Who among us can't think of at least one online reputation disaster involving a huge brand? Whether it was the United guitar scenario or the Domino's pizza video from 2009, examples abound. But a trend I’m seeing is more small businesses encountering reputation problems online. It used to be mostly hospitality businesses and home contractors who had had the biggest challenge with reputation. But now it is businesses in just about every industry, from B2C to B2B, that find themselves receiving negative reviews or dealing with reputation issues. I attribute the growth in part simply to the fact that more people are online today, and it’s so easy for customers and others to have their say. What makes it harder to manage is the sheer number of places where your business can be discussed online by customers or where your business has a presence.
Here are five ways, both as defense and offense, to protect your brand’s reputation online:
Use “Google My Business” to manage your business’s online presence. In June, Google launched a very important tool for businesses called Google My Business. This is a dashboard where you can manage how your business listing appears in certain Google properties, including your Google+ business page, Google Maps, and portions of Google search results. This tool makes it easier to update information such as your hours of operation, add images about your business for the world to see, and respond to Google reviews about your business. It is available for local businesses, as well as businesses with no defined geographical presence (such as online businesses).
Google is moving toward a knowledge graph, and soon most businesses will have a “knowledge panel” about their businesses on the right side of search results. That’s a powerful piece of real estate, and now you have the ability to manage portions of how your business displays there.
You can access Google My Business here or through your business’s Google+ page.
Start long-form publishing on LinkedIn and Google+. Thought leadership pieces by company executives can reinforce your business’s reputation for deep industry expertise and establish your team as being the “best in the business.”
We all know about publishing on your own company blog and guest blogging on other blogs. But today there are two powerful platforms you shouldn’t overlook, where you can publish in-depth articles. Google+ has allowed this since the beginning. LinkedIn, which previously limited this function to influencers, is gradually opening up long-form publishing to its members. If you haven’t already been approved to publish on LinkedIn, according to information on the LinkedIn website, you should be able to within the next few months. Think of both as a way to reach new audiences. Google+ is especially good for reaching those interested in technology. LinkedIn is great for reaching B2B audiences. In both cases, long-form articles are searchable in search engines, too. Use these platforms to develop thought leadership that will enhance your brand’s reputation.
Use “trust seals.” Seals for websites have been around for years. But consumers and the public are spending more time online, and they are more “online savvy” today. They expect assurance that your site doesn’t have malware, that credit card transactions through the site will be secure, and generally that you have a good reputation.
Seals vary widely in what they signify and what the underlying service protects. Norton Secured, Trustwave, Sitelock, and McAfee Secure are just a few examples. Some of these are focused mainly on secure ecommerce transactions. Others signify that the site has been checked and is free of malware. Still others, such as the Better Business Bureau seal, are an indication of the general reputation of your business with consumers.
Seals make people feel as if your website is secure, giving the perception of security and trust. But seals are about more than perception. They also help protect your brand. Having credit card data stolen from transactions because your site was insecure and you didn’t know it won’t help your business’s reputation.
Reserve your brand name extension on key social media platforms. This is more than just Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+. Look to smaller or niche social media channels. There are hundreds.
It’s not that you need to maintain an active social presence on all of them, but you should reserve your brand name as a defensive move to prevent squatters and those who would try to capitalize on your brand. Even six-person businesses like my own have issues with copycat sites using similar names. There are several dozen people who claim on Facebook to work for my company, yet I’ve never heard of them. No matter what size your business, you have a brand to protect. Play defense as well as offense, when it comes to brand.
A handy tool for managing your brand names on social media profiles is Knowem.com. You can search instantly to see if your brand name is in use on more than 500 social media sites. Knowem also will register your brand on social media accounts for you, if you don’t have the time to do it yourself.
Build online reviews into your operational processes. What I mean by this is that you must look at online reviews and feedback as an essential part of your brand presence today. They are not something that can be ignored unless there is a problem. Consumers are going to sites like Yelp, Google, and Facebook to leave reviews, and will do so even more in the future.
Do everything you can to encourage satisfied customers to leave positive reviews. A high volume of reviews helps. If you get a negative one-star review, having a dozen five-star reviews beforehand minimizes the impact. If you have only one five-star review and you receive a one-star review, that negative review will have a far larger impact.
Incorporate review encouragement into your customer service workflows. For instance, in a “closing the ticket” type of email from customer support, include a link to your Facebook page, and encourage customers to share their experiences on your page. This sort of tactic will increase positive online word of mouth.
Don’t forget to respond to negative reviews, either. Acknowledge the review, apologize if an apology is warranted, and correct (unemotionally) any incorrect facts. These are all things that help preserve an impression of your reputation as a business that cares about customers.
The most important thing: Don’t wait until there’s a problem. A long track record of positive feedback from happy customers is your best defense against reputation issues.