Did you know that about 91 percent of consumers read online reviews before making a purchase decision? Did you also know that 84 percent of these consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations?
If you're a business owner and you don't give a hoot about online reviews, it's high time you started taking them seriously. Online reviews don't lie. Well, even though about 20 percent of Yelp reviews are fake, reviews can make or break your online reputation.
To stay a cut above your competition and keep pulling customers to your brand, you must master the art of online reputation management.
Don't know where to start? Worry not!
In this article, we're taking a deep dive into online reputation management. We'll reveal proven strategies you can use to build and maintain a solid digital reputation.
In a country where 87 percent of the population has internet access, it's hard to imagine there are businesses that haven't embraced the digital age.
Yet, as of 2016, about 50 percent of American businesses didn't have any kind of online presence. No website. No social media accounts. Nothing!
If you're among these businesses, you can easily dismiss the value of having a strong online reputation. You could be saying to yourself, "Look, my business is not online and doing just fine. Why do I have to bother with its online reputation?"
For starters, whether you're online or not, chances are high people are already talking about your business online.
Perhaps you run a restaurant that makes killer burritos. Your customers are raving about it on Facebook. Good for you!
But what if some of your staff at the restaurant are mean or unfriendly, and customers are bashing them on Twitter? Bad for you!
While all this is unfolding, you'll be in the dark because your business isn't online. A build-up of negative reviews will gradually lead to reduced sales. By then it could be too late to rescue the sinking ship.
But if you were already online, you would have caught wind of the negative reviews and taken steps to make things better.
As such, if you aren't officially online, it's time to start building a business website. Also, open various social accounts and claim your business on Google My Business and other similar platforms.
The best thing about running a business online is you have control over your reputation. You determine the direction you want it to take. If you want a bad reputation, just offer lousy products and poor customer service.
Now that your business is online, embark on growing your influence.
To do this, create high quality and engaging content that's relevant to your target market.
Sticking with the example of a restaurant, you can build a blog and share your recipes with your customers. Ensure the blogs are visual, complete with high-resolution images and videos.
Don't end your content game with your blog. Take it to social media, too.
The more content you publish, the more the engagement you'll stimulate among your online followers. Slowly, you'll expand your online influence and reputation.
The irony of expanding your online influence is that you make your business an easy target.
You see, not all competitors are about conquering the market by offering better products and services than yours. Some will engage in underhand tactics, like using pseudo accounts to post negative reviews about your business.
How do you catch such negative reviews, along with other genuine ones, as soon as they're posted?
Remember, being proactive is crucial to maintaining a good online reputation. This means responding to negative reviews as quickly or as possible. If you don't, you risk suffering a full-blown brand crisis.
Using social listening or brand monitoring tools can help you stay on top of your mentions. There are many such tools on the market, some free and others at a price. Some of the best free ones include HootSuite, TweetReach, and HowSociable.
While free tools are fine for getting started, it's advisable to switch to paid ones. They're more robust and effective.
These tools are your eyes and ears. They'll do their part in alerting you when somebody mentions your brand online, but you must also do your part.
If there's a negative comment, take an appropriate action. For instance, you could respond immediately and let the user know you're looking into the complaint. Whatever you do to defuse the situation, never ignore a negative comment.
Even if your brand trademarks are registered and protected, nothing stops other people from imitating your brand.
For instance, let's say your business name is My Burrito. Another person can start a new business and name it My Buritto (note the difference?) and try to imitate your brand.
Such cases can harm your brand, especially if the imitation offers poor products and services.
Since your business already has a wider online presence, new customers may unwittingly end up buying the imitation brand, thinking it's your business. And when the experience doesn't meet their expectations, they'll go online and give your business negative reviews.
This will no doubt harm your online reputation.
While it's difficult to control copycats, you should keep an eye on them. As soon as you find one, put a disclaimer on your website and on your social media pages. This will let existing and potential customers know that a copycat is in town, and they should be on the lookout. Encourage them to share the message.
Also, if such businesses are infringing your trademarks, don't shy away from suing them. You stand a good chance of winning the case.
No matter how good you are at managing your business' online reputation, it's still vulnerable to damage.
Even global brands with the financial resources to maintain a solid reputation still experience social media disasters. An ill-informed tweet or other social media post is enough to start a storm that can completely damage the business' reputation.
So, what if the inevitable happened and all you're left with is a business with a poor online reputation?
Obviously, you have to embark on repairing the damage. But do you have the expertise to do so successfully? If you're like many business owners, the answer to this question is a resounding no!
What do you do?
The solution lies in hiring an online reputation repair specialist. There are several providers of this service, so you have to do your research in order to find the most competent.
There are a couple of factors to consider, but be wary of a provider who promises instant results. Repairing a damaged reputation takes time, and any provider worth their salt embraces this fact.
Reputation management is a continuous process. As various digital platforms evolve, the need to stay on top of your web mentions becomes even greater.
As a small business owner, you can get away with doing everything on your own and outsourcing a few tasks to an expert. However, as your business widens its online presence, you'll need a dedicated in-house professional to take care of this aspect of your business.
You can hire a social media manager, who will also double up as the reputation manager. This professional will do everything from curating web content to monitoring web mentions and responding to online comments.
Are your customers and employees also your biggest brand advocates?
If they aren't, you're missing out on the advocacy powers of the two sets of people who are closest to your business.
To turn your employees into brand advocates, focus on offering an ideal working environment. The more your employees are motivated to work for your business, the more likely they're to go online and say nice things about the business.
For customers, offer an awesome shopping experience combined with regular discounts and loyalty programs. It's these customers who will go online and leave the positive reviews that will contribute to the growth of a positive reputation.
In today's modern age, business owners have no option but to embrace the internet.
But the web is a double-edged sword. It gives you the tools to build a business, and it also gives people the power to make comments that can harm your reputation.
Fortunately, with the information fleshed out above, you're in a better position to the manage the online reputation of your business.
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