The Concept of Online Reputation
Generally, your online reputation consists of pretty much any information about your business which is available on the Internet. Some of it might be more prominent and visible to your prospective customers, but all of it is equally important. Among other things, your online reputation is typically made up from:
- Information controlled by you, such as your website, your posts on social media, or your press releases.
- Articles in local or national media (both positive and negative).
- Mentions in social media, including your profiles.
- Online reviews in a wide range of websites.
- Blog posts written by other people.
- YouTube videos which mention your business.
So there are quite a lot of ways that your potential customers can learn something about your business. It all depends on what information is more visible – people rarely look to the second and third search results pages when looking up your business on Google and other search engines, so even if some negative information exists there, it shouldn’t hurt your chances of acquiring new customers too much.
Still, you must know about all the negatives out there, as they might appear right in front of your customers’ eyes after a few weeks or months, so it’s best to address all the negative issues as soon as they appear.
It all seems so tedious, doesn’t it? Is your online reputation really worth all the effort of dealing with it? Yes, yes it is. Read on to learn all the reasons why.
Why Does Your Online Reputation Matter?
The Power of a Single Review
To begin with, the online reviews and other mentions of your business which are freely available online have a direct influence on two things: visibility and trust, both of which are key factors to the number of new customers you’ll be able to acquire.
Since reviews can be either positive or negative, increasing the visibility of your business might not always be a great thing. Let’s take United Breaks Guitars for example – it’s a music video created by a musician whose guitar was damaged on a United Airlines flight.
The video went viral when it was uploaded to YouTube, spreading like wildfire when it hit Facebook and Twitter. The Times newspaper reported that within 4 days of the video being posted online, the stock price of the company fell by 10%, costing stockholders around $180 million in value.
So that’s quite a lot of public humiliation stemming from a single (although very creative) negative review.
The United Breaks Guitars video resulted in a few spin-offs, a book, and a new complaint resolution platform
The Sales Connection
A fairly recent survey conducted by Zendesk shows that positive or negative reviews found on the Internet influenced the buying decisions for 88% of consumers. While reviews make up only a part of your entire online reputation, they seem to have the largest influence on your potential customers, making review management a top priority for any business.
Let’s say you’re looking to grab a bite in Covent Garden, London, UK. After doing a quick result on Yelp (or any other review website), you’ll be sure to find multiple options with different review scores:
The list goes on and on
You’ll notice that while the first two places have a four star total score (which is fair by any standards), the third one, the Rock & Sole Plaice, is rated at 3.5 stars, which definitely raises some questions. After visiting the fish & chips place’s page, you’ll notice a handful of 1 to 3 star reviews with various problems ranging from slow service to high prices.
You’ll be much more likely to visit one of the first places or choose another option, won’t you?
Even if you don’t care about online reviews when choosing companies to do business with, most of your potential customers do care and do check what others have to say about you, so your review scores have a direct influence on your company’s ability to attract new customers.
Another important connection is one between the number of positive reviews and your ability to justify your pricing, especially in markets with very tight competition. A high number of happy previous customers will show a potential new one that your company is worth doing business with, even if your prices are a little higher than those presented by your competitors.
Search Engine Optimization
The link between reviews and SEO has caused plenty of discussions before. While Google will never disclose their complicated page ranking algorithms, recent research shows that reviews do have an influence on where your business will appear in the search results pages.
According to Moz, review signals make up nearly 10% of local search ranking factors, making them more important than social media and behavioral signals. Review signals include review quantity, velocity, diversity, and other factors which can all be influenced by you with proper online reputation management efforts.
Managing Your Online Reputation
Monitoring what people are saying about your business online is extremely important, but there are a few steps you have to take beforehand to be able to do that effectively. First of all, you should…
Claim Your Name
Once you’ve decided on your company or brand name, be sure to register all the relevant domain names and social media usernames to ensure there are no gaps in your branding strategy in the future. You don’t have to use every website you register on, but having your name protected can help you to avoid any unnecessary problems in the future.
New social networks and review websites pop up pretty much every other week, so make sure to do your research from time to time and claim your name on any new potentially popular websites.
On review websites such as Yelp, registering your business will allow you to reply to any positive and negative feedback and receive alerts whenever some new reviews are posted, allowing you to react to any developments in a timely manner.
You can even go as far as registering any negative domain or user names mentioning your business, such as brandnamesucks.com. Large companies do it to both protect their brand names and avoid the possibility of hate websites created by disgruntled customers.
