It doesn’t matter if your clients tell their best friends that you’re the best thing since sliced bread – they’ll still Google you, and what they find is part of the buying process.
Controlling what people find when they do an online search is known as reputation management, which has a dictionary definition of “the practice of attempting to shape public perception of a person or organization by influencing online information about that entity.”
Reputation management used to be mostly public relations (PR); if the local newspaper ran an exposé on your lousy customer service, your PR firm would do what they could to make it go away. And often, did blow over.
Today, however, everyone is the local newspaper, and what they publish about how you – supposedly – wronged them lives online forever.
And hell hath no fury like a customer scorned.
Google your favorite brand and add the word “sucks” in your search. No matter what company you choose, there’s no doubt you’ll find a handful of reviews spewing hatred for their products.
Somewhat problematically for businesses, finding and using these reviews has become a part of the buying process. A recent BrightLocal survey, for example, found that 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations – so yes, that review from a total stranger holds as much sway as a personal recommendation from someone they know.
New rules apply
So what do you do in a world where everyone is a publisher? There have always been rules about how we engage in customer interactions – it’s just that now we can’t get away with not following them.
Keep your promises
This has always been a good idea, but today, if you don’t do it, it’s over. If you ship late, don’t honor your guarantee, or simply don’t respond to customer requests, you can bet it will “make headlines” somewhere.
This may seem like an overused jargon term by now, but when people can talk about what they experience all over the internet, you need to be open and honest about their experience with you, what steps you’re taking next, and how you’ll improve for future customers.
Check Twitter to see how many businesses are using the tool as a customer service platform – you’ll be surprised! Not only might a direct and brilliant response to a customer complaint save a customer relationship, it may also affect your image in the eyes of other Twitter users who are paying attention.
It seems like some people are just never happy, but some customers make valid points when they level criticism or a poor review on a brand. Pay attention to what people are saying, invite feedback at every turn, and join the conversation.
Learn from your mistakes
One of the most overlooked positives in making mistakes or getting critical reviews is that they’re an opportunity to improve. Read Jay Baer’s Hug Your Haters for some tips on using these new rules to win.
The best defense
Cliché as it may be, the best defense is a good offense.
Inevitably, businesses disappoint customers and must suffer the consequences of a negative review, which, as we mentioned, may be fair depending on the situation.
What’s worse is experiencing the unwarranted attacks of a former employee or competitor’s scheme.
Stay on top things and don’t wait until after the fact to take action. If you proactively claim real estate, nurture relationships, and recruit positive coverage before negative things happen, you can keep the effects of negativity to a minimum.
A word about negative reviews
Negative reviews hurt – sometimes they even feel personal. Even with 90% glowing reviews on something, it’s not hard to let one or two negative reviews get under your skin.
When faced with negativity, particularly in the form of a scathing review from a customer, relax and starting limiting the damage right away.
First, make an honest assessment. Is there anything you could have done better, or is this an outlier incident? Second, don’t throw gas on the fire with an aggressive response. Even if the customer was technically wrong, you know what they say – you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
Here are some things to consider regarding purely negative reviews and what you can do about them. While you should never just delete a bad review – no one will believe that you have no bad reviews – both Google and Yelp allow you to flag reviews and request their deletion if they meet one of the following criteria:
Opinion vs. facts
The 1st Amendment offers the right to free speech; anyone can express their opinion about something. What they cannot do is lie. They can say that your food was terrible, but they can’t say that you didn’t pass the health inspection if that’s not actually true.
False information (aka "alternative facts")
If someone claims you were closed when you said you were open, that you didn’t offer what you advertised, or that you refused to honor a guarantee and it’s not true, you can ask to have that review removed.
Conflict of interest
If the spouse or employee of a competitor posts a negative review, you can contest that the review presents a conflict of interest.
Hateful or sexually explicit
In this case, inappropriate is inappropriate whether the review is positive or negative, and review sites want these removed regardless of their origin.
As a general rule of thumb address negative reviews head on – it’s a chance to demonstrate that your brand isn’t just about your products and services, it’s also about customer service.
Your plan of action
The following five steps should be part of your reputation plan of action. Set goals around reviews and results and work on each element consistently.
Set up alerts
Use a tool like BuzzSumo to set up a series of alerts.
Consider alerts for your name, your company name, and the names of some of your most popular products/services. Choose to receive a message any time those terms are mentioned online; in addition to capturing in-the-moment comments to manage, you’ll also find opportunities to positively engage other bloggers and businesses.
Once you’ve set up comments on your blog, Facebook, and Twitter, you must actively monitor each for opportunities to engage and respond. Sometimes simply acknowledging a bad review or comment can extinguish the fire, but timeliness is key.
Claim real estate
Go on the offense – claim and monitor all the profiles you can. Even if LinkedIn doesn’t seem like a great tool for your business, it’s probable that your LinkedIn profile will rank for your name. Why not create as many pages as possible where you control the content?
Guest posting on other blogs and publications is a great SEO and awareness play, but it’s also an essential reputation management play. If your guest posts appear in the first few pages of Google, you’re locking up important prime real estate.
If you sell products and services, consider giving people the option to offer feedback on your site to see what’s being said, monitor it for accuracy, and respond directly. Of course, you must be transparent, as it will be obvious if you simply delete negative reviews.
Even with lots of raving fans, you know how hard it is to get reviews in the places you need them – Google, Yelp, and industry specific review sites.
People love to express their opinion and you may receive tons of compliments and unsolicited emails from happy customers. So let’s get those reviews online in the places you need them with a proactive review funnel.
The review funnel, explained
A review funnel is a tool to make it easier for your happy customers to post reviews about your business on the important review websites. (If done effectively, it’s also a tool to fend off negative reviews before they happen.)
Here are the elements of a review funnel:
- Create a web page on your site where you invite reviews
- Offer customers an initial gauge where they can give a 1- through 5-star rating
- If someone rates 3 stars or lower, offer them the option to tell you what you could have done differently (giving you a chance to address the issue immediately)
- Anyone who rates 4 or above is redirected to a page featuring the most important review sites
- The customer chooses the link to the site they want and receives directions about leaving a review on that particular site
With a review funnel in place, your team can confidently invite any customer to leave a review, knowing you’ve made it as easy as possible.
Free review scan
If you’d like to know how your current reviews stack up, we’ve created a free tool that allows us to create a report on the status of your reviews – simply go here and add your business name, zip code, and phone number and we’ll create a scan of your reviews on the major review sites.
Have any great or harrowing reputation management stories? I'd love to hear them if you do. Send them via our contact page, or comment below.