Does your business have negative online reviews? Has it been the victim of a phishing hack? Are social media users or former employees posting about adverse experiences?
Unfortunately, even one damaging incident can wreak havoc on your business. If you don’t deal with the fallout from a public customer dispute or a disgruntled employee’s actions, the situation can become much worse.
In the eyes of consumers, your brand is who you are. While it’s intangible, it’s also your biggest asset. If you don’t protect your reputation and brand image, your credibility, business growth, and ability to attract capital will suffer. We’ll explore ways to protect and strengthen your company’s reputation so it stands out from the competition.
What is reputation management?
Industry trends come and go, but what gets posted online about your company could haunt you forever. Follow reputation-management best practices and take proactive steps to present the best public face possible.
Here’s what brand online reputation management involves:
- Engaging with the public positively
- Deleting false or inaccurate information
- Tackling negative reviews or comments head-on to promote win-win interactions
- Being transparent in all interactions
- Being authentic in all interactions
- Taking proactive and retroactive PR measures
According to Podium’s State of Reviews report, good and bad online reviews influence 88 percent of consumers when they’re deciding whether to do business with a company.
How to protect your brand reputation
Most of us know that anything we say or do could end up online. There are numerous examples of hot mic mishaps, unfortunate holiday work parties captured on video, and attempts to sow discord for fun or payback.
Aside from never attending a public event or staying in your office at all times, practical measures can help control public perceptions of your brand. Here are eight ways to manage your online reputation.
1. Keep your employees and associates happy.
Disgruntled employees and vendors — and even competitors who want to torpedo your reputation — are significant sources of negative online content. Avoid animosity by conducting business honestly and with as much transparency and integrity as possible.
It also helps to ensure your team and business associates are happy. Keeping employees happy is part and parcel of branding and your overall business strategy.
To foster your team’s happiness, try the following suggestions:
- Initiate an employee satisfaction program.
- Create a feedback culture that helps staff feel involved and engaged in the company’s success.
- Develop a program for volunteerism or offer matching donations for causes important to team members.
- Pick a cause to support and get the whole team involved.
2. Google your business at least once a week.
When was the last time you Googled your business? Typing your company or professional name into a search bar once a week can uncover all kinds of things you weren’t aware of.
When you browse the internet through the eyes of a customer, you may find online reviews you didn’t know about, someone gossiping about your business on social media, and other public commentaries that pop up whenever someone mentions you or your business by name.
If you can see negative information when you search for your business on Google or other search engines, so can potential customers. The good news is that you don’t have to let negative comments sit there and ruin your reputation. Make it a point to monitor and take control of your online mentions in an organized daily process:
- Note the location and date of any bad or inaccurate information and delete whatever you can.
- If you can’t remove the information yourself, talk to the site owner about having it removed or posting a rebuttal.
- If you can’t remove bad or inaccurate information, generate SEO-optimized, positive content to drop the negative comments to page two of the search results.
The only time you shouldn’t delete negative mentions is when they are legitimate reviews or complaints from actual customers. You should respond to all online reviews publicly, quickly and with the goal of a satisfactory outcome.
Realistic online reviews build trust with e-commerce customers and help them get a feel for actual customer experiences. Too many five-star reviews won’t ring true.
3. Generate your own good press.
Outside of customer reviews and comments, most of what is known about your brand online comes directly from you. Here are some tips on generating good press for your brand:
- Engage with customers online. Engaging with customers online and staying active in forums helps generate genuine positive comments and feelings about your company.
- Give behind-the-scenes glimpses of your company. Leverage your online presence by using your social media accounts to post behind-the-scenes glimpses of your team in action and feel-good photos of happy customers. Consider hosting a Facebook Live Q&A to answer customer questions and introduce team members.
- Create content about your brand. Generate evergreen content that ties your brand journey to the customer journey. Use your small business blog to create helpful content that inspires and adds value to your customers.
- Address negative reviews or complaints publicly. Respond to negative comments as soon as they come to your attention. Consumers appreciate when brands show concern for customer satisfaction and a willingness to take responsibility to right a wrong.