That’s right – verizonsucks.com is owned by… Verizon (via DomainTools)
Track Your Online Reputation
There’s no need to be frantic about any potential reviews, since it’s not really difficult to manage your brand and reputation online. It starts with finding out where people are talking about you. Simply do a general Google search for the term “(company name) reviews”. This will pull up a list of sites where people are posting reviews about your company.
Knowing what keywords people are using to search for you will also assist you in determining where customers are posting reviews. Even if your business has several bad reviews, getting more positive ones will usually result in the good ones appearing higher in the search results. Getting the negatives into the second search results page will solve you quite a lot of trouble.
So how do you monitor your reputation on a day-to-day basis?
- Use Google search with specific time frames, for example “last 24 hours” or “last week” in conjunction with your company name and keywords regarding your products and services.
- Sign up for Google Alerts for these keywords, so that you will be notified by email when someone is discussing your company online.
- Take advantage of searches on Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, looking for keywords specific to your company.
- Look for reviews on specific sites and targeted communities, such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, Homestars, Epinions, Google+ Local, etc.
A simple search can help you to understand where and what people are talking about your business and even determine some of your local competition in the “People also search for” box.
Once you’ve established a list of places where people are talking about you, check them weekly. It only takes 5-10 minutes out of your day to keep up with this. You can even make it part of your daily routine. Most importantly, take the chance to respond to these views.
Most review websites will allow you to respond or contact the reviewer personally. Do it in a helpful, respectful manner, and if the customer has some real issues, reach out to them and suggest they contact you for resolution.
Even if your business doesn’t already participate in Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites and communities, as an owner or marketing department you should look into embracing them. Your customers are going to talk about your brand online even if you aren’t a part of it, so the best thing for everyone is for you to be an active participant and engage them in a friendly and helpful conversation.
Use the Tools at Your Disposal
In addition to the above mentioned Google Alerts or manual search on social media or review websites, there are quite a lot of tools which can help to make your life easier. For instance, you can use:
- Social Mention. It’s similar to the Google Alerts system, but focuses on social media networks, blogs, comments, and images (in addition to other media) instead.
- BoardReader. This tool will help you to find any mentions of your business in thousands of online discussion forums.
- Trackur. While this tool isn’t free, it will bring all the necessary alerts about your business into a single, easy to use dashboard.
So when you know where to look, it’s time to address both the positive and the negative reviews – the process will be quite different for these two groups.
Getting Excellent Reviews from Your Customers
An online review can make a huge difference for your business. Reading a positive review on Yelp or some other website might inspire a person to pick up the phone, call your business, and buy your product or schedule a service. On the other hand, reading a poor or lukewarm review might inspire that same potential customer to move onto the next business.
Needless to say, excellent online reviews can have a huge and valuable influence on a business’s bottom line. But how can you get your customers to give you excellent reviews? Short of the obvious steps, such as striving to provide the best customer service possible, you can use the below tips to help you get there.
Keep Your Brand Visible and Reachable Online
For customers to provide you with a positive online review, your business first has to have a visible online presence. An official website is a good start, but business pages on sites like Yelp and Google+ Local help too in addition to accounts on the most popular social media networks.
Having an account on Yelp, for instance, will give customers a good place to leave a review of your business, while social channels will give you yet another opportunity to solicit reviews from customers.
Let’s use one of the restaurants we looked up on Yelp as an example. If you Google for “Belgo Centraal”, here’s what you’ll get:
Notice the abundance of review platforms in addition to the official website, the address, and the map? You get all the information you need in the first page and can easily leave a review for the business after a positive or negative dining experience.
Pay Attention to Feedback Provided By Reviews
Customers will feel more inclined to leave reviews for your business online if they feel that their feedback is being received and taken seriously. Going through reviews on your Yelp page and responding to each one can go a long way toward inspiring new reviews.
If a review offers good feedback, thank the customer for their business and tell them they are welcome back anytime. If the review is poor, try to find out what you can do to make things right with the unhappy customer. New customers finding your business online will see the reviews and the feedback, and will be more inclined to leave a review because they know your business is paying attention.
A personal invitation to come back, acknowledgement of the staff, a very positive attitude, and a personal approach – all of these things will certainly influence the reviewer (and other people who read the review) to visit the restaurant.
Admit To Mistakes
Responding to poor reviews online is one thing, but try to bring that same “the customer is always right” mentality into your day-to-day operations. If a customer is unsatisfied with a product or service from your company, admit your mistakes and do your best to address the issue even before that negative online review gets posted.
Your customer will be surprised and impressed if you manage to make things right, and will be more likely to leave a positive review telling their story.
