We all do it—use a search engine to find a local business and learn more about them. That’s why good reviews online can refer hundreds or even thousands of customers to your company. But negative reviews, news and employee comments can be disastrous to your reputation and your bottom line. There are numerous opportunities today for your brand to be trashed on review sites, social media, etc. So it is critical to be proactive in managing your online reputation and to establish a positive presence that can counter anything that is published in the future.
Sites such as Yelp, YP.com, Citysearch, Frommers, TripAdvisor, Google+Local, Foursquare, Angie’s List and others (some of which are industry-focued like Edmunds.com for car dealers) are based on user-generated reviews for local businesses. They have mechanisms in place to stop spammers from posting false reports and business owners from falsifying high ratings. For example, reviews from new Yelp users or those without connections or photos are likely to be filtered out.
These sites are important because:
- 92.5% of adults regularly or occasionally research products online before buying them in a store (BIGresearch).
- 83% of consumers say online reviews influence their purchase decisions (Opinion Research Corporation).
- 20-50% of all purchasing decisions rely on word of mouth recommendations as a primary factor (McKinsey Quarterly).
- 4 out of 5 consumers reverse their purchase decisions based on negative online reviews (Online Influence Trend Tracker survey).
- A one-star difference in reviews on Yelp may result in five to nine percent in business gained or lost (Harvard University).
Do It Yourself
You should also conduct simple searches on Google, Yahoo and MSN for all of these that apply: your name, company, brand(s), product(s), high-profile employees and handles/user names. Results will vary based on your location and search history so you should log out of your account on the search engines first. If you are searching on Google, use a shortcut for disabled personalized search. Once you’ve done these searches, you can use a basic spreadsheet or list to decide whether you need to take additional steps. Record the number of negative and indifferent comments, in addition to those that are not about you. This is a sample reputation management worksheet from Outspoken Media.
Some of the most common problems in order of severity are:
- Industry perceptions
- Corporate scandals
- Personal scandals
- Hate sites
- Competitor attacks
- Complaint sites
- Legal documents
- Bad news coverage
- Trademark infringement
- Fake profiles
- False information
- Negative comments
Successes and Failures
Here are a couple of examples of how monitoring your online reputation and responding is so critical.
1. A customer of Overstock.com tweeted about the online retailer’s customer service.
This is the original tweet from an excited customer.
Overstock re-tweeted the comment to its followers and it inspired a flurry of people chiming in about their positive experiences.
2. In contrast, Prince tried to shut down three fan-generated sites to protect copyrighted material. One fan wrote to prince.org to say, “The more I think about it, I say just drop him, remove all content, let him have his way. It’s obvious he doesn’t want us as fans anymore, so why should we want him.”
Prince tried to protect his material but ended up losing some avid fans.
What You Can Do
- Avoid responding online. Adding your comments on sites such as Yelp, PissedConsumer.com and RipOffReport will only increase the visibility of the bad reviews. It is better to respond to issues privately and try to resolve them.
- Act immediately. Resolve problems as soon as they occur and before customers post negative reviews. Offer incentives. The cost of any discounts or refunds is small in comparison to the loss of dozens of new customers that can result from a single bad review.
- Go public. If the problem is severe enough, you can reach out to the media directly to explain and even apologize publicly to affected customers, as well as to announce changes or corrections you’ve implemented to prevent issues in the future.
- Leverage the insight. Negative feedback gives you an understanding of how customers view your company so you can handle situations that arise. Solicit comments by placing a review form on your website.
- Provide help. You should publish useful and relevant content consistently because it counters any negative reviews that might appear. Content should be posted on your website, on social media channels, on guest posts and more.
Reputation Management Services
You can stay on top of customer reviews with subscription services such as Reviewtrackers.com, Netvibes, Reputation.com and Trackur.com that aggregate and alert you of any comments about your business. They range from $20 to $500 per month. These are some of the capabilities provided:
- Track your visibility online
- View and update business information on directories
- Compile local business reviews and ratings
- Report on social media comments
- Indicate peaks and valleys in social mentions
- Compare your reputation to competitors
There are also companies that can repair damaged reputations by helping to remove negative information or pushing it further back in search results so it doesn’t get as much attention.
Some services will provide a dedicated social media professional to post to social media channels using best practices, use Facebook ads and audience targeting and solicit more positive reviews. They can also guide you how to find an attorney and the process of legally removing content. Whatever options you select, it is a good practice to get reviews and speak to actual customers.
The most important message is do not ignore any disparaging reviews. You can use these opportunities to respond, highlight your strengths, generate new positive content and transform unhappy customers into brand evangelists. By the way, you should also respond to the positive reviews, even if only to say thank you.
How have you monitored your online reputation and have you been able to turn issues into testimonials?