Have you noticed sales are down in the last few months? It could be because someone has taken the time to write bad reviews of your company or has otherwise smeared your good name.
Whether you like it or not, 90% of online consumers trust the recommendations of others according to the latest research.
We’re talking about the opinions of strangers here and not family or friends so you can quickly see how a few negative reviews of your business can escalate and really become a problem.
What is Online Reputation Management?
Online reputation management can concisely be defined as a deliberate attempt to increase the number of positive mentions of your brand online while limiting the damage caused by negative comments.
While you can’t completely erase all negativity relating to your business, you can push it so far down the rankings that no one will ever see it.
If you’ve just performed a quick search of your business and discovered some scathing criticism, it is essential to act now before things get any worse. Even if you find no negative mentions of your business, it is better to take steps towards online reputation management rather than waiting for the fire to start before putting it out.
Being Proactive before the S%&t hits the fan!
Experts in the field say that trying to improve your online reputation during the midst of a crisis is akin to eating salads and other healthy foods while having a heart attack! Below, we outline a course of action you should be taking right now to ensure you prevent your company’s reputation being attacked online.
Waiting until crisis strikes is the absolute worst time to begin the process of online reputation management. Don’t wait until tomorrow or next week when you can start today.
At this moment in time, all is well and you have the resources and time to get started so aim to have all of the above steps in place within a month.
DIY Online Reputation Management
Professional online reputation management companies will tell you that it is impossible to do things without their help but since they charge a small fortune for their services, you can take this information with a pinch of salt!
You can follow the advice given below along with these tips to create an online reputation management strategy that should stand you in good stead.
Step 1: Monitor what is being said
Set up Google Alerts for your brand and company names so you will quickly be able to monitor what is going on online.
Google Alert doesn’t track everything and you could also use Mention.net which positions itself as an alternative. Each time your brand is mention online, you receive a notification.
Step 2: Set Up Social Profiles
This should be pretty obvious yet some companies still don’t have a proper social media presence which is an astonishing gaffe in the modern era.
Sites such as Facebook were dismissed as being filled with kids and immature young adults but the reality is that the Over 55 segment is the fastest growing of all demographics. Social profiles are actually really easy to set up, are free and take up valuable space in search engine rankings.
Google and other major search engines now use social media sites to determine Page Rank so if you’re not on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (among others), you’re effectively leaving money on the table.
Set aside time and begin setting up detailed company profiles on the social sites mentioned above along with Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest and YouTube.
Most marketing experts are adamant that you should set up at least three YouTube product videos where you use the company name as the title. You should select a part of your marketing team to post latest company news and blog posts on all of these social media profiles.
If you do not have the time to register to every social network out there, you could use a paid registration service such as Knowem.com
Step 3: Post positive content
If you want to make negative webpages appear lower in search, you’ll need to create content of relevance to push the negative links down.
Google suggests responding to negative reviews of your business, for instance.
Profiles on social networks are powerful tools for this purpose, as results from large sites like Facebook and Twitter often carry more SEO power than a single post on something like a personal blog.
It goes without saying that you should avoid writing controversial comments or making rash statements. There have been many memorable online meltdowns featuring owners of businesses who snapped and began insulting people on social networks.
The result was the complete ruination of their businesses as instead of becoming a big brand, they became figures of fun that were mocked into oblivion.
Tackling Negative Mentions of your Company
No matter how hard you try, everyone’s a critic so there may eventually come a time when you have to tackle that fire after all.
Whether someone on social media insults your brand, a customer writes a bad review or some sad soul goes to the trouble of setting up a site dedicated to bashing your brand, sitting on your hands will only lead to disaster.
To give you an idea of how important reputation management is, hordes of Wall Street bankers paid $10,000+ to have negative articles of them hidden after the financial crisis of 2008!
We have already spoken about how important it is to be ranked on the first couple of pages of Google and other major search engines and this is apparent when you consider that 70% of people don’t go past the first page of Google.
Perhaps even more pertinently, best estimates suggest that less than 5% of people go to page 4 of Google and beyond so essentially, if you can get negative reviews and comments to #31 on the search engine listings, it is close to being completely invisible!
If you have the time or the writing skill, you can begin creating blog posts while being sure to mention your company’s name in all of them.
You can add links within the posts that direct users to other parts of the website and also to your various social media profiles. These profiles should also contain content relating to your brand name and once you have used the correct sets of keywords, those negative reviews will drop like a stone and be out of sight and to all intents and purposes, out of the minds of customers.
This is probably a last resort and may be the preserve of major corporations but it is nice to know that customers leaving false reviews out of spite can actually be punished. Jen Palmer found this out the hard way when she posted a scathing review of Kleargear in 2008 after ordering goods for her husband that never arrived. The RipOffReport review written in 2009 incensed Kleargear but no action was taken until 2012 when Palmer received an email from the company demanding the review to be taken down or else she would be hit with a fine.
It claimed that the content of the review was libellous and told Palmer to remove it within 3 days or face a $3,500 fine. When she tried to remove it, she was told by RipOffReport that removal cost $2,000!
Admittedly, this case seems a tad shady and Palmer is now counter-suing but there is a legal avenue if you can prove that a negative review of your business is libellous.
If you discover a review that is not just unfair, but completely slanderous, you are within your rights to contact Google and request its removal. However, be prepared to fight because Google don’t always make the process as easy as they should.
This is probably to prevent disgruntled companies from having a moan each time someone offers a criticism.
The first step is to flag the review as ‘inappropriate’ and then report a policy violation where you state if it is a hateful, spammy or off-topic comment/review.
You can also respond to the comment by stating your belief that it is slanderous and then you should ‘submit a legal request’; this can be found beneath the ‘policy violation’ message.
You need to include some information before sending the message off and you could receive a response within 24 hours though it will probably take much longer.
Contact the Reviewer
There is of course the small matter of contacting the person who wrote the negative review and asking them to remove it if it is slanderous.
If it is a case of your business failing to meet high standards, you need to apologise to the customer and offer to make things right. You could send them a private message and work things out away from the glare of the public.
In some cases, the customer may even write a positive review of your customer service, especially if they have received a discount or other incentive. While it doesn’t remove the bad comment, it does place your company in a good light.
The last thing you must do is get into an online argument as your business simply can’t win. At best you get to say your piece and at worst, you look like a business that can’t handle fair criticism. Think before you type and don’t cause an already bad situation to escalate.
There is no doubt that online reputation management is a lot of work and if you can afford it, perhaps you could hire an agency.
Otherwise, it is essential to get positive mentions of your business all over the search engines.
Aggressive SEO is probably your best bet because while you can’t remove negative comments, you can certainly cause them to magically tumble down the search engine rankings. This means lots of blog posts, videos and other mentions of your business on social media sites.
The Internet can be a cruel place but if you have a solid online reputation management strategy in place, you can monitor the situation and respond quickly when necessary to keep your good name intact.