Have you Googled yourself lately? Not for vanity’s sake, but rather for your reputation. It’s hard to believe how much power the internet holds when it comes to the perception of your brand. You can have the best website in the game and offer outstanding services, but when a negative review goes viral, it can often feel out of your hands. A poor online reputation impacts the bottom line of your organization, but the good news is: it can be resolved. By implementing PR and marketing tactics and strategies, a communication or PR crisis can be averted. Consider the following tips related to online reputation management and learn how to handle (or avoid) the next PR disaster.
Monitor Your Brand.
Do you know where you exist online? Seems like an obscure question, but the reality is that people are talking about your brand and if you’re not monitoring your online mentions, you could be missing out on prime opportunities to convert prospects into customers—or worse, you could be losing customers! Whether on social media, blogs, or other websites, be aware of where people are talking about your products, services, or brand name itself. Set up a Google Alert, check Social Mention, and scour the web to get a sense of where your brand exists online.
Google Yourself Frequently.
There are so many factors that go into Google results; it’s a challenge to control your rankings. Search engines are one of the primary ways that Internet users find the information they are seeking, and it’s important for you to rise in the ranks; however, ranking results change on a daily basis and it’s up to you to stay at the top. To ensure you’re appearing at the top of the results, tie in all of your social media channels, establish a blog, post your latest news releases, and keep images and videos updated.
Know Your Competition.
Chances are you know who your competition is, but do you know what they’re doing online? Research their website, social media presence, and any reviews. They might even be talking about you, and that deserves some attention. Knowing what your competition is doing online can help you learn from their mistakes and ensure you are incorporating best practices into your own work.
Respond to Your Reviews.
According to Harvard University research, a 1-star difference in Yelp reviews may result in 5% to 9% in business gained or lost. Depending on the number of stars, this could make a huge impact on your organization’s bottom line. Opinion Research Corp. estimates 83% of consumers say online customer reviews influence their purchase decisions. Have a process in place that addresses negative reviews on third-party websites—will you respond? Will you let it go? Does it depend on the content of the review? Know the process so when a negative comment pops up, you can respond quickly with a thoughtful communication plan.
Tout Your Achievements.
Showcase your brand through outstanding reviews. When someone loves your product or service and decide to praise it on social media or elsewhere online, be sure to reward and highlight that review—perhaps even in an offline channel such as a print piece. A good reputation is an asset and should be managed like one. The Public Relations Society of America reminds us that “fame and recognition are easier to gain than ever before” through online channels.
Resolve Your Problems.
While users tend to flock to social media to complain about a poor experience or product, they also tend to explain if and how the situation was resolved. If you’re receiving negative feedback directly online via one of your social networks or on a gripe site, fix the situation by addressing the comment and if possible, attempt to rectify the problem by working with the customer directly. Whether or not you can offer a refund is likely a company policy, but don’t be adverse to apology—a sincere sorry can go a long way with your customers. If the situation has received any media attention, you may even consider reaching out directly to the media to explain what happened. Whatever you do, attempt to avoid aggression. When faced with negative online comments or bad coverage, companies can sometimes resort to defensive rebuttals, or worse yet—no response at all. Organizations should address the criticism head on and avoid the aggressive responses on the main websites where the situation occurred.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive.
Too often we’re faced with reacting to existing problems that need to be handled, opposed to a more proactive approach that deals with preventing or avoiding an issue before it has a chance to develop. Customers value transparency, and it’s better to be proactive about potential problems rather than react to the onslaught of negativity. Mitigate your risk by forging personal connections with media and customers and through authenticity and a commitment to transparency in all communications.
Track Your Employees.
The personal reputation of top-level executives can have a positive or negative reflection on your brand—do you know what comes up when you Google their names? These executives are likely thought leaders in their field and can often be associated directly with your brand. Ensure their online reputation remains as solid as your brand’s through constant monitoring and possible training. For those in the organization who aren’t as social media savvy as PR and marketing professionals, be sure to hold informational workshops and strive to educate stakeholders on the advantages and risks associated with the web.
Hire PR Professionals.
While some businesses can manage their online reputations with their current human resources, the best advice is to hire a PR professional. Skilled in branding, writing, planning, and communication, PR professionals should be well equipped to handle the ins and outs of online (and offline) reputation for brands, products, or individuals.
Know the Best Practices.
Keeping up with industry standards can be a challenge, but knowing PR and communication best practices will put you at the cutting-edge. Read industry publications, be active in local groups and associations, and consider taking classes—a new course on reputation management will be offered this fall at the University of Denver’s college of professional and continuing studies, University College.
Whether you’re looking to maintain your personal brand or your company’s brand, it’s essential to devise a strategy to manage your reputation—online and offline. According to “Radically Transparent,” the text for next fall’s reputation management course at University College, “A strong reputation develops from disciplined focus. Achieving a stellar reputation is a strategy-driven and systematic process that builds, maintains, measures, and protects the company’s reputation and allows it to achieve business goals, including creating shareholder value.”