Make It Easy For Customers
Remember that modern customers are extremely busy, and if leaving feedback isn’t easy, they won’t do it. Luckily, there are numerous ways in which you can simplify the feedback process, from giving them numerous review sites to choose from to including a “leave us feedback” button on your website or in your emails.
Follow Up (But Don’t Be Too Pushy)
Following up with customers, whether by calling them after a service or sending them an email asking for feedback on a recent purchase, can be a great way to get online reviews. Just be careful not to be too pushy, or those reviews could end up being disgruntled and negative. Spamming a customer’s email account or calling them more than two times are among the best ways to get on their bad side.
So it might be all nice and easy when the reviews are creating a positive online reputation for your business, but you can’t expect it to stay this way forever, even if you provide top service to each and every customer.
Dealing with Negative Reviews
So you’ll receive a negative review sooner or later. Our first advice is not to freak out – it’s not the end of the world and it doesn’t mean that your competition will get all the business from now on. Here are a few tips on keeping a calm head and dealing with bad reviews on specialized websites and social media:
Have a plan. Since it’s very important to respond to any negative reviews in a timely manner, the job gets much easier if you already know what you’re going to do when you receive some bad feedback. You probably know about any issues your customers might face when doing business with you, so knowing what you’ll tell your customer while you’re fixing them can certainly help you in the long run.
Admit when you’re wrong. It’s simple as that – the review is already out there, so there’s no use in denying any problems presented by the customer. Telling them that you’re doing everything possible to make sure the issue never happens again is a great strategy, since you should always have your prospects in mind when writing a response to a negative review – more often than not, you already lost the customer who wrote the feedback.
Here’s a great example of turning negatives into positives – even if someone reads the review and sees the 1-star rating, the photographer’s response reassures any future customers that the issues won’t happen again (via Search Engine Land):
Be honest. Some reviewers will exaggerate or lie about their experiences, usually to get some freebies from you. If something’s in the review is misleading, you can always destroy the reviewer with some proof to deny their lies. This requires some skills though – not everyone can pen such a brilliant response as Kiren Puri, owner of the Bladebone Inn near Reading, UK.
It included phrases such as “you claim to be foodies but you started your meal with a bowl of chips” and “your parents appeared to be as embarrassed to be with you” – the customer who was looking for freebies or money off the bill was completely obliterated by the response which went viral and gathered plenty of positive feedback. The review and the response have been deleted from TripAdvisor since it happened, but you still can read the full story on Eater.
Don’t ignore them. Negative reviews won’t go away by themselves – you have a unique chance to turn negatives into positives by replying to them. Don’t miss it.
Don’t wash your dirty laundry in public. If possible, always be sure to take handling of the complaint to a more private medium, such as email or telephone. Even if you end up solving the issues successfully, any freebies or gifts you end up giving to the customer might inspire others to come up with some negative feedback as well.
Don’t threaten with legal action. Some businesses go the extra mile when dealing with negative reviews posted on the Internet. However, if your “extra mile” means “threatening the reviewer to sue them”, you shouldn’t expect it to end well.
There have been quite a lot of similar instances before, but the legal threats by real estate company CLV Group to a former tenant who reviewed the business on Google and Yelp illustrate the outcomes of such actions pretty well. While the reviews were removed by the worried customer, the story was caught by major news outlets, including CBC News and Huffington Post.
It didn’t do much to improve the company’s online reputation in the end, did it?
Your Online Reputation Is Important
Since nearly 90% of your potential customers care what others are saying about your brand or company and go out of the way to look up for reviews on the Internet before actually doing business with you, managing your online reputation is vital if you’re looking to be successful in acquiring new sales.
It’s equally important for both local bricks-and-mortar businesses and nationwide or worldwide online ones – monitoring and addressing reviews, social media posts and comments, videos, and blog posts should become as usual as checking your email.
Monitoring It Is Simple
If your potential customers can find information about your business online, so can you – especially when you can use a wide range of available tools to keep an eye on what’s being said about your company anywhere on the Internet.
You don’t want to hear about any negative issues that are being discussed without your knowledge from a partner or a customer – constant monitoring of your online reputation will certainly help you to avoid that.
Reviews Require Excellent Customer Service
Online reviews make up a significant part of your entire online reputation, so dealing with them is a huge part of the process. Addressing positive and negative reviews need different approaches, but hands-on experience by other businesses out there shows that responding to them is pretty much always a better option than leaving them be.
Look at reviews as an extension to your customer service – if you do a great job at addressing any questions or issues via telephone or email, you won’t have any problems doing that on various online review platforms. Remember that it’s all public though, so any failures there can end up hurting your business even more.