Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How to Handle Reputation Management Online

03-28-11 - Posted By: Brent Barnhart in Online PR

Handling your business’ reputation in everyday life isn’t always easy. For example, somebody may something negative about your company, whether it’s true or not, and it may get around to few people. On the flip side, it’d be nice to post a notice for the world to see whenever somebody said something positive about your business. Such isolated incidents aren’t easy to spot, but usually don’t mean much to your business’ reputation in the long-run anyway.

The process of managing your reputation online, however, is an entirely different story. Libelous statements are posted for the world to see, and with billions of users online, there are plenty of people out there to trash your business at a moment’s notice. Conversely, the Internet affords many opportunities for your online reputation to shine if people are posting positive comments. Reputation management online is never easy, but is a crucial aspect of online marketing that’s very often overlooked. What are the proper steps for online reputation management, and what can you do to make sure your business remains in a positive light on the web?

Properly handling reputation management online not only makes your business look better to customers, but also to search engines. People looking for services online are heavily dependent on reviews. Think about your own experience online. When you have the choice between a business rated five stars on Google Places versus a business rated only two stars, which do you choose? You’re not in the clear if you have no reviews, either, as this may present your business as being unknown or perhaps inexperienced. For this reason, your business needs reviews. It’s wise to solicit reviews yourself as part of your online reputation management strategy, whether through an email or telling your customers directly after they’ve used your service. While you may only get a few people to actually write something about your company, it only takes a couple of reviews to create value for your business online.

What about bad reviews? People do generally love to complain over the Internet, so don’t be appalled if you get a bad rating during your quest for more reviewers. Some sites such as Yelp allow the owners of a business to respond to negative reviews, and doing so shows that you care enough about your company to take the time to defend it. Some issues, however, are better dealt with privately rather than publicly.
For example, if someone has a bad experience at your restaurant and they complain about an issue concerning a particular employee should probably be dealt with in private. A simple message to the customer to email you about the issue is sufficient.

Complaints that can be dealt with publicly usually involve some sort of misunderstanding, such as if a reviewer makes a claim that is either untrue or can quickly be refuted by facts. For example, if a reviewer complains that you were closed on a holiday or quotes your prices incorrectly and says that they’re unfair, you can set them straight publicly. Always be cordial, though, and offer them some sort of consolation or discount to your service so that they’ll be inclined to buy from you again. Doing this also makes you look humble in the public eye. Reputation management online can take some work and time to master, but it’s worth it in the long run.

As a side note, it’s not uncommon to see businesses leave spam and negative reviews on their competitors’ pages. Never do this, even if it’s been done to you. Almost all review sites allow you and other users to flag such reviews as spam, and anything that’s overly inflammatory will be dealt with accordingly. Also remember that some people just can’t be pleased and negative reviews will happen. Sometimes you may be unable to respond to a review. Don’t dwell on it. As long as you have an online reputation management strategy in place and solicit reviews from your satisfied customers, you’ll get plenty of positive feedback over time.

Additional outlets where you can monitor your reputation online include Facebook and Twitter. Social Media presents an interesting opportunity in that you can directly respond to anyone who mentions your business, positive or negative. A simple “thank you” comment or tweet is sufficient when somebody says something positive, there’s no need to go out of your way to message them privately for every compliment. Follow the same rules stated above in regards to responding to criticism.

Google aggregates a bulk of your reviews across the web, so having a well-reviewed and optimized Google Places page can do wonders for your business in its quest to improve its reputation. You should have a strategy in place for reputation management online, but as you make yourself aware of what people are saying about your business, don’t completely obsess over it. By submitting your business to small business directory sites to be reviewed and having plenty of positive feedback, your business and its reputation online will shine.

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