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How to use your online reputation to earn new business during tough times

 | Updated
by Jennifer Bridges  @JenBridgesRD

Mature man doing business on the phone in front of his computer

This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, more people are online than ever before. Consequently, the things you do and say on the Internet can have a big impact on your brand’s reputation—for better or worse—even long after the lockdown ends. Whether you end up attracting new customers or pushing people away depends on how well you leverage your online reputation to connect with and impress potential customers.

Brands are really going to be judged for a long time by how they behave through this.”—Patrick Strother, founder of communications firm SCG

Here are the most important things that customers are looking for these days before engaging with a new business. If you address these issues, then you’ll be a step ahead of your competition, according to advice from psychologists and research from firms like Maru/Matchbox and BrightLocal

  • Are you actually open?
  • Are you trustworthy?
  • Are you providing an emotional connection?
  • Are you projecting positivity?
  • Are you demonstrating empathy and compassion?

Show people you’re open

When you have to choose between a business that may or may not be open and one that is obviously still operating, it makes sense to patronize the one you know is still open. This way, you don’t have to worry about wasting time or energy trying to find the product or service you need.

As such, businesses that want to increase their customer base right now need to make it crystal clear that they are ready and willing to serve customers.

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Some effective ways to communicate this are:

  • Updating your business listings to reflect that you’re open 
  • Emphasizing on social media that you’re still serving customers
  • Showcasing your “open-for-business” status on your website

Gain the trust of anxious consumers

The power of online reviews is obvious: 94% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a business with positive reviews, while 92% of people will avoid a business that has negative reviews. However, with money being especially tight nowadays, consumers need more proof than ever that they can trust you before they will consider doing business with you. As such, reviews are even more important.

Luckily, most reviews are positive, and 72% of individuals will gladly write a review if asked. So, simply asking your customers for reviews can significantly improve how people perceive your brand.

Here are some effective ways to solicit more reviews:

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  • Send an email asking for reviews at the end of each transaction.
  • Include your review information on all customer correspondence.
  • Post links to your review sites on your website.
  • Display review-site stickers at your establishment.
  • Post good and bad reviews on your website and social media.
  • Use a reputation management tool like ReputationDefender Local, which sends “please review us” messages to your customers via email, text, or an iOS/Android kiosk.

Warning: It’s important to not offer a discount or any other sort of incentive for reviews. Most review platforms forbid this practice, and it’s just not ethical. It’s also vital to have a process in place to prevent you from accidentally asking unhappy customers for reviews.

Build emotional connections

Three-quarters of consumers are more likely to do business with a company that replies to reviews. This is because by responding to your reviews, you are demonstrating to potential customers that you care about your customers’ satisfaction and appreciate their feedback. Maintaining open lines of communication is especially important during this crisis, because people are looking for emotional connections with brands.

Here are some tips to consider when responding:

  • Reply to both positive and negative feedback—Doing so gives you a chance to win back unhappy customers and cement the loyalty of satisfied ones while making a positive impression on everyone who reads your responses.
  • Be courteous—Never respond defensively or lash out at your reviewers, even when they are in the wrong. Instead, acknowledge the reviewer’s issue and offer to take the conversation offline.
  • Apologize if the customer had a bad experience—Potential customers want proof that you really care about your customers’ feelings. Explain what went wrong and how you are going to fix it.
  • Offer to make things right—Whether it’s a discount on your product/service or priority scheduling, you need to show that you are willing to go the extra mile to remedy the situation.

During a crisis, your biggest commodity is trust.” Nicholas Bahr, global practice leader in risk management at DuPont Sustainable Solutions

Project positivity

Potential customers will remember brands that affect them on an emotional level. This means you need to create content that makes people feel good. People want to experience hope and joy during hard times—if only to counteract the constant drumbeat of doom and gloom from negative news stories.

Make sure any content you publish is:

Are online reputation issues hurting your business? Find out with our free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan
  • Uplifting—Like Nike’s documentary about a marathon runner trying to break the two-hour barrier for a marathon.
  • Informative—Like NerdWallet’s four-part video series that teaches basic money management.

Remember, the important thing is to offer something of real value to your customers—and what they need may not be your product.

For the businesses that look warm and generous and caring during this crisis … rather than impersonal and bureaucratic, there’s truly an opportunity to have longer term, deeper relationship with consumers.”—Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist

Demonstrate empathy and compassion

Right now, consumers want to see compassion and empathy from brands. In fact, 37% of people have recently started purchasing from a brand due to its compassionate response to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Reaching out to others shows that you care about your fellow human beings more than you care about your bottom line. This is key to winning new business because 71% of consumers claim that brands that appear to value profits over people will lose their trust forever.

The help you give can take many different forms, including:

  • Donating to good causes—For example, Razer, which typically makes laptops and mice, has started making surgical masks. Its CEO recently announced plans to donate 1 million masks.

Warning: Avoid making any offer of help too transactional. There should be no requirement for people to purchase from you to receive any benefit.

Ensure your online reputation is consistent

Sending mixed messages to potential consumers diminishes your trustworthiness. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that the impression you make is consistent, regardless of where potential customers encounter you online—whether it’s on your website, your social media posts, or your business listings. 

For advice on the best ways to project a positive and trustworthy image across the Internet, feel free to give us a call. We are happy to provide complimentary consultations about your unique issues.