The internet has changed the business landscape. Not only has it changed the way each of us conducts business, but it’s also changed how customers relate to us. In many ways the internet has made life easier for the customer while making things more difficult for the businesses that serve them.

This is largely due to how damaging online negative opinions can be. Businesses have always depended on customer recommendations, but in the past, the reach and speed of word-of-mouth limited the damage radius of a single negative customer experience. Today, a single online review can ruin a business under the right circumstances.

In order to survive the nastiness of wronged customers (whether those wrongs are real or imagined), every business needs to be aware of, and actively trying to protect, their online reputation. From solopreneurs to major corporations, no business or venture can afford to neglect online reputation management.

Here at Podium, we know that, for those who aren’t online reputation management experts, it’s easier said than done. It’s an entire discipline unto itself, and one that many professional individuals and small businesses may not think they have the time or budget to deal with properly. The good news is, there are some basic tactics that can be implemented easily without adding dramatically to your workload, even if you’re new to online reputation management.

This guide will show you the basics, teach you how to learn from negative feedback, and how to give your company online reputation management and a positive online image. Browse a specific category by clicking on any of the quick links below:

  1. Developing Your Reputation Management Strategy
  2. Improving Your Online Customer Relationships
  3. Managing Your Reputation

1. Developing Your Online Reputation Management Strategy

3.3 stars, on average, is the minimum star rating of a business consumers would consider engaging with.

planning your online reputation management strategy

The first step in your online reputation management strategy should be an evaluation of your online image. Tracking your reputation is an important part of reputation management, and ideally, it’s a practice that you’ll continue once your primary reputation remediation efforts are finished. That’s because staying on the right track requires constant vigilance A little bit of neglect can turn into a serious problem very quickly.

You’ll start with some basic searches, primarily using your brand name as the keywords. Plug it into a search engine, and see what comes up. As you look through the search engine results pages (SERPS), you’re looking to answer a couple of questions:

What are the most pressing issues? Are there one or two items that stand above the rest?

  • How extensive is the damage? Is it a few links on the page, or does it cover the top 20 or 30?
  • Is there defamation coming from customer reviews or published content (articles, news posts, etc.)?
  • Is it accurate? Can the claims be refuted?
  • Is anything positive cutting through the noise?
  • What kind of online presence does our company have?
  • What kind of social media presence does the company have?
  • Where are the brand’s customers? Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, other?

Once these questions have been answered, you’re ready to start putting together a strategy for answering the concerns. You start with “What” and then move onto “Why.”

  • Is there anything obvious about the company’s presence that can be corrected or improved quickly?
  • Is the company out of touch with customer experiences?
  • How can the company better collect customer feedback?
  • Can the company directly address the most egregious cases of defamation?
  • What can the company use to bury negative search results?

Ultimately, an effective online reputation management campaign will address each of these and will include SEO tactics, content marketing, Voice of the Customer (or similar feedback strategies), and a willingness to make changes if they are truly needed. We’ll step through each of these below.

2. Improving Your Online Customer Relationships

77% of consumers said they would be willing to leave a review if asked by a business.

More Is Better

The most common reason for needing online reputation management is disgruntled customers–and with good reason. 3.3 stars, on average, is the minimum star rating of a business consumers would consider engaging with. Whether it’s a single negative review outweighing a handful of positive ones, or a slew of critics amongst thousands of reviews, the first step is the same: start asking more of your customers for feedback.

If the critiques aren’t an accurate reflection of your services or products, then the additional feedback will help drown out the negativity. Otherwise, collecting more reviews will help identify where the problem area is, and help you know how to address it. Either way, more reviews will be better.

As you seek to collect feedback, you want to do what you can to guide the feedback process and make it as simple for customers or clients as possible. The easier it is for them to leave feedback, the more feedback you’ll receive. If you provide them a way to give you feedback directly, then you have a chance to address concerns before they’re pushed in front of the public eye.

Likewise, giving them healthy places to vent (like customer service or support forums) will help cut down on the number of high ranking negative reviews.

When it comes to asking customers to leave a review, here are a few ways you can do it:

  • Train your employees to ask customers to leave a review as part of the payment process.
  • Integrate online reviews, or a similar product into your point-of-sale system to automatically ask each customer for a review of your business.
  • Open the conversation by asking open ended questions such as, “Did you find what you were looking for today?”, “How would you rate our customer service?”, “What kind of experience did you have with our brand/product/service during your visit?”

Responding to Feedback

One important lesson that anyone using reputation management needs to learn, is that addressing a problem is better than letting it fester. A negative review can be dealt with if you respond to it properly. Leave it alone, though, and it offers its unfavorable opinion unchallenged. The key is knowing how to respond.

Done properly, you can sometimes turn critics around and turn them into loyal customers. Barring that, you can show other customers that you care whether or not your customers have a good experience.

Start by training whoever will be responding to handle complaints tactfully. Showing genuine concern and care for the customer is something that Greg Bullock of Theraspecs encourages. “Difficult conversations with a frustrated customer can turn sour very quick, but our team has developed a cadence for delivering meaningful support with sincere care even in instances where we are unable to reach an optimal outcome for the customer,” he says.