- Never pay for reviews. While it’s OK to actively solicit positive reviews or testimonials, never pay for positive reviews. Fake reviews can backfire and cause additional damage to your reputation.
4. Monitor your digital footprint.
Track key metrics, including social media metrics, for abrupt changes that could be tied to negative publicity. Your Google Analytics and admin web hosting dashboards show traffic spikes and help you analyze upward or downward trends.
Since timeliness is important, use tools that provide real-time alerts when people mention you online, including Google Alerts, Social Mention and Semrush.
5. Protect your privacy and networks.
Nothing can sink a brand faster than negative press, especially when it involves a security breach that puts customer data at risk. You can protect your business from data breaches and prevent network infiltration by educating employees on security measures that reduce human error incidents.
Here are some additional ways to protect your networks:
- Use secure hosting platforms that offer encryption and leak protection.
- Limit access through strong encryption and access controls.
- Keep all devices, software, and networks up to date.
- Install a VPN on all networks and devices.
6. Gather social proof.
Consumers are more likely to listen to recommendations or warnings about products and services from friends than from paid spokespersons or ads. Organic word-of-mouth advertising is called social proof; it’s crucial to build social proof for your brand or company to encourage trust.
The following actions are some of the ways you can provide social proof:
- Engage trusted and popular influencers to market your brand.
- Deliver the best customer service.
- Encourage social likes, comments and shares.
- Enable and encourage brand ambassadors who will spread the word about your brand.
Consumers’ online reviews, social media posts, testimonials, blog posts and video content are known as user-generated content (UGC).
7. Design your website with the user experience in mind.
Your website is often the first interaction you have with your audience. Ensure your business website design prioritizes security and the user experience. An excellent user experience accomplishes the following:
- Draws more visitors to your page
- Keeps visitors on your website longer
- Makes it more likely visitors will return to your website
- Helps elevate your website ranking in search engine results
Your layout should be clean and easy to navigate. Your website should contain useful, relevant content and links, and the checkout process should be secure, fast and hassle-free. Choose a reliable hosting service with a high uptime percentage, and use a content delivery network to improve speed and performance.
To reduce friction on your e-commerce website, optimize page-load speeds to entice customers to stay on your site and navigate its pages.
8. Get personal with your prospects.
In the age of AI and other machine-learning technologies, human-to-human interaction can get lost. Employ advanced tech to streamline core functions, freeing your staff to focus on personalized service and addressing customer pain points.
For example, write customers personal emails offering special discounts, build customer loyalty programs, or send cards for holidays or customer birthday greetings.
The best reputation management services
Monitoring your online reputation, controlling negative reviews, and enticing happy customers to post positive reviews can be time-consuming. Many small business owners turn to the best online reputation management services for help. Our top picks include the following.
We found Podium to be an ideal solution for businesses that want to combine text message marketing and online review management in one platform. Podium makes it easy to remind customers to post company reviews and lets you monitor and manage your reviews in one interface.
Podium’s reports help you see trends, spot problems, and proactively address issues. The service reduces the likelihood of customers posting bad reviews by giving them a convenient way to resolve problems before they snowball. For more information, read our in-depth Podium review.
Reputation Resolutions is our top choice for reputation management when a brand is under attack because of irate customers or a crisis like a data breach. The service focuses on removing negative reviews; clients only pay if the harmful content is successfully removed.
Birdeye is our top choice for brands that want to acquire positive reviews. The platform helps you collect customer reviews through various channels, including text, email, Facebook plugins and more, to build your online reputation. In addition to helping you generate customer reviews, Birdeye can help you strengthen your Google Maps listing and manage existing online reviews.
Proactively managing your brand’s reputation
One bad interaction can tarnish your brand forever. With so much online competition and so many platforms available, clearing up misinformation or negative reviews could become a full-time job.
Make this vital responsibility easier by practicing proactive interaction, protecting your computer network, and hiring a professional reputation management firm to monitor your brand presence.
Jennifer Dublino contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.