Your Reputation… Online

How do you manage your online reputation when everyone is a critic? That’s the question many of our clients are asking us today. The answer is one that requires a shift in the way we think about how we relate with our consumers. It requires that we put down our storytelling marketing methods and think in terms of conversational marketing methods.The impact of social networking channels on today’s small business is unmatched; even by search. Search, of course, is a critical component in the marketing mix but doesn’t have the crippling effects that the social rating and review sites can have. The rating and review sites continue to have a profound and even, in some cases, paralyzing impact on small businesses all across the Internet. Along with the multitude of brand advocates you will acquire, you are sure to encounter more than a few, very vocal unhappy customers along the way — which is why it’s become a great task to manage your online reputation. These sites , as with the web in general, moves fast – much faster than any one business can keep up with. Which is why implementing a reputation management program and true extension of your marketing efforts is a must, now more than ever.

Remember the phrase “word of mouth” the phrase used to describe how one person tells another and that person tells another and so on? The advent of the Internet, its ease of use, and consumer adaptability rates wipes out any thoughts surround “word of mouth” and now challenges us to think of this act as WORLD OF MOUTH. In fact, a study conducted by Opinion Research earlier this year found that over 32% of consumers had personally posted feedback or a review on a web site after an experience with a product or service. This number will continue to grow and it will grow rapidly. At one point very soon, if not already it will be nearly impossible to escape the likelihood of being evaluated. There’s simply nowhere to hide. Your fans, your critics, your current and prior employees, your competition, and quite frankly anyone who has an Internet access and an opinion can post a comment, rate and/or review your business at any given time.

So, again, you may be asking yourself: How do I manage my online reputation when everyone’s a critic? Let’s get to the heart of how to actively own, participate, and engage with social media networks so that you can begin to manage your online reputation. Word of caution before we move forward…I used the word managebecause in this age of real-time, instant universal dialogue you cannot expect tocontrol this space. Before moving forward, put down any thoughts you have of controlling your online reputation. It will help you be much more effective in this effort. Further, these new tools and your marketing efforts require a whole new skill set, including monitoring the online conversation and engaging with customers to promote the good news about your business in the best channels. These new marketing skills are becoming essential for mainstream businesses.

Boiling it down:
Listen: According to a survey by the Opinion Research Corporation, 84 percent of Americans say online reviews influence their purchasing decisions. Consumers are being influence by what they are reading online about your business which is why it’s so critical that we get our arms around this chatter and listen to what’s being said. For some businesses this will be a very easy task while others (as we have seen over the past year) will be a very time consuming and, dare I say, daunting task.

  • Search for your business name and/or any other related phrase at Google – do you like what you see?
  • Set up a Google Alert, a simple and easy way to get automated alerts about your business.
  • Rate/Review Sites: Review your profile and comments on CitySearch,Yelp,SuperPagesGoogle Directory, along with a host of other rating and review sites. Again, do you like what you see?
  • Search FacebookTwitter, and YouTube. Get an idea around what sort of results are appearing when searching for your business.
  • Claim your listing within all online directories (Yelp, Google, YellowPages,DMOZ, Yahoo)
  • Consider an online reputation management software, there are a host of new and old applications out there to choose from ranging from relatively inexpensive to very, very expensive: The Marchex Reputation Management, My Media Info., Brandseye, and AgentGenius are just a few of the dozens of suitable services, which I’m sure by now are clamoring for your attention.

Participate: Get into the conversation and turn your prospects into consumers. Engage your consumer, show them that your business is actively listening and participating in the dialogue. Few things you must consider before you venture into the conversation. The most important thing is not to argue with the consumer, especially not in such a wide open and visible place. Simply try to listen and put yourself in the customer’s place. If the topic seems to be of a delicate matter, which most of them are in this space, invite the consumer to contact your office directly.

Another big no-no is posting false reviews. Don’t write fake reviews to boost up your business or trash a competitor. Businesses have been publicly exposed for shilling and suffered major embarrassment. Many of you probably are aware of the Lifestyle Lift incident which occurred last year. Authorities said the cosmetic surgery clinic Lifestyle Lift would pay $300,000 in civil penalties after an investigation by the New York State Attorney General’s office found that employees had posed as plastic surgery consumers to write glowing reviews of their own business — a bogus grass-roots movement known as “astroturfing.”

Keep it simple and keep it honest:

  • Participate in the review sites; Rate, review, comment, blog.
  • Publish press releases, articles, service supporting documents, post videos.
  • Be the one to create the news for your business, don’t wait for something to react to, spread the good word about you and your business.
  • Implement a rate and review program : Invite consumers to comment about you and give you feedback on your service.

React and Respond: Turn your current consumers into evangelists. Implement monitoring activities whether a paid subscription, free automated tools, manually have staff members monitor, or any combination of these. Make a point to do something with what you are learning. If you have an overwhelming number of consumers all complaining about time to make an appointments or lack of follow up – do something about that. Don’t ignore what you hear even if it’s negative. If you receive a suggestion for an improvement, do something with that or at least acknowledge the input and let your consumers know you are listening.

  • Modify, respond, react.
  • Promote the good news.
  • Utilize the free analytic tools.
  • Monitor the chatter.
  • Implement what you learn.
  • Ultimately get to know your customer & capitalize on good reviews.

If you are serious about implementing a reputation management program, you have a variety of actionable items here to employ as soon as possible. No doubt, this is a lot of information to absorb. The most important point to all of this is that there is a conversation happening with or without you online. These social media tools have transformed the way we interact with our consumer and it’s up to us to master the conversation rather than the storytelling; this is no longer a one-way conversation. And finally, the fundamentals of marketing have changed and the best approach now is to look at this as an exciting opportunity to talk to our customers as we never have before. This opportunity can transform the way we do business and ultimately grow our business.

Embrace the change, see it in a positive light and follow the steps outlined above and you’ll be on your way to implementing a successful online reputation management program.

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