Reputation Management: The Downside of Arguing Online

Reputation Management

If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you love your business and will defend it against any and all naysayers. However, when this type of give and take goes online in the form of an argument, there is a good chance that the end result is going to detract from the perception of your business. Here are three examples:

  • You’re right – Being right may not be as important as the nature of the discourse between the company and the person posting the negative content. In a typical argument, particularly where an agreement isn’t likely to happen, emotions tend to escalate on both sides with verbiage that doesn’t reflect well on either party. A raging online argument tends to bring in more onlookers, some of whom may also want to get into the act. As a result, you’ll have a conversation that stays online for all to see and that may cast you and your company in an unflattering light. Instead of getting into an online shouting match, respectfully ask that the conversation be taken out of public view and handled either in person, on the phone or via email.
  • You’re wrong – If you can lose an argument while being right, you can definitely lose one if you’re wrong and look worse in the process. In a situation like this, the person who posted the original complaint may start soliciting other people for support, which will put the issue in front of an increasing number of people. It gets worse if other people who have experienced the same thing join the battle. While emotional reactions are a natural result of the feeling that your business is being attacked, if the person posting the content is right, your best course of action will be to apologize for whatever went wrong and take immediate steps to let that person know that you will rectify the situation as quickly as possible
  • You’re seen as being combative either way – Generally speaking, the most loyal consumers are those that have a positive overall experience with the companies and brands from which they make purchases. Whether you’re right or wrong, an argument that makes you look petty, condescending and unsympathetic toward your customers may have people looking for another place to do their business.

Businesses are now online, whether they’ve put themselves there or not. While there are many advantages to a virtual presence, there is also a greater chance that someone is going to say something nasty. If that happens, before doing anything else remember these three words, “never argue online”.

 

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Increased Visibility and Reputation Management for Local Businesses

internet reputation

Online searches for local businesses continue to escalate, especially with users of mobile devices, which provide visibility in a way that traditional media marketers could only dream about. With this increased visibility, however, comes the possibility that negative comments about local businesses can be seen as well, which can have searchers that found a business first looking for secondary options.

Take, for example, two hypothetical pizza places in a small tourist town. They both have fine websites and similar products, but when searches are initiated for local pizza the second listing in the results for one of the shops is a post that complains about slow service and a soggy crust. The listings for the other pizza place include a newspaper article about participation in a local fundraiser, a blog about local events and a positive review from the local food critic. If people that are visiting that town vacation are going to go out for pizza one time during their stay, which shop do you think they’re going to choose for pizza?

This example brings up 4 important points about reputation management for local businesses:

  • You’re a sitting duck if you don’t take steps to control your business’ reputation now – Negative comments can surface at any time, and if the only listing you have in local search is a website linked to the name of your business, a negative review that also mentions the business name will likely sit right below it when people do an online search. This can be avoided by developing a presence on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as creating profiles on the sites where people do their searches; Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
  • Engage locally – Being a participant or, better yet, a sponsor in local events can generate goodwill toward your business as well as coverage by local media, which can show up in search listings when your business is mentioned specifically. Generating press releases about participation in local events can also result in visible listings.
  • Build an audience with your social media pages – Don’t settle for setting up static social media pages that basically function as an online postcard. Instead, build your audience through promotions, coupons and special offers that are available only on these sites. Look for posts and comments on these sites so that you can answer questions and engage with people who are reaching out to your business.
  • Set up a blog – You can extend your reach into your community and occupy search listings with a blog. Topics can include anything of interest in the local area, whether you’re writing about kids going back to school, a local play, seasonal recipes, or local events. Just be sure that the blog is conversational and avoid posting anything that sounds like a sales pitch.

The most important factor of engaging in reputation management for your local business is that you can’t opt out of it for one essential reason; if you’re not controlling the conversation and messaging about your company, someone else can do it with a single negative post.

 

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Making Lemonade out of Lemons when Negative Content Surfaces

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Negative content can surface on the web in a wide variety of forms including complaints made directly to the company, bad reviews, and less than optimal conversations on social on social media sites. While you never want to see anything negative about your company and steps should be taken immediately to mitigate potential damage, the way you deal with critical content can potentially improve operations as well as the way potential customers perceive your business.