Nathan Sansby of FM Outsource agrees that taking responsibility by displaying remorse is the best tactic. “Own whatever lead to a customer leaving that poor review,” he says, “apologize, and do your best to turn the situation around.”

In your efforts to grease the squeaky wheels, don’t neglect those who sing your praises. According to Sansby, it’s best to “avoid ONLY replying to negative reviews. Show customers leaving good reviews some love too to keep them coming back.” By responding to both positive and negative reviews, you prove that you’re listening, and you care about what kind of experience customers have.

Course Correcting

Some critics will say something of value, offering an honest critique of your brand, and those shouldn’t be ignored. When you receive negative feedback, consider it and determine if it’s an indication of a real problem. If it is, be willing to make any necessary changes.

This is the tactic that’s endorsed by Mazdak Mohammadi of blueberrycloud. “If we’re able to use negative reviews to make ourselves better, then we can continue to grow as a business and serve our customers better.” Not only can you potentially change the mind of the critic, but you will also ensure there won’t be any more of those complaints in the future.

3. Managing Your Reputation

63% of Podium customers say online reviews have helped them improve business processes.

reading the paper

Addressing Dishonesty

Once you have honest reviews handled, you’ll want to address anything that’s inaccurate or dishonest, whether that’s a review, a piece of content, or something in the news. Again, you’re best served by tackling the problem head-on.

“If the top-ranking troublesome page contains lies, inadequate or offensive info that is misleading to our client’s customers,” says Anastasiia Roshchyk of Danevero Inc., “we always contact the site’s owner to ask them to delete the content. If they are not ready to cooperate, we report them to an authoritative body.”

Don’t tolerate unfair and unlawful defamation of your brand. If there’s something out there that’s untrue, there are things that can be done.

SEO

Effective SEO is something every business should be practicing, regardless of online reputation, but it’s even more important when there’s negativity about your brand online. The primary objective of using SEO in online reputation management is burying the negative with the positive. This can be done a number of different ways, depending on what you can commit to the effort, including link building, content marketing, social media marketing, and more.

Focus on strategic keywords, and do your best to own them. For most brands, these will be keywords related to their brand name, so take ownership of what’s yours, and don’t let anyone else steer the public conversation. This may sound a bit more daunting than it really is. For most successful reputation management strategies, it’s a gradual effort designed to replace the top 30 results, one page at a time.

It’s the way that Roshchyk does it, as “people usually glance over the top two or three pages of search results, so the rest of the pages are mostly left unnoticed.” So once you’ve cleaned up those first three SERPS, you can start to rest easy.

Content Marketing

A significant portion of your SEO efforts can be accomplished with high-quality content. Kevin Pike of Rank Fuse puts it this way: “The key to success in any online reputation management is to be proactive with original content. Steer clear of copying and pasting the same boilerplate copy, same pictures, and same videos. What people (and search engines) want is something different and something new.”

By offering search engines something more valuable (and more positive) to find, you can effectively drown out the negativity that’s damaging your reputation.

Showcasing the Reviews You Want

You’re also likely to see a lot of improvement if you take steps to emphasize the reviews you want seen. Try linking to reviews or review sites you want seen to build link authority and push those to the top of SERPs, says Joe Goldstein of Contractor Calls. “Simply Google your company’s name, pick the sites that you would like to come up first, and link to them from your website. If your HomeAdvisor profile has a few good reviews but you’d rather people don’t spend much time on your Yellowpages profile, link to your HomeAdvisor profile from your contact, about, or reviews page.”

Using tactics like these can boost your SEO and help bury the negativity, as well as positively influence those who search for your brand.

Tactics to Avoid

Not every reputation management tactic is worth trying. Some are just as likely to hurt your reputation as they are to help it. These “black hat” tactics won’t do you any good in the long run, says Roshchyk: “trying to bribe owners of top-ranking sites, ignor[ing] customers’ complaints, manipulating search results with spam techniques, trying to slander the top-ranking pages, etc.–it just won’t get you anywhere, so it’s not worth trying.”

She adds that no amount of digital magic will save a company from poor customer service. “If our client’s customer service cannot be improved, there’s nothing we can do to save their reputation.”

Implementing the above tactics (and avoiding the unsavory ones) can help you recover your reputation, and start winning over new customers. As mentioned earlier, though, many businesses and professionals struggle to give reputation management the attention and capital it needs. For those who don’t feel like they can handle the job in-house, there’s a welcome alternative.

At Podium, helping local businesses offer convenient customer interactions is what we do. 92% of our customers say that positive online reviews make the sale easier, and 73% of our clients have seen a dramatic improvement in SEO. We have the expertise (if that wasn’t already obvious) and the tools to help any brand overcome negative attention and build customer trust.

Want to learn more? Check out our demo to see why Podium is trusted by thousands to get more Google reviews, Facebook reviews, more insights, and more customers.