Practicing online reputation management is a lot like putting on armour before going into a battle. As you work your way forward in this digital age – competing with other businesses, making partnerships, hiring and firing employees, and navigating customers’ wishes – your brand is in danger from stray and deliberately aimed blows that can come from just about anywhere.
This is especially true for moving companies. A bad experience in a move where irreplaceable valuables are broken or lost is going to produce an irate customer. If that customer takes their negative experience online, it can be a serious blow to your company’s reputation. With no online reputation management strategy in place, such blows could become a fatal injury.
And no: to say it is potentially ‘fatal’ is not an exaggeration. As Chris Anderson, former editor in- chief of technology magazine Wired, said: “Your brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what Google says it is.”
However, as with armour, good reputation management practices can often prevent the blow in the first place – or at least lessen its impact significantly.
What Is Online-Reputation Management?
First, we need to ensure we have a proper understanding of what online-reputation management is. Many moving companies assume it is handling bad press; they use it as a reactive measure, rather than seeing it as a proactive tool, like armour.
However, there is a positive and a negative side to it. Just because there are no bad reviews or comments out there about your company does not mean you are making the internet work to improve your reputation. You need strategies to not only curtail negative branding, but also to bolster positive branding and exposure.
It is also about making sure your business remains at the top of the search results. If your content is there, it will be harder for irrelevant and/or negative content to take its place.
Elements that affect online reputation
Numerous things play a role in developing your online reputation – and whether you participate in forming that reputation or not, it will be there. A few of the key players responsible for your online reputation are:
Top 10 on your search engine results page (Serp): The majority of consumers now look to the internet – principally Google – to find a service provider. Most put as much store by online reviews as word-of-mouth recommendations –some even more so. Furthermore, most consumers will not look past the first 10 results before choosing a provider; very few move on to the second page.
So, the first 10 results are extremely important for formulating a potential consumer’s opinion about your brand. If the majority of the results are benign or negative, your brand will not have a strong, positive reputation.
First two Serps: While the vast majority of consumers will only pay attention to, and click on, the top 10 results, it is still important to dominate the first – and even second – pages. While the top 10 results get the most traffic, we know that, statistically, people are drawn to negative and sensational headlines, as well as to videos and images. Even if it is at the bottom of the page, an outrageous headline can catch the consumer’s eye like a red flag.
For this reason, you should aim to dominate the first one to two pages of results, so that irrelevant and/or negative results appear further down on the second or third pages, where they are virtually non-existent.
Social media presence: Your brand’s presence – or lack of it – goes a long way to creating your company’s reputation. It also helps to protect it and fill up the Serp.
Blogs and guest posts: Content that your company develops and keeps fresh, on your own and other websites, is extremely important in establishing online reputation.
Customer review forums: Customer comments on sites such as Yelp, Amazon, RipoffReport.com and MyReputation.com – as well as on specific moving review sites, such as MovingScam.com, MoveAide – play very powerful roles in your online reputation. Jeff Bezos, of Amazon, states: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Profiles of top executives and employees: High-profile executives or employees in your company can improve or damage your brand with their personal and professional profiles and activity online.
Steps to improve online reputation
At this point, you hopefully understand that online reputation management is more than just cleaning up the messes. Before we discuss damage control, let’s talk about positive, proactive steps:
Do your research: Explore the top 30 or so results for key search terms related to you, your company, your brand, high-profile employees and so on.
For each of these, record the number of negative, indifferent, and unrelated searches. Tallying these up will help you determine whether you simply need to build your reputation, or manage it and do damage control. Remember, indifferent or irrelevant results – while not negative – are not good either.
Stay active: Maintaining good search results is an active, continuous process. Results will not stay good by themselves – especially if there is a sudden upsurge of new activity in social media or news and reviews.
Be social: By claiming and using your brand’s social media platforms/handles, you prevent others from hijacking your brand and displaying a negative or false brand identity. It also improves your Serp.
Blog: Develop an active blog that helps populate your SERP with positive information and representations of your company.
Monitor: Keep an eye on all mentions of your brand on social media, blogs and consumer forums.
There are many tools – such as Social Mention, BackType or BoardReader – to help you monitor your profiles.
Publish: Don’t just wait for big company news. Publish press releases for unique uses of your product, or to announce partners you work with, or events that you are helping with.
Create safe space: Have an area on your website where consumers can offer feedback or express a complaint/concern. By bringing the consumer to you, and giving them a way to be heard, they will be less likely to make their complaint public.
How to recover from a negative reputation
As well as ensuring you take steps to increase and improve your online reputation and presence, you will probably need to do damage control from time to time.
As Warren Buffett pointed out: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” With real-time, online review sites and rating organisations, it does not take much for someone to tell a story that can seriously damage a previously pristine reputation.
Here are some steps to tackle damage control:
Protect your name: Be sure to register your username and pursue all domains, top-level domains (TLDs) and social network handles with your username/handle or company name. This prevents squatters, competitors and disgruntled customers or employees from securing these profiles and misrepresenting you.
Respond promptly: Be quick to communicate and respond, especially to any negative comment or claim on social media platforms and consumer forums.
Own criticism: Don’t remove negative comments from social media platforms or your website. By demonstrating objectivity and a willingness to deal with complaints transparently, you are showing an honesty and trustworthiness that will strengthen your brand’s reputation.
Teamwork: Make sure your customer service team and reputation management team are aware and working together. This prevents mixed messages being sent to customers.
Turn complainers into promoters: Invite disgruntled customers to post a follow-up after you have resolved their complaint. Many customers are willing to be vocal in a positive way when your company does their utmost to resolve an issue.
According to Virgin’s Richard Branson, “your brand is only as good as your reputation”. It is far easier to set up preventative measures that ensure you have a positive reputation than to wait until there is a problem.
Whether you’re just getting started or are well established, online reputation management should be at the forefront of your digital marketing strategy and it’s never too late to start.