Simply put – yes, you do. If you are in business, in government or a non-profit or charitable organization, your online reputation is subject to change at any time. The harsh truth is that countless complaint forums and sites exist for the express purpose of airing primarily negative comments about entities and individuals. Often these portals are used by unscrupulous individuals, sometimes even by former employees or colleagues, sometimes competitors or others who are just seeking to cause trouble. The sites also provide a valuable resource for people to check out products and services before making a commitment. Reputation Management is a broad area and so this article will only focus on the basics.
The advent of the internet and its rapid progression as the mammoth, interactive Yellow Pages of our time have made it necessary to monitor what people are saying about you, your business or your brand online. The time frame for responses to complaints and accusations has been significantly shortened. Third party review sites have been created for the sole purpose of forming a community of people that express the positive and (mostly) negative experiences they have had with a company so that others can make informed purchasing decisions.
However, the truth is that people are much more likely to post a negative review than a positive one, even if the complaint is about something that was out of your control. Exaggerations and misinformation have the potential to reach unlimited amounts of people in a matter of hours, unless these reviews are monitored and responded to. It is also true that many people have the tendency to believe a false negative over a true positive. All of which can negatively impact the amount of traffic you get from your online marketing strategies.
The most common forums and third party review sites to keep track of are:
- Trust Pilot
- And other niche-specific review sites
If you have not been monitoring mentions of your business on search engine result pages, (tsk, tsk), pull up your browser and perform a search for your name or your business’s name. What are the results? Hopefully they are not too bad. Undoubtedly, there are some negative comments or criticisms, no matter how spectacular your overall reputation. Even a small number of comments have the potential to negatively impact your business. However, there are steps you can take to lessen that impact.
If things are worse than that and you feel like you just got punched in the stomach, take a deep breath and continue reading. While some of the things said online can be hurtful, offensive or downright false, it is important not to respond emotionally. Sometimes they are true. Either way, keep a cool head and approach it like the professional you are. Now that you know the truth about what’s circulating, you can do something to fix it. Realizing that something isn’t perfect always hurts, but that realization is also a gift because now you have the knowledge and the power to control it in the future.
Continue your research, but don’t respond to anything yet. The most important thing to find out is which websites come up when you search for your brand. If there are any first page results from review sites with negative comments, keep track of them. Then perform other long-tail searches to discover other terms people are using to search that come up with negative results. Identify where these negative comments are being posted – on your own site, on third party review sites, on blogs or forums? – and create a list. Read what the comments say and objectively review them. Is there something that is being reiterated through most of the comments? Is there some truth to what is being said? Chances are that the person is writing a review because your customer service was not able to help them when the issue arose. While there are some professions where negative reviews are the norm – lawyers, doctors, car salespeople and dealerships, for example – many problems arise from poor quality customer service. Many negative comments are left out of frustration because the company failed to help resolve the issue. Be brutally honest with yourself. If there is some truth to it, discover the source and correct it. If not, stay calm and set about the task of correcting the misinformation.
Stay Aware and Approach Professionally
It is important to set up an alert system with something like Google Alerts (it’s free!). This way you are notified anytime there is a mention made of your name or brand online. These alerts can notify you about both positive and negative reviews, results, posts and any other reference to you or your company that is made online. However, it is important to realize that there is no truly reliable system of alerts except your own vigilance. Google Alerts will help you keep track, but cannot be fully relied upon to catch everything for you. The best way to be vigilant is to regularly conduct name brand searches and identify any posts that contain recent negative reviews.
If you come across false information, you can attempt to contact the Webmaster or blog host and ask them to remove it. However, this is not a surefire way of combating negative posts, so don’t dedicate too much time to it. This approach leaves you at the mercy of the site owner and won’t guarantee results. Instead, focus on the important aspects of reputation management – responding to the negative reviews and publishing and promoting positive content that will compete with and ultimately push down the negative results (including the older ones) that appear on the first page of search engine results.
When you are responding to recent negative comments, acknowledge the reviewer’s frustration. Make it clear that you understand the problem and that you want to fix it. Provide a telephone number and email address so that they can choose their preferred method of contact and ask them to get in touch with you to discuss the issue further. Keep it short and sweet. This shows the reviewer that you care about their poor experience and that you want to do something about it. This also means that other community members will view the negative comment in a better light because you have demonstrated your awareness and concern about it through exceptional customer service. If the customer does contact you, apologize for the problem, explain how it is being corrected and/or offer some sort of gift, offer or discount as compensation.
TIPS YOU CAN’T AFFORD TO IGNORE:
- Don’t harass people to contact you. Send the comment once and leave it up to the other person to respond.
- Don’t argue over semantics. Acknowledge that there is an issue and take the rest of the conversation offline. Google uses something we call the “freshness factor” to rank websites. By continually posting back and forth, you will only increase the chances of that comment gaining visibility.
- Not only that, but responding in that fashion can make you look insecure or guilty.
- Do not respond to comments that are more than a week or so old. Again, this has to do with the “freshness factor.” Responding to negative comments that are older than this, especially if they are not on the first page of results, will only bring them back into the limelight. This is something that you do not want to do. Remember that most people do not click past the first page of results, so focus your attention solely on recent comments that are displayed on the first page.
How To Combat Older Posts
If current posts are not as much of a concern as the older ones, do not respond to them. Instead, follow these methods to diminish their visibility. This will also work for current posts.
Target the keywords and phrases that people use to find negative information. Include such phrases as “Company Name Scam,” “Company Name Reviews,” and “Company Name Complaints.” Then write new, fresh content such as articles, blog posts and press releases that contain positive information about your company. Make sure they are written in the third person. This is important because some of the websites you will use to distribute these articles frown on overly promotional content.
It may be difficult to twist these terms into something positive, but remember that it can be done! (For example, if you are a travel agency and you’re targeting “Company Name Scams,” you can write articles about the scams people try to pull on folks that are traveling abroad. For Company Name Reviews, you could review airlines or hotels). Then, syndicate them throughout the web and build strong links for these pages so that they can compete with other results on the first page of Google.
Also create press releases that detail positive things your company has done, including any relevant actions that have been taken to correct the cause of people’s complaints or issues. Syndicate them throughout the web as well. Identify opportunities within social media and set up accounts. Use them to interact with your audience, build credibility and authority. Publish articles that display your expertise. Link to articles by other authorities in your niche, as well. Promoting your content on social media will help to build natural, organic links to your content much more quickly. The more content you can produce, implement and build links for, the quicker you will push negative results off of the first SERP. That is the ultimate goal of a reputation management content strategy.
You can also have your current customers or clients create testimonials about your business. These can be written or, preferably, recorded in video format, then distributed through the appropriate channels, such as TubeMogul.
Because the amount and impact of negative reviews will differ for every business, putting a time limit on how long a reputation management campaign takes is difficult to say. Generally, it will take anywhere from one month to six, sometimes more. However, no matter how long it takes, there will come a time where you have pushed all of the negative results of off Google’s first page of search engine result pages. Success! Then it is time to transition to reputation maintenance. This means that you consistently check your Google Alerts, perform regular brand name searches and respond to negative comments, (maybe even say thank you for the positive ones!), and generally keep on top of what is being said about you and respond accordingly.
Monitoring what is being said about you online is imperative to maintaining a positive online reputation. It is a great way to assure your customers that you are listening and that you care when the experience they had doesn’t match their expectation.
For more specific examples of how you can make Reputation Management work for your business, and some more specific strategies to use, check out Reputation Management for Politicians, Dealerships, and Attractions.
If you are struggling to manage your online reputation, contact us for a free, no obligation consultation to see how we can help!