It doesn’t matter if you have the best product or service in the world. It could simultaneously save lives, protect the environment, prevent wars and make everyone thin and beautiful?people would still have something negative to say about it. Maybe they misinterpreted the tone of a customer service representative or their puppy ran away that morning—all it takes is one irate or grumpy customer with a computer and your brand name can be tarnished.
Online reputation management isn’t just for the Dells and Lou Pearlmans of the consumer world. It’s extremely easy for customers to populate the web with negative reviews and comments. Sites such as Ripoff Report and Complaints.com encourage users to vent their poor experiences with brands. Local sites like Superpages, Google Maps, Yelp and others have sections where users can post comments and reviews. And the nearly infinite social networks and blogs allow countless opportunities for ranting about products or services. Every user is a critic and every brand is fair game.
Online reputation management can serve as both a productive and reactive tactic, and there are a number of ways that you can initiate conversation, interact with customers and protect your brand online.
The Tubes have Ears
In the past, large companies with bottomless pockets used to hire focus groups so that they could learn from a small sampling of public opinion. Or they would released surveys and conducted in-store polling for, at most, a minimal response of questionable accuracy. Now, all this information and opinions are already out there just waiting to be “heard.”
A handful of manual online tools are available, such as Google Alerts, Yahoo! Pipes and innumerable RSS feeds, allowing you to scrape the web for desired keywords. If you’re really serious about learning what your customers are saying and willing to spend some time and money, investing in a monitoring service is the way to go. In order to fully understand the results, a great deal of time must be spent reading the plethora of blogs, tweets, forums, reviews, wikis and other items that come through the scraping process. And then you must evaluate and quantify these results.
Determine the Threat Level
Now that you’ve scanned the web and found some unfavorable results (and don’t be discouraged if you find several, it’s nearly inevitable if you have a well-known brand; think of it as a good thing—you’re popular enough to influence these people’s lives and cause an emotional reaction) you must decide if they are worth your attention. While it is important to monitor the message and potential impact of individual complainers, the visibility of some is minimal—there is no need to worry if John Doe from Anywhere, U.S.A. writes about your brand on his personal blog.
[Insert Reputation Management Chart]
[Image Caption: Use this chart to help you quickly and easily determine the threat level of an online source.]
Refute, Rationalize, Rebut and Reclaim
With sites where the author’s identity is public, like some blogs and social media profiles, directly contacting that author can be an effective approach. Post a comment on the blog to explain why the user may have had a bad experience and offer suggestions for ensuring the next experience is better. Remember the four Rs: refute, rationalize, rebut and reclaim.
Be sure to always respond in a transparent and professional manner. Don’t pretend to be a happy customer and write a glowing review. Represent the company and be official. Sometimes just knowing that the brand is listening will cause the author to retract their statement. Adding that personal touch that says “we hear you and we care” can go a long way.
Out of SERPs, Out of Mind
If the author refuses to retract the statement or the matter cannot be handled in this way, you can use SEO tactics to push down and bury the negative results:
• Create positive or unbiased content on blogs, review sites or entirely new websites
• Create communities on all the major social media networks
• Ask current customers that you have a good relationship with to write positive reviews
• Work with partners and/or affiliates to optimize their websites
• Optimize and link build to current content
You’ll most likely never eradicate the negative results but you may be able to push them out of the top 20 results. Searchers rarely dig past the second page; therefore, it will almost be like it doesn’t exist.
Regardless of your company’s size, online reputation management is essential to maintain your good name and develop a positive customer rapport. If you are a smaller company, you may be able to handle the efforts on your own. For a larger company with somewhat troublesome reputation, using an outside agency with access to advanced monitoring programs, experienced SEO technicians and a large staff dedicated to listening, locating and fixing comments may be the best way.
If nothing else, you should always listen to the online chatter about your company. You may learn things about your brand and products that you did not know and might never have learned through surveys and focus groups alone.