Online Reputation Management. What is it? And Why is it Important?
So why is online reputation management so important?
Think about it. What’s the first thing you do before meeting a potential employee, supplier, or business associate? Google them? Check out their LinkedIn profile? Scrutinise their Facebook, Twitter and Insta accounts? The likelihood is you do all the above, and more.
Well, guess what? That’s exactly what they do before meeting you, too, which is why it’s vital to manage your online reputation.
Online PR and reputation management is key to gaining trust, establishing credibility, and ultimately improving your bottom line.
But how do you keep your reputation squeaky clean? Read on to find out.
But first, what is online PR and reputation management?
You’ve got a fancy website with a great blog, and profiles on all the social media channels. You post the odd tweet here, and blog post there. That’ll take care of your online reputation, right.
Wrong. It’s not enough to just post content: you need to actively monitor what people are saying about your business. From negative reviews and rants on social media to scathing press articles: there could be all sorts of information in cyber space that’s harming your reputation.
Online reputation management is about improving how your business is viewed online.
Why is online PR news and reputation management important?
When it comes to online reputation, the numbers don’t lie. A 2022 survey by Trustmary found that 94% of consumers have avoided a company because of its negative reviews, and just 9% of customers would be willing to engage with a business that has an average star rating of 1 or 2 stars.
Want more proof that mismanaging your online reputation is a recipe for disaster? Take a look at Metro Bank. In 2019, false bankruptcy rumours saw its share price drop by over 10%. A stronger online presence could’ve clamped down on the rumours and kept their reputation intact.
And share prices aren’t the only thing you have to worry about. America’s Chase Bank learned this with an astoundingly tone-deaf tweet that essentially shamed people for being poor. It gave progressive politicians like Elizabeth Warren a perfect opportunity to argue why out-of-touch banks like Chase needed to face stricter regulations. Ouch.
But it’s not just big corporations that need to worry about online PR and reputation management.
Take this tweet by @naomih_official regarding her NASA internship.
Naomi: ‘Everyone shut the f*** up I got accepted for a NASA internship.’ Her news caught the eye of a Twitter user named Homer Hickman, who replied: ‘language’
Naomi responded: ‘suck my d*** and balls I’m working at NASA.’
Hickman replied: ‘I am on the national space council that oversees NASA.’
The result? The cringeworthy exchange lost Naomi her once-in-a-lifetime internship. Oops.
The moral of the story is you never know who you’re talking to online. It might not be your next boss, but it could be a potential customer, employee, or journalist. Your reputation is at stake, so be polite and professional.
Ok, that’s enough horror stories. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
Five top tips for online reputation management
1. Monitor your reputation
Neglecting to Google your business is like walking through a minefield blindfolded. Regularly searching your business name on search engines will give you a snapshot of what people think.
Here are some common warning signs that your online reputation needs attention, and what you should do about them.
- Negative reviews. First off, always address bad reviews to show viewers you respond to criticism. But try to get reviews from happy customers to redress the balance.
- Competing sites. Building your brand’s online authority will put you higher up the rankings. A good content strategy can do wonders for this (see the next point for more). The basic idea? Give your audience something useful they won’t get elsewhere.
- Wrong, misleading, or defamatory content. Contact the platform that’s hosting the fake news and ask them to delete it. If they refuse, get a solicitor. Proving someone’s libelled you can force them to make a public apology and pay up.
- While using search engines for reputation management is quick and effective, there are some potential pitfalls. Sites like Google tailor their results to your browsing history, so your results will be different from the average person. View it using the ‘incognito’ mode in Firefox, Chrome and Safari instead.
- Also, tracking your reputation doesn’t stop at Google. Searching on Twitter, Reddit, and other forums will give you a broader idea of how people view you.
2. Get busy posting high quality content
Did you know that 98% of searchers don’t look past the first page of Google results for any query? This means the content that shows up on page one broadly determines public perception.
If you want to own your narrative, you need to control the content that appears on page one.
You can do this in two ways.
- Owned media: Creating high quality, useful content will boost your site’s authority, pushing negative press further down the Google pages. One brand that’s nailed this is Investopedia. It posts finance articles that are informative, interesting, and easy for beginners to understand. As a result, it regularly snags the top spot in Google when people search for anything finance-related. In turn, the brand has an A* online reputation.
- Earned media: A keystone of online reputation management, PR is important because positive brand mentions reinforce trust with Google. As the algorithm sees an increasing number of positive off-page signals, they will attribute more authority and trustworthiness to your brand, which translates into higher rankings.
Once you’ve ticked these boxes and reached the top of the search results, it’s easy to get complacent. But don’t. People trust websites more when they’re regularly updated. Think about it. Would you want to do business with a company whose last blog post was in 2013? For all you know, they’ve gone out of business. By keeping your website and social media pages up to date, you’ll establish credibility with customers and get repeat visits.