  • Fixing real problems – Negative content can surface as either a single person or multiple parties airing a grievance. In both cases, the problem should be assessed for validity, which will be increasingly likely as more people participate in the conversation. By listening to these conversations, you can use the feedback to make improvements in areas that are problematic for customers, whether that means discussing the issue with an employee that is generating complaints, or fixing a weakness in one of your products.
  • Showing how the business deals with tough customers – Any business that stays in operation long enough will have a database with a large percentage satisfied customers. It’s a numbers game, however, and the more customers a business has, the higher the likelihood that at some point there will be a tough customer (or two) in the bunch. When that person starts posting valid, vague or non-sensical complaints online, an opportunity exists to show that your business engages with its customers in a constructive and respectful manner, regardless of the tone of the complaint. Following up the engagement with a resolution that closes the issue, will show that your business is responsive as well.
  • Improved handling of in-store complaints – It’s not uncommon for businesses to deal with complaints at their physical locations without much of a plan, which may result in the issue being taken online if, for example, a problem expressed by a customer is mis-handled. This can occur by having the wrong person address the complaint, by making the customer feel that the problem isn’t the concern of the business, or in a variety of other ways that don’t give the customer any level of satisfaction. Instead, the policies and actions that are applied to resolving online problems can also be used to deal with complaints that are made in the physical location of the business.

Negative content can be used as a test to improve your business. Should it surface, first consider a response that will benefit the business, and then go into action.

 

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Reputation Management: 3 Things Business Owners can Learn from Derek Jeter

With the final game of the season against the arch-rival Boston Red Sox, Derek Jeter finished a career that many feel will never be duplicated and will surely lead to a first-ballot election to baseball’s Hall of Fame. Along the way, Mr. Jeter set positive examples in a variety of areas that apply as much in business as they do on the field. To highlight one of these examples, business owners can learn 3 things in terms of managing their company’s reputations from Mr. Jeter’s career as a Yankee.

  • Deliver a consistently excellent product – On the public side, Jeter’s product was his play on the field. His other product/service was his team leadership, most of which takes place out of the public eye. In both areas Jeter always delivered a consistently excellent product that earned respect from management, teammates, fans, and the press.
  • Treat your co-workers, management, and target market/audience with respect – Beyond his play on the field and team leadership, throughout his career Jeter treated the game as well as everyone around him with respect, a commodity that often runs in short supply in the rarified air of professional sports and contracts in the tens of millions of dollars. For example, Jeter referred to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner as Mr. Steinbrenner and his first manager in the Big Leagues, Joe Torre, as Mr. Torre. Referring to both of them as “Mr.” didn’t end with his rookie season either – he addressed both people the same way throughout their time with the Yankees.
  • Don’t get in trouble for issues that are outside the scope of your business – Athletes getting into trouble off of the field is almost a cliché, but these misadventures carry into the business world as well, with the firestorm started by Chick-fil-A President and COO Dan Cathy regarding gay marriage serving as one cautionary tale among many. While playing baseball under the bright lights of the “City that never sleeps” has proven to be too much of a temptation for celebrities of all kinds, Mr. Jeter’s off-field activities hardly raised an eyebrow if and when he was seen around town.

When it comes to athletes and reputation management, the word “problematic” can be applied to the vast majority of headlines. As a counterpoint, Derek Jeter’s 20 year career with the Yankees serves as the rare exception of an athlete who can provide positive examples rather than cautionary tales.

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3 Ways to Become a Resource while Enhancing Reputation Management Initiatives

The cumulative results of the Panda and Penguin algorithm updates and the Hummingbird algorithm change has been a front burner issue for reputation managers trying to navigate through the practices that can still yield results versus others that are either non-starters or are now delivering diminishing results. To summarize these changes, the black hat and ancillary practices that did not add value for searchers’ inquiries have now been eliminated or sublimated as rankings are now gauged for the quality of information that is presented.

The gravitation of search engines toward rewarding informative content is now in full swing, which presents several opportunities for reputation management initiatives; the potential to create high quality content that occupies high rankings on the search engine results pages (SERPs) while also positioning the sponsoring business as a credible resource within its industry, supplementing marketing activities, and facilitating brand building efforts. Here are three ways to create content that serves all of these purposes.

  • Informative written content – Presenting information that answers and delivers solutions to search queries from the target market can provide an insider’s view, whether the search terms can be categorized as preliminary research or the types of questions that are posed immediately before making a purchase. For example, questions that cover the specifics of warranty coverage would typically indicate that a buying decision is imminent and the consumer is now assessing non-core aspects of that purchase. Published content that answers the questions related to warranty coverage can actually serve 3 purposes; rankings on the SERPs to satisfy reputation management objectives, positioning the sponsoring business as a resource, and driving a consumer who is ready to make a purchase to the website.
  • How to videos – The engagement rates on video content in general continue to move higher and the search engines, specifically Google with videos published to YouTube, are increasingly ranking video content on their front pages. This serves reputation management purposes while also positioning the sponsoring business as a knowledgeable resource for information on a variety of products.
  • New product introductions – Introducing new products via video and written content can position the company as being current on (or ahead of) developments in new products as well as the industry in total. Presenting these introductions in a video format can also highlight new product capabilities, features, etc.

