Building an image used to mostly depend on word-of-mouth. That limited your brand's exposure to a small group of people. Prior to the internet, as we know it today, only larger companies with substantial advertising budgets, or access to celebrities, had the ability to become household names by promoting themselves in traditional media, such as television and newspapers.
Today, digital media has revolutionized exposure and improved access to an individual's or a company's profile. Social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube – and search engines have disrupted commerce and the global economy by providing instant access to unfiltered information. The first page of search engine results, which generally show news, videos, images and third-party content, now represents a key foundational pillar of a company's overall reputation and brand.
Moreover, these results often remain in perpetuity on the internet, unlike in traditional media, where the news appeared for a short span. Fortunately, these results can be properly managed and influenced through various tools such as search engine optimization (SEO) and online reputation management.
Editor's note: Looking for an online reputation management service for your business? Fill out the questionnaire below to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.
What is online reputation management?
Reputation management comprises all business activities undertaken to shape customers' opinions of a company based on its online presence. Your company's online reputation is largely the result of how today's most-used websites – Google, Facebook and more – present your company. As such, SEO and properly handling negative reviews are part and parcel of reputation management.
While similar in some ways to public relations (PR), reputation management is less focused on journalistic coverage and more focused on your overall online presence. For example, your PR firm will pitch stories about your company to leading publications, while your reputation management firm will focus on your online reviews, paid content, and SEO. Both your PR firm and reputation management firm may assist you with social media management.
Why is managing your online reputation important?
Warren Buffet once said, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently." This quote, from one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time, elucidates the importance of managing your reputation.
That's because a strong online reputation helps to place your company higher in search engine results pages (SERPs). Higher SERP rankings means exposure to more potential customers, thus increasing your revenue.
Online reputation management also helps to improve the impression that potential customers may have of you from looking at your reviews on Google, Yelp and other listing sites. A trustworthy reputation management team will know how to meaningfully respond to all your reviews, whether positive or negative. How you react to reviews can affect how potential customers perceive you and whether they ultimately choose to buy from you.
What impacts your online reputation?
Among the many factors contributing to your company's online reputation are its:
- Social media presence. Forging a positive reputation for your brand on social media begins with developing an interesting, meaningful social media presence, but it doesn't stop there. You should also use your social media pages to consistently post interesting content and communicate with your customers. Some social media sites also have review sections that your reputation management team should oversee.
- SEO. Your online brand's reputation is, loosely speaking, part of its search engine rankings. Put another way, if Google ranks your brand lower than others, then Google's algorithm likely doesn't perceive your brand as reputable. And given that household-name companies often dominate the first and second pages of navigational and informational web searches, the lower your company ranks, the less trustworthy it may appear.
- Online reviews. Even if you perfect your SEO so that you always appear within the first pages of web searches, your online reputation can still suffer if you have lots of negative reviews. It can suffer even if you have just a few negative reviews. As stated earlier, responding to negative reviews with care, empathy and an interest in open communication can help revive your reputation. That said, don't cram your online pages with fake positive reviews – discerning customers can tell.
The digital era provides a more level playing field for young, smaller companies that can leverage the social media platforms to gain more website traffic. On the other hand, failure to create a digital presence can jeopardize a company's chances to compete effectively.
How search engines impact your online reputation
Google has a market share of 70% and 90% on desktop and mobile/tablets, respectively. There are about 65,427 Google searches per second, or 5.6 billion searches per day, which means that approximately 75% of world population, per capita, makes at least one Google search every day.
These online searches can be about anything, including a company's business, partners, management and so on. Whenever someone searches about a company's name, product or management, a set of SERPs appears. The information contained on the first page will tell a story about the company. If there are positive links, then people researching are more likely to assume that the company is trustworthy, while any negative links can potentially raise doubts and erode trust.
Generally, the information consumers find will have an anchoring bias, which can influence their decision-making process. In other words, internet users will place greater importance on what they read on page 1. If a positive search result becomes an anchor, it will be beneficial for the company. However, if it is negative, then it will likely harm the reputation of an individual or detract from the perception of the business.
