‘It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.’ – Benjamin Franklin
A strong business will have many assets. Some, like the people who work there and the products and services they provide, are tangible. Others, such as the corporate culture and the brand’s reputation, are less tangible – but often no less important.
Reputation in particular can be incredibly important, especially when there is a great deal of competition. Consumers have access to more data and information than ever before, and the internet makes it incredibly easy to shop around, with customers able to compare products and prices and seek out reviews from their peers. Increasingly, many also look for qualities that go beyond price and product details in the companies and organisations they deal with. This could include values and behaviours that customers perceive to be aligned with their own.
Reputation is important whether you are huge multinational or a small business trying to expand, differentiate yourself, or simply survive in a sea of competitors and unforeseen perils (such as a global pandemic).
Threats to your online reputation
There are numerous things that can have a negative impact on your online reputation. Bad reviews and posts on social media can have a serious effect. Sometimes, you can contribute to your own falling reputation with ill-advised posts or the way that you interact with customers and others. Employees’ online behaviour can also reflect poorly on the businesses they work for. These are just some of the elements that can harm your online reputation, and it’s important to monitor and manage issues as they arise.
How to manage and improve your reputation
There is a whole field of research and practices dedicated to online reputation management – or ORM as it is often known. This can be a complex area with lots of things to consider, but some of the basic things you can do include the following.
Improve your visibility
You might behave in an ethical way, deliver wonderful customer service, and provide goods or services to a consistently high standard, but, in digital terms at least, this will count for very little if no one is aware of any of it. Improving your SEO, social media and other elements of online presence will help improve your online visibility, allowing you to cultivate your reputation in the first place.
If there are negative things floating around, it can also help to improve the visibility of more positive mentions and coverage. Once content is up, it invariably stays there, but this doesn’t mean that it has to be the first thing to crop up in an internet search.
Starting a blog (or enlisting someone to help you write one) can be a good way to improve your visibility and to establish your credentials as someone who is knowledgeable in your own field, as well as providing content that is valuable or entertaining to your customers.
Do things right the first time around
This seems obvious, but by offering the best products or services you can, you can head off many problems before they arise. Providing good customer service is crucial to this. You can’t please all the people all the time, however, and mistakes do happen. The way that you respond to problems and negativity when they do arise is key.
Respond to unhappy customers
Just pretending that unhappy customers do not exist is not generally useful, especially if they are being vocal about their grievances online. Sometimes, people simply want to be acknowledged, and addressing concerns or complaints can go a long way.
Even if you feel that the customer is being unreasonable, an angry or bad-tempered response can be counterproductive. If the customer is factually incorrect, feel free to point out how and where, but do so politely and calmly. Take the higher ground whenever you can.
Monitor the conversation
Sometimes, people might be talking about you and you don’t even know about it. This generally means a conversation away from your own website or social media profiles. You will have less control over such content, but you can still often address any issues. As well as Google Alerts, there are numerous third-party free and paid tools that allow you to monitor social media and other online sites for mentions of your brand and other relevant keywords.
Enabling reviews does run the risk of negative ones, but not providing or allowing reviews runs the risk of potential customers turning away. For many consumers, reviews are an essential part of the conversion cycle and this is especially true among younger demographics. BrightLocal’s Consumer Review Survey found that 82% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, with 52% of 18 to 54-year-olds saying that they ‘always’ read reviews. Among those who read reviews, 97% were interested in the business owner’s response. The same rules apply in review responses as with responding to a customer directly – be polite and calm, offer apologies where appropriate, but also point out any factual inaccuracies or mitigating circumstances.
Whatever you do, you should also resist the urge to post fake reviews or get rid of negative ones on your own website or social media. Many consumers find only positive reviews suspicious, and if people suspect dishonesty in your reviews, this can be more damaging than negative reviews in the first place.
Get serious about social media
Social media matters, now more than ever. It is a way for you to engage with your customers directly, as well as to gauge sentiment, conduct market research, and monitor the conversation about your brand or specific products and services, such as during a launch. It’s important to make sure that control of your profiles is limited to suitable people and that the content that is posted is appropriate.
All of these things can help you to manage your online reputation, which can in turn help your business thrive in an increasingly digitised and data-driven age.