Reputation management initiatives can achieve much more than the occupation of high search engine rankings. By publishing content that can be used as a resource by consumers, a business can enhance its marketing efforts and build its brand as well.

 

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3 Ways Companies Hurt their Online Reputation even when they are Right and the Customer is Wrong

Back in the day, the communications between a business and its customers were basically a one-way street, with messaging through advertising and other brand-building efforts being distributed through traditional outlets such as television, print and radio. If customers wanted to communicate with businesses, the normal channels were by phone and via the mail, which basically excluded third parties from being privy to the conversation.

Hit fast-forward for a couple of decades to the present and this quaint form of communication has been replaced by the relative free-for-all of 2-way communication between businesses and customers, which are often conducted in full view of anyone with a passing interest on any number of social media platforms. One of the most surprising aspects for businesses in this environment is that maintaining a solid online reputation can be a challenging process, even in situations where they are right and the customer is wrong. Here are 3 ways that being right can still result in a damaged reputation.

1) Combative responses – Customer complaints can come from a wide variety of angles, with many being based on a misunderstanding or the misuse of a product. While these issues may not be the fault of the business, responding to these complaints or reviews in an offensive or condescending manner can quickly shift the focus from the original issue to one with wider implications; how the company really feels about its customers. Instead, in situations such as these, let diplomacy rule your responses and politely direct the complainant to the specific page in the owners’ manual that covers the issue or, better yet, to an appropriate instructional video.

2) Responses that don’t address the issue at hand – Responses like, “Thank for your response” indicate that the company isn’t really paying attention. Instead, respond to the issue with language that specifically acknowledges the complaint/review and then move on to providing a solution.

3) Not responding at all – Taking a position that a customer in the wrong doesn’t deserve a response leaves the question open as to whether the issue is a user-related error or whether there is a problem with the product. In the new world brought by social media, even customers in the wrong must be addressed, even if the reply is a brief one.

Being right doesn’t necessarily guarantee a solid online reputation. Keep in mind that your target market is watching your every move on social media platforms and that your responses to customers who are clearly in the wrong should be tailored to the complainant as well as to this much wider audience.

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Reputation Management: Choosing How to Respond to Complaints

For many businesses, seeing negative content for the first time in the form of a negative review or social media post can come as both a shock and an attack on a professional and personal level. While the knee-jerk response in situations such as these may be to push back at the complaint, the company’s reaction can quickly become a bigger reputation management problem than the original issue.

Here are three of the typical choices that businesses make in these situations that can either lead to a quick resolution or a problem that grows in magnitude:

  • Truth Versus Spin – Trying to spin events to evade responsibility for an issue that has surfaced can compound the original problem dramatically by adding a layer of duplicity. In the vast majority of situations, customers who are treated with respect and feel that the business has their best interests at heart will understand and forgive most problems that arise. On the other hand, the loss of the trust from customers is much harder to reverse, so avoid spinning problematic events and instead be truthful about what happened, be accountable, and seek to fix problems as quickly as possible.
  • Objectivity versus Subjectivity – Businesses, many of them highly successful, are often built and operated in an environment of passionate zeal where the belief is that the company can do no wrong as it pursues its objectives. While this belief may permeate through every level of the company’s workforce and deliver a variety of benefits, this subjective bias can work against the company in terms of reputation management initiatives. For example, this type of subjective bias is often the root cause of responses to complaints that attack or put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the customer. Adding a dash of arrogance to these types of responses can quickly turn a containable issue into something far more problematic. Instead, taking an objective approach and listening to the context of customer complaints to determine a satisfactory outcome, as difficult as it may be, will yield far better results.
  • Stonewalling versus engaging – In some cases, businesses will choose not to respond at all, which will add fuel to the fire from the customer’s end and give the general impression that the company’s modus operandi is to distance itself from problems that may arise. Instead, immediate engagement can assure all parties of the company’s commitment to delivering a fair and equitable outcome.

Businesses aren’t perfect and the vast majority of customers understand that. By dealing with imperfections in a truthful, objective, and timely manner, your business can show its true colors while avoiding being the subject of cautionary tales used as examples of reputation management mistakes.

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What does Google want from a Reputation Management Campaign?

Google doesn’t say much about reputation management practices, possibly due to the fact that the search engine speaks to many of the same issues when addressing search engine optimization (SEO). When reputation management is addressed it pays to listen to what Google wants from these types of campaigns.

