response that follows these guidelines:
- Tells your side of the story
- States the facts in a calm, clear tone
- Avoids blaming the reviewer
- Does not make accusations
- Offers a resolution to the problem
Whatever you do, don’t make legal threats or reveal the critic’s real name; this might cause the site to remove your response and will only further damage your reputation.
Moving beyond the basics
Naturally, there’s always more you can do when it comes to building, strengthening, and safeguarding your business’s online reputation. If you’re looking for more suggestions, check out these other articles from our Resource Center:
- The Definitive Guide to Online Reputation Management: This detailed, step-by-step document will teach you how to effectively assess your reputation problems, develop a plan to manage them, and monitor your progress.
- Top 7 Online Reputation Management Mistakes Businesses Need to Avoid: Read this article to learn which common reputation errors your company might be making and how they might affect your search results.