GETTING A GRIP ON YOUR SMALL BUSINESS’S ONLINE REPUTATION

WHAT IS REPUTATION MANAGEMENT

Reputation Management is the practice of attempting to influence public perception of a business or organization. It is also publicly acting to correct errors in service or to provide context for situations to achieve customer resolution. In its most common form, Reputation Management is part public relations and part digital services—while much of it takes place in the online forum via customer reviews, it can also have legs in general media, depending upon the business, its challenges, and its target audience.

Reputation Management is complex and there are agencies whose sole focus is that. This post will specifically address online reputation management as it pertains to web-based business reviews. The web is a tremendous source of information that helps consumers find the product or service they are looking for efficiently and effectively. Increasingly, our culture relies on online reviews to help direct their buying choices. As such, it is increasingly important for businesses to monitor those reviews pertaining to their business and engage with customers.

WHY REPUTATION MANAGEMENT

Social Media has made it incredibly easy for customers to influence public perception of a brand (positively or negatively). The nature of social media emboldens users while de-humanizing businesses, making it relatively easy to eviscerate a business online with a few strokes of the keys. It’s important to remember that product and service reviews are by their nature subjective. They can be incomplete, unfair, lack context, and be completely one-sided, but may still offer value to both the community and the business.  Poor reviews can offer tremendous insight into where and how a business needs improvement.

It is human nature to complain about a negative experience. As such, negative reviews can outweigh the positive—not always, but they can. The problem is that many are no longer complaining to the business at the point of sale—customers are instead voicing their discontent on-line, robbing businesses of the opportunity to make things right before customers leave the place of business. This creates both a challenge and an opportunity for businesses to turn a negative into a positive after the fact.

HOW TO HANDLE REPUTATION MANAGEMENT


Social media and online forums are virtually unavoidable these days (pun intended).  Business owners can choose to engage or not.  Online reviews can be an emotional roller coaster for small businesses and the pain of one negative review can weigh heavier than the high from 30 positive ones. It’s also a time-consuming endeavor that small businesses—those most critically affected by reviews-- often don’t have the human resources and financial wherewithal to manage consistently and well.

However, when a business chooses to get involved in the community’s conversation, they help to shape the dialog. They gain a measure of control over their business’s reputation, resolve mistakes, demonstrate a commitment to professionalism, and mitigate negative feedback. They also learn where their business is successful and where it may be experiencing short-comings, allowing the pro-active business to capitalize on current success and initiate improvements.

To succeed in reputation management, the smart business owner is prepared to enter the fray. If they haven’t researched and hired a professional to tackle the challenge, they know the 8 keys to effective reputation management that prepare them for success.

8 KEYS TO EFFECTIVE REPUTATION MANAGEMENT

1.    BE KNOWLEDGEABLE
To effectively manage your business’s online reputation, you need to know where people are talking about it. Do your research. Claim and manage your business pages on Google My Business, Yelp for Business Owners, Trip Advisor, Facebook, etc. Any sites that you are using for social media purposes or as it pertains to your industry.

2.    BE CONSISTENT
Perhaps the most important key to reputation management is consistency. For larger businesses with a dedicated social media manager or reputation manager, the rule is a 24-hour response window to customer feedback— if not sooner.  For smaller businesses, scheduling time weekly (or twice weekly) can be incredibly helpful in addressing negative situations quickly, diffusing them, and further communicating the “care factor”. Download the review site apps to your tablet or phone and check them according to your schedule.  It can be tempting to check them more frequently (i.e. when you hear that notification “ding!”), but it’s best to wait for your scheduled time so you are in the right frame of mind to tackle the feedback effectively.

3.    BE SUCCINCT
Don’t get sucked into a debate in a social media forum.  When responding to a positive review, keep it short and professional. Yes, you do want to respond to the positive reviews—thank individuals for being a loyal customer and taking the time to write a positive review about your business. When responding to a negative review, keep your response concise and professional, and on-topic—briefly addressing the complaints. Don’t make long-winded excuses. In cases where the review necessitates a longer response, ask to contact the reviewer directly to provide their issue with greater attention. Yelp allows you to message any reviewer directly without needing to request their information.

4.    BE OBJECTIVE
Don’t respond to a negative review while you are emotional, angry, offended, etc. Acknowledge the specific feedback that the customer provided and focus on addressing that--professionally.

5.    SAY THANK YOU
Offer your appreciation for their business. For a positive review, once is enough. When responding to a negative review, it can help to say thank you at both the beginning and the end of your response.

6.    SAY SORRY
If your business made a mistake—own it. Apologize sincerely. Offer a way to make it right for the customer (see BE POSITIVE).

7.    BE POSITIVE
Turn a negative into a positive. Emphasize the importance of their business and their feedback. Mention how this feedback is going to help your staff/product/service improve.

8.    BE DIPLOMATIC
As a business owner, you know that customers don’t always understand the context of a situation or the challenges your business faces each day. While it is SOMETIMES okay to offer an explanation or clarification, as a rule, you don’t want to go there. Don’t get dragged into making excuses or justifying errors. And please-- don’t blame the customer (even when they could have taken steps to prevent a negative experience). Remember, BE SUCCINCT.  Many times a customer wants their opinion to be heard and acknowledged. Your succinct, gracious, and diplomatic response to their review may be enough. Use your best judgment when deciding whether a customer deserves a complimentary service.  Sometimes a freebie won’t improve a situation, so use them judiciously.

Reputation Management is complex and there is much more to the intricacies of how to execute it well. Hiring a professional is usually a good idea. However, the 8 Keys to Effective Reputation Management are a terrific guideline for those business owners starting out and navigating the world of online reviews alone.

Author
Danielle Reilly Weed is a marketing and public relations specialist. Over the last 20 years, she has  worked with agencies serving Fortune 500 and 100 companies creating campaigns with relevance and impact. Her company, Media Tonic, offers full-service brand development, digital marketing, marketing, and public relations services.