Here is a summation of comments and outside analysis regarding the search engine’s stance on what will work and what won’t in today’s reputation management campaigns:

  • Black hat is dead – Black hat practices such as pointing spammy links to pages that are being optimized are a thing of the past. One interesting aspect of Google’s evolution in terms of policing manipulative practices is that, according to Webspam Team leader Matt Cutts, their algorithms now throw out spammy links rather than punish websites for the practice. This change could be due to concerns that came up after the release of the Penguin update relating to the potential for sabotage by websites that bought spammy links and then directed them to the sites of their competitors.
  • Long live quality content – Google has continued its mission to deliver perfect search results that answer questions or present solutions to searchers’ queries with the complete replacement of its existing algorithm in August of 2013. The Hummingbird algorithm, which is in a constant state of being upgraded to better understand conversational search terms, is now ignoring low grade content that feigns relevance by being crammed with keywords and is getting better at listing results that accurately address the context of search queries. The end result is that content that serves a purpose will be rewarded while pieces designed solely for search engines will be kicked to the curb.
  • Success in reputation management campaigns is a numbers game – This assessment centers on the fact that search engines are looking not only for quality content but for the consistent publication of it. As such, focusing optimization efforts on a small quantity of published content is now unlikely to deliver the results that comprehensive distribution of quality pieces will. In addition to the benefits derived by distributing quality publications, managing content in this manner demonstrates a depth of knowledge by the sponsoring business, which carries weight with the search engine’s algorithm while also helping to build the brand with the company’s target market.

In many ways, delivering what Google wants from reputation management campaigns has become much easier since the Hummingbird algorithm change. Rather than trying to determine keyword percentages, appropriate meta-tags, etc., content strategies can now be built around delivering valuable information to the target market, which is exactly what Google wants to display on its search engine results pages.

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Reputation Management: Why Your Business must Manage its Virtual Presence

Prior to the advent of the internet, social media, and online reputation management, the typical consumer experience with a business involved a trip to a brick and mortar location where a purchase would be made. These visits may have been preceded by consumers seeing advertisements in traditional media channels, but the actual interface with the company began when they stepped through the door of the store. This paradigm has now been turned on its head as the internet has delivered the double-edged sword of a virtual presence for businesses whether they like it or not.

For many businesses, the number of customers who now experience the virtual presence first can be a high multiple of those whose walk through the front door is their first impression. This presents a new challenge for business owners due to the fact that their potential customers’ perceptions are now being shaped by what they see when they search for information online, long before they have the experience of visiting a brick and mortar location. That is if they decide to visit the physical location at all. Additionally, there is a myriad of components that can play a role in shaping initial perceptions, which generally come from two sources; the business and its customers.

Meeting these new challenges requires that companies take an active role in developing an online presence that reflects the same customer experience standards as those set forth at the brick and mortar locations, which can be accomplished by developing and executing strategic and comprehensive reputation management practices. These practices will have two primary objectives; generating content that adds value for the target market and committing to full and positive interaction with communities on social media platforms. The integration of these objectives can then result in high visibility for the sponsoring company’s content on search engine results pages (SERPs) while also building a positive perception on social networks. When fully actualized, this type of reputation management plan can build a positive perception at the virtual presence that becomes a driver of new business to the physical location.

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Starting Online Reputation Management Before You Open Your Doors

employersIf you are in the process of starting a new business, even if you have not yet opened your doors to the public, the time to start managing your online reputation is now. In fact, getting started with reputation management prior to your first official day of business offers a distinct advantage over initiating a campaign after weeks or months in business in that it eliminates the potential of having to deal with negative reviews, commentary or dissenting opinion relating to your business.

There are several forms of reputation management-related content that can be created prior to your opening including:

  • Press releases – The variety of topics that can be covered in a press release is limited only by the requirement that it has to be in a “news” format and that it should communicate a newsworthy event. For a new business, potential topics could include the selection of a location, groundbreaking, the anticipated date of opening, the date of the grand opening, etc.
  • A blog – Creating a blog provides an opportunity to familiarize your local market with your business on a more informal level. You can also use your blog to point readers toward other businesses in the area that you respect as a great way to open the potential for cross referrals once your doors are open.
  • Informative content – Publishing content that informs readers about your product can help to increase anticipation for your opening and build your reputation as an authority in your area of business.
  • A social media presence – Your social media pages can also help to build your business’ profile even if they start out as channels to raise awareness of your press releases, your blog, and your published content.

Starting your online reputation management prior to opening can give your business a great head-start with your prospective customers. As an added bonus, by optimizing the content you develop, your web pages can start moving toward the top of search engine rankings before you make your first sale.

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