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Online Reputation Management. What is it? And Why is it important?

What’s the first thing you do before meeting a potential business associate? Google them? Or check out their LinkedIn profile or other social media pages? The likelihood is you do all of the above, and more.

Guess what? That’s exactly what they do before meeting you, too, which is why it’s so important you manage your online reputation.

Online reputation management is key to getting ahead in the business world. Here’s how to keep your reputation squeaky clean.

But what is online reputation management?

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You’ve got a fancy website, a great blog and profiles on all the social media channels. A blog post here, a few tweets there, and your online reputation is taking care of itself, right?

Wrong. It’s not enough to just post content: you need to actively monitor what people are saying about you. From negative reviews to rants on social media to scathing press articles: there could be all sorts of information about your business in cyber space that’s harming your reputation.

So online reputation management is about improving how you and your business is viewed online. And here’s why it should be high on your agenda.

Why is online reputation management important?

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You might think your online reputation isn’t important, but the numbers don’t lie. A 2018 ReviewTrackers survey found that nearly 95% of people have avoided a business because of bad online reviews.

Want more proof that messing up 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. Talk about an own goal.

But it’s not just big corporations that need to worry about online reputation management. A mortifying example of this was by Twitter user @NaomiH_official regarding her NASA internship.

She tweeted:

Naomi: “Everyone shut the f*** up I got accepted for a NASA internship.”
Another Twitter user named Homer Hickman replied: “Language”
Naomi responded: “Suck my d*** and balls I’m working at NASA.”
Hickman replied: “And I am on the National Space Council that oversees NASA.”

Oops. The cringeworthy exchange lost Naomi her once-in-a-lifetime internship. Even though Hickam voiced his support of the intern, the damage was done. The moral of the story? You never know who you’re talking to online. Even if it’s not your next boss, it might be a potential customer. 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

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1. Keep track of your reputation

Not Googling 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.

When you look through search results for you and your business, 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 that you respond to criticism. But try to get more reviews from happy customers to bump up your average score. One of the most useful online management tools for this is GatherUp.

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 about you, and hopefully they’ll delete it sharpish. If not, get a solicitor. Proving someone’s libelled you can force them to make a public apology, or pay up.

While using search engines for reputation management is quick and useful, 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. The ‘incognito’ mode in Firefox and Chrome is the best way to view it, but you should also search on different devices, like mobile phones.

Tracking your reputation doesn’t stop at Google, of course. Searching on Twitter, Reddit, and other big forums will give you a broader idea of what people think of you. Also, specialist forums like Rate My Professor or Top Doctor won’t always show up in standard web searches, but they can also influence your reputation.

2. Get busy spreading content

The best online reputation management is proactive. Rather than sitting around hoping people say nice things about you, start making content that’ll get people’s attention. Good quality content boosts your site’s authority, pushing negative press further down the Google pages.

With that said, the most important thing is to give your audience something useful. A great example of this is Investopedia. It’s got an A-to-Z of finance articles that are informative, interesting and easy for beginners to understand. As a result, it regularly gets the top spot in Google when you search for anything finance related, from stock trading to how markets work. In turn, Investopedia has an A* online reputation. It’s a name people trust, and it’s all thanks to the site’s content.

Once you’ve put out some good content and have reached the top of the search results, it’s easy to get complacent. But don’t. People trust sites 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 draw them to your brand.

Here are some key points to consider for your content strategy:

  • 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 like one big ad? People can 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.
  • Clear, accessible writing. Use an online tool like Grammarly to make sure your writing is clear, on topic and jargon-free.

Build up a backlog of content that follows these rules, and you’ll make a serious impact on how people think of you.

3. Set rules for how you engage with customers

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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 PR or comms team. You’ll only be hurting your brand if you start trading insults. 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. When people see that you actively respond to negative reviews, they’ll know your brand thinks highly of its 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.

If in doubt, the golden rule for online customer interaction is to be as polite as you would in person.

4. Prepare for a crisis well in advance

By definition, a crisis can wreck your reputation. Corporate crises have a nasty habit of showing up whenever you least expect them, so it pays to get your crisis comms strategy nailed as early as possible.

If you’ve made a serious screw-up, you won’t be able to do anything to prevent negative newspaper 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 expected that their shady data dealings would land them in hot water. Not having a short, 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 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. Not ideal for a fast-food chicken brand.

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 the papers and online, the strategy worked, and KFC emerged as the UK’s third most popular dining 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 service is the right thing to do. Reputation management and 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. Others focus on review management, 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 have to decide how much you’re willing to pay. Hiring an agency can be costly, and it can be more cost-effective and flexible to bring in an independent PR expert.

Top online reputation management tools

Let’s say you don’t want to use an outside service, but handling everything yourself is taking up too much time. Luckily, there are several great tools to help you stay ahead of the game.

Google Alerts

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 supposed drug use).

There are alternatives with more functionality, like Awario or Talkwalker, but Google Alerts is free. That makes it a handy tool for people taking online reputation management into their own hands.

GatherUp

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 popular 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

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 once. 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 search through 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 your online reputation will stay positive for years to come.

Looking for someone who can help you with online reputation management? Get in touch today.



Want to join the PR revolution? Call me now on +44 (0)77604 70309

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