It is important to note that most people have a bias known as the "isolation effect" or the Von Restorff effect, in which if there were just one negative result among a slew of positive results, the negative result is more often remembered than the positive one. Therefore, it's imperative to manage the first page of search results so they display the most representative digital assets.
How to repair a damaged reputation
Negative reviews or search results often originate from dissatisfied customers, disgruntled former employees, or mischievous competitors. These reviews are typically available on online review sites such as Glassdoor, Avvo, and Yelp and social media websites, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Defamatory content may also be found through blogs of online aggregator websites, including Forbes and Reddit. The negative results can appear from past or current allegations against the company or specific members of the executive management team. The company could be named in an allegation without being at fault or have been found innocent of charges, but older website links with select keywords continue to appear and resurface.
There are a number of strategies to repair a digital reputation. Dedicated internal team members may not have the knowledge to address these issues. Depending on the situation, expertise offered by professional advisers may be required to suppress the negative search results, and where possible, remove the content.
For example, direct negotiation with publishers or managers of domain authority to hide the content from search engines often yields limited results relative to experts with an understanding of the legal ramifications. Building content that reflects the mission, vision and values of the business is helpful when addressing short-term issues or deploying a long-term strategy.
The last one is the most important defense because it is fundamental to counteracting negative reviews. To do this, the company should build its own website, create authentic social media profiles and share original content. If a negative search result appears on the first page, the company should increase its efforts by posting timely technical content that will shift the ranking of the negative result to the next page. It is imperative to monitor digital presence as it continuously changes and manage the negative results by using appropriate SEO tools.
Understanding online reputation management assets
The most obvious online reputation management asset is the content on the company's website. When someone searches for the company or its brand name on Google, the first link, in most cases, is the company's website. Moreover, Google also appears in certain organic site links for free when the algorithms have clarity on the architecture of the website. This will direct the information consumer to the most relevant company website subpage. Therefore, it is important to have relevant content on these subpages. Meta tags and meta descriptions are also important for organic search engine optimization.
There are a number of inorganic methods in which a company acquires ORM assets, including managed assets (social media profiles and their content), influential assets (information aggregators such as Wikipedia), earned assets (positive news articles in media and blogs), and paid assets (advertisements on Google search pages).
Managing online reputation management assets
All types of ORM assets should be managed together rather than separately to improve your ranking on Google's desktop and mobile algorithms. However, the assets that are managed in-house by the company (i.e., the company's own website and managed assets) should be improved on an ongoing basis and optimized when first deployed. Google and other search engines will automatically investigate some important components – such as URL, location of business, keyword strength, site encryption and important tags – from the website and social media handles, which provides more reason for managing these assets first.
After looking at these components, the most important consideration is whether the company is publishing engaging content. A website with images, videos and infographics to complement authentic text will generate more traffic, as these images would often appear on the first page of SERPs. Some other ways for a link to receive a higher ranking on search engines include publishing news with a hyperlink to third-party news websites, answering frequently asked questions, and adding jargon-free content with keywords that might commonly be used by the consumer.
As far as manageable assets are concerned, social media content should always be linked back to the company's website to improve its visibility. This also improves social media appearances on search engine results. Social media platforms often encourage user engagement because they improve the quality of backlinks on SERPs. Successful strategies on one social media channel may not correspond to another. Understanding the nuances of each platform is critical. For example, a video link from YouTube shared on Facebook will receive less engagement and views relative to the video file being uploaded directly into Facebook.
With earned assets, it is important to have a public relations or reputation expert professionals that manage digital content published on trade publications, newspapers, or broadcast stations. This team should be dynamic and attentive to displacing negative results by strategizing, making tactical decisions, and continuously monitoring the company's reputation. Finally, paid assets attract traffic to the website, with links on SERPs receiving the highest ranks possible.
A negative result on a search engine can have a damaging effect on a company, while a positive result can enhance its profile significantly. We don't get a second chance to make a first impression. Therefore, it is vitally important that a company manage its digital reputation assets seriously and carefully before it's too late to salvage its reputation.
Additional reporting by Max Freedman.