Back when the world was less interconnected, companies protected their reputations using traditional means like word of mouth, print media, snail mail and television advertising. The speed of today’s digital environment, thanks to mobile devices and social media, requires businesses to be almost instantaneously responsive to negative publicity about their brands. The bigger the business, the more mentions it generates in cyberspace. Although businesses are getting savvier about handling viral customer complaints delivered through social media, they may not be as quick to react to a damaging online review tucked deep in a local directory.
A reputation management firm helps a business to be proactive about guarding its online presence. By evaluating the competition, monitoring negative publicity and taking timely and appropriate action, reputation management firms manage problems as they happen and prevent new problems. Of course, not all businesses have the resources to hire a reputation management firm. Companies that want to do this work in-house should start by focusing on five essential online priorities.
According to Wanderful Media, over half of customers use a retailer’s website to research products when they’re inside of a store and 94 percent of those that do in-store research use a smartphone. Also, 62 percent of those who do in-store online research purchase the product from the store. For businesses, this statistic means websites have to be optimized for mobile in addition to containing a compelling brand message. Google has found 57 percent of visitors will not recommend a business that offers a poor mobile experience, showing that companies lacking a good mobile experience are hurting their reputations.
On social networks, companies should thank their customers for positive feedback and react quickly to negativity or complaints. Showing empathy for the customer, offering regular updates about when the problem will be fixed and posting an apology for any legitimate inconveniences are the best ways to respond to prevent negativity from permanently damaging the brand. Many tools can help small businesses monitor their social media mentions. For example, HootSuite offers both free and subscription options for social media monitoring, or companies that use Salesforce can use Radian 6 for social media monitoring.
Dimensional Research survey found 90 percent of customers are influenced by online reviews. Negative reviews on a company website, on national sites like Yelp and on local review sites can significantly damage a company’s ability to attract new customers and retain the ones they have. For this reason, in addition to monitoring social media for negativity, companies should monitor review sites to see what’s being posted about them. They should also respond quickly and appropriately to negative reviews.
Although newspaper reviewers are still influential in certain markets, many bloggers have also become sources of good buzz for companies. Companies shouldn’t hesitate to send product samples to influential bloggers, to ask them to share coupons or promotions and to comment regularly on any relevant posts. Courting bloggers can be a great way to appeal to new customers and engaging bloggers who write negative items can lessen reputation damage.
Website design seems to have a major effect on search results, thanks to recent Google algorithm changes. Essential content should be above the fold, and the design should enable easy navigation for customers. Also, faulty redirects and broken links must regularly be corrected. Companies that maintain their blogs have an advantage because they’re providing useful content and engaging their customers. Additionally, regularly updated blogs are a great way to keep content fresh and engage customers in the comments.
Companies should set up Google Alerts that will ping them when content mentioning their names or products are posted online. Also, businesses with a strong local presence should maintain their Google Places listing and correct incorrect mentions of their business name, address and phone number. Finally, companies should examine websites that are at the top of the rankings to see which competitor strategies they can adapt for their content.
About the Author: Phyllis Reed is a marketing consultant that has worked with companies of all sizes. She recommends reputation management services from ReputationX.com.