Here are some things to consider:
- Are you talking like an expert? Will the average reader trust that you know what you’re talking about?
- Does your content feel genuine, or does it read like one big ad? People will see through marketing jargon, so be authentic.
- Sites with organic connections to other pages get more hits on search engines. Start the ball rolling by linking to other pages.
- Does your content make sense? Is it error-free? Use an online tool like Grammarly to check.
Follow these rules, and you’ll make a serious impact on your online PR news and reputation management.
3. Set rules for engagement
You get up at 5am and open your laptop. The first thing you see? A snarky review from a customer. As tempting as it is to react, take a deep breath and pass it over to the comms team. You’ll only hurt your brand if you start trading insults.
This is a golden rule of online PR news and reputation management. Just ask UK bank, NatWest, who got into hot water after one of their employees told a customer that vegans should be punched in the face. As you can imagine, the story made headlines on sites like BBC News for all the wrong reasons.
Of course, some negative reviews may be fair. Take them as an opportunity to show how quickly you respond to criticism. This will demonstrate that you think highly of your customers.
While we’re on the subject of negative reviews and comments, never delete them. As any online reputation management company will tell you, doing so is known as the Streisand effect. Covering stuff up online almost always fails. Getting censored will make angry customers air their views somewhere more public.
4. Prepare for a crisis well in advance
Crises have a nasty habit of showing up whenever you least expect them, and they can wreck your reputation. So, it pays to get your crisis comms strategy nailed as early as possible.
If you’ve screwed-up, you won’t be able to do anything to prevent negative headlines or calls from disgruntled customers. But you can control your response. Your aim is to get an official response out quickly and keep it higher in Google’s search results than the angry posts calling for your head.
You don’t want to end up like Mark Zuckerberg, who took four days to respond to the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018. At its worst, the company’s stock lost 10% of its total value.
Besides Zuckerberg’s wishy-washy response, Facebook should’ve known their shady data dealings would land them in hot water. Not having a slick response ready to go from day one was incredibly short-sighted.
On the other hand, fast food chain KFC was exemplary with its online PR news and reputation management. UK franchises ran out of chicken in early 2018 due to supply issues, leaving close to a thousand shops out of business for nearly a week.
The online coverage was damning, but, rather than pretend it wasn’t happening, KFC took control of the narrative with a cheeky, humorous campaign that admitted they’d messed up. Printed in papers and online, the strategy worked, and KFC emerged as the UK’s third most popular fast-food brand, according to YouGov.
Crisis management is a big topic. For more tips and advice, read: Crisis management in public relations
5. When all else fails, call in the experts
Even if you prefer to do things in-house, sometimes calling in a dedicated online reputation management expert is the right thing to do. Reputation management experts in PR firms have the know-how to get negative content removed or pushed down the search results. They’re also in contact with journalists, influencers and other opinion-makers who can tip the scales in your favour.
It’s worth bearing in mind that there are various kinds of online reputation management. Some online reputation companies focus on proactively developing crisis comms strategies, while others focus on review management and/or content creation. As such, step one is deciding what your most pressing issues are and finding the right firm to represent you.
You’ll also need to decide how much you’re willing to pay. Hiring an agency can be costly. It can be more cost-effective to bring in an independent PR expert.
Top online reputation management tools
Whether you opt to use a PR agency or manage your online reputation management in-house, there are some handy tools to help you stay ahead of the game:
This app from Google will notify you when you or your business name is posted online. If you learn that there’s an unfair or untrue story about your brand before anyone sees it, you can ask Google to remove it from its search results. (British supermodel Kate Moss allegedly did this with stories about her alleged drug use).
According to Reviewtrackers, people are 21% more likely to leave negative reviews than positive ones. If people are left to their own devices, their reviews will paint a very skewed picture of your brand. This is where review management tools like GatherUp come in. The tool encourages users to leave reviews, while drawing out the positive responses. It also prompts them to add their review to other sites, like Google reviews and Facebook. For very little effort, you can start increasing your five-star ratings: a key way to improve how people see you.
Hootsuite is an online reputation management service that focuses on centralising audience interaction.
The app’s biggest feature is the ability to let you push content to multiple sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at the same time. This makes it easy to keep your online presence fresh and up to date. No more posting your latest blog post to fifteen different sites manually.
You can also use Hootsuite to view social media conversations in multiple languages, filtered by keywords and location. This is a lot more powerful than a simple Google search, as it gives you more context as to why people are talking about you.
The final word
The Internet and social media have given people a voice, making it easier than ever for them to tarnish your reputation. But these channels can also work in your favour. Use them to connect with your audience, to inform, educate and entertain, and you’ll have a five-star online reputation for years to come.