According to research, 45% of business owners aren't happy with their online presence. Unfortunately, most of those who feel this way don't know how to deal with the fallout from a public customer dispute or the actions of a disgruntled employee.
Your brand is who you are in the eyes of consumers. It's your biggest asset, and the most intangible one when it comes to how it's viewed. If you don't protect your reputation and brand image, your social proof, influence and capital in the marketplace suffer.
As you go about the task of developing social proof as a business strategy, remember that social media is not without its barbs, which we'll discuss in more depth below. If you're not being cautious, a simple phishing hack can ruin your reputation in minutes and take months to recover from.
Up to 97% of businesses are located via an online search, and 90% of people surveyed say they're influenced by customer reviews and word of mouth, no matter if they're positive or negative.
How hard is your online reputation working for you?
What is reputation management in a nutshell?
The business trends of 2019 may come and go, but what gets posted online about your company could haunt you forever. This is why you need to follow reputation management best practices and take proactive steps to present the best public face possible.
Brand reputation management involves engaging with the public in a positive manner, deleting false or inaccurate information, and tackling negative reviews or comments head-on in a way that promotes a win-win interaction. It involves transparency, authentic interactions and a certain amount of retroactive PR.
Most of us are aware by now that anything we say or do could end up online. There are plenty of examples of hot mic mishaps, unfortunate holiday work parties captured on video and people who just like to sow discord for fun or payback.
Aside from never attending a public event or leaving your office, there are some practical ways that you can control public perceptions and make yourself look good.
1. Keep your employees and associates happy.
A major source of online negativity is disgruntled employees, vendors, and even competitors who want to torpedo your reputation. This can be avoided by conducting business honestly and with as much transparency and integrity as possible.
It also helps to keep your team and business associates happy. Employee satisfaction is part and parcel of branding, and it should be part of your overall business strategy. Here are some 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 that are 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? The simple act of typing your company or professional name into a search bar once a week can uncover all kinds of things you didn't know.
When you browse the internet through the eyes of a customer, you may find online reviews that you didn't know about, someone gossiping about your business on social media, and a whole host of other public commentaries that pop up whenever someone mentions you or your business by name.
If you can see bad reviews when you search for your business on Bing, Yahoo Search, or Google, so can potential customers. The good news is you don't have to let a negative comment sit there and ruin your reputation. Make it a point to monitor and take control of your online reviews in an organized daily process.
Note the location and date of any bad or inaccurate information and delete whatever you can. If you aren't able to remove the information yourself, talk to the site owner to see about having it removed or allowing a rebuttal. Those that can't be removed can be dropped to page two search status by generating SEO optimized, positive content to replace it.
The only time you shouldn't delete negative mentions is when they are legitimate reviews or complaints from actual customers. These should be addressed publicly, quickly and with a satisfactory outcome as the goal.
3. Generate your own good press.
Outside of customer reviews and comments, most of what is known about you online is coming directly from you. Heck, you can even control reviews and comments to some extent by engaging online and staying active in the forums. You can also leverage your online presence by using your social media accounts to post behind-the-scenes glimpses of your team in action, feel-good photos of your happy customers and actively soliciting positive reviews or testimonials.
Generate evergreen content that ties your brand journey to your buyer's journey and address negative reviews or complaints publicly as soon as they come to your attention. Forty percent of consumers report having positive feelings about a company that shows concern for customer satisfaction and a willingness to take responsibility to right a wrong.
4. Monitor your digital footprint.
In order to control brand perception, keep an eye on key metrics for abrupt changes that could be tied back to negative publicity. Your Google and admin dashboards for hosting show traffic spikes and help you analyze upward or downward trends.
Since timeliness is an issue, there are tools that you can use to get real-time alerts whenever people are talking about you online.
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 prevent network infiltration by educating employees on security to reduce incidents of human error. While a virtual private network is one of the first recommendations security experts make, this technology is not without its share of scams. These are some of the best ways to protect yourself:
- 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 they are to believe paid spokespersons or ads. This is called social proof, and it is important to build social proof for your brand or company in order to build trust.
Word-of-mouth advertising is very compelling, and it's usually free. You should be gathering and nurturing advocates of your brand by engaging a trusted influencer with a large following, deliver the best service, and encouraging social likes, comments and shares.
Remember to practice social media safety when engaging with these platforms. Unscrupulous actors use comments and info from profiles to launch phishing exploits and spread misinformation.
7. Design with user experience in mind.
Your website is often the first interaction you have with your audience. Make sure that it's designed to put user experience (UX) and security first. This not only draws more visitors to your page, but it also keeps them there longer and makes a return trip more likely. Additionally, it helps elevate your ranking in the SERPs.
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.
8. Get personal with your prospects.
In the age of AI and other machine-learning technologies, human-to-human (H2H) interaction is getting lost. Employ advanced tech to streamline core functioning as it frees up your staff to focus on providing personalized service and addressing customer pain points.
This can be as simple as writing a personal email offering special discounts, starting a customer loyalty program or just sending out cards for holidays or customer birthday greetings.
It only takes one bad interaction to tarnish your brand. With so much online competition and so many platforms available, trying to clean up misinformation or negative reviews could become a full-time job.
You could make this job easier by practicing proactive interaction, protecting your computer network and hiring a professional reputation management firm to monitor your brand presence.