What You Need To Know About Online Reputation Management
Online Reputation management
Today, the internet has billions of users, all of them consumers. So, online representation of almost every company is an essential and obvious thing. Companies and brands spend a lot on internet marketing, social media presence, online customer care and popularity. Maintaining a positive online image is, itself, a standalone management subject. However, many businesses are overwhelmed with all of the work involved in controlling their online properties, and for those businesses that don’t trade online it seems like a lot of work for very little reward.
Many businesses need to control their online presence, even if their main sphere of activity is, in fact, offline. Many of my clients operate their business offline but need to learn to manage them through the web. Not only salons and spas, but restaurants, mechanics, even chimney sweeps need some form of online brand management.
As we know, the first stop for the vast majority of potential customers is Google, where lurks unfettered user reviews, competitors, how to guides, all of which have the potential to send a customer down a path that does not lead to your door. We have all heard the advice that ‘an unsatisfied customer will tell 12 friends’, this is why managing your online presence is so valuable.
Today I will be discussing all main types of online consumer interactions, what are the basic management techniques to interact effectively? And hopefully, you’ll learn how a non-internet related business can still succeed in an online world.
Online Brand Reputation
Companies are identified by their brands, products and what they offer. At the turn of the century brand value was nothing more than the perceived monetary value companies paid when selling one to another.
The company brand now extends further, as a perceived value, or set of moral values that a consumer looks to align with. Loyalty to a brand becomes ingrained into a customer’s core values, look at multinational outdoor clothing company Patagonia donating 100% of Black Friday profits to green causes. (Patagonia Black Friday Sales) and you’ll see how global brand can align with the values of its consumers.
It’s also a known fact that Google loves brands, so having a brand carries more weight in modern marketing, but how does an offline company encourage this type of branding.
Owning multiple channels with one voice is a key strategy, not only do social signals help sites like Google figure out what the brand is but each platform you own can help expose your brand to different market segments. While we usually recommend finding where your target market like to spend their online time and focus your marketing efforts there, there are several reasons to maintain several profiles on many platforms.
Brand Exposure across many platforms, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, even Google+ etc, help increase your brand exposure to engines that search the web and to users outside of your normal sphere of influence.
Brand Ownership on many platforms dissuades competitors from opening accounts in your name. My advice to any new client, first getting online line, is register your brand on as many platforms as possible. Registration is often free and it secures the name, even if you never intent to use it. This prevents competitors and trolls from taking the account from you in the future. Once you have registered on all the platforms you can determine which ones to invest time and marketing budget on later, and grow your audience there. This way you have more control over which platforms you own and can pivot easily should you need to. Keeping them populated with cursory content and automatically shared feeds doesn’t increase the work load.
Whether it is sale services, after sale services or maintenance services. Each should be controlled by company policies and goals – your brand voice should apply to all channels.
Any single mishandled case may result in huge deformation of years of careful professionalism. As more and more companies move to social media as a platform for customer services it is more important they manage them correctly.
All too often, social media management is fobbed off on an intern type. Yet it continues to grow as an important customer facing touch point. It is crucial that social media isn’t just left to an intern but is owned by the customer services and marketing departments. With the right professionals in the right places social media platforms can aid in brand voice and also be a large step towards ‘wowing’ existing and potential customers.
Social Media Reputation
There are proper departments that takes care of online social media presence. It supposed to be fun, healthy and supportive image building platform. This is also tricky part where professionalism meets informality. See, there is whole subject of representing your company or brand over social media. Online pre-launch announcements, innovative ideas exchange, new brand launch new, interactive forums, competitions, promotions all this is for increasing social media reputation. It needs professional, regular and up to date accounts handling.
In addition to one on one contact with the occasional dissatisfied customer, social media channels can be a great line to joining in with the rest of your audience. It can break the barriers of formality, adding a personal touch to the brand. A personal brand attracts loyalty.
For a great example of social media adding a touch of personality to a brand search Google for ‘Tesco Jaffa Cake War’. The article tells of the hilarious Twitter interaction between several high profile, UK brands. No doubt encouraging a few cravings and maybe some new customers.
Responding to reviews (positive + negative)
You will always receive a mix of remarks against your brands. Some people like you, some don't. An optimistic and professional approach is required while dealing with these reviews. Always welcome, accept, encourage and admire positive responses. Always be polite, formal, considerate and empathetic toward bad reviews. Sometimes a simple future improvement promise can resolve many issues. In most occasions a bad review is merely a frustration of an easily resolved issue.
Reviews are a significant part of online reputation management, from Amazon to Google to Facebook, a review can make or break a brand. With more than 70% of people trusting a review online about as much as they trust a review from a friend. That’s big, peer reviews are a huge trust factor.
Regardless if a review is positive or negative they have a value to your brand and should be addressed. You can go a step further and allow your clients to leave an honest review on your own website. Provided they are unedited and not purchased (never try to buy a good review, other customers can spot them a mile off.)
Customer Care Reputation
A customer friendly attitude always wins. It should be noted that these interactions are made only when there is some issue or concern regarding the product. Fully trained and trust worthy representatives should be at work. Any false reply, any wrong information or false claim can result into huge fall back for reputation. When these occur on Social Media it is worth nothing that even a slight comment or post can be a symptom of a major concern.
Not every complaint is going to appear as a thought-out review or rant. As they say, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”, ensure that all of your efforts in this area aren’t focused on the loudest customers.
A well-trained customer care official, knowing all company policies, its products, general and specific detailed usability aspects, should be appointed to work closely with and customer facing platforms and marketing.
Don’t Engage in Arguments Online
You don't know the true motives of an argumentative person, while it may be a genuine complaint that has taken the form of a rant, it may also equally just be a troll determined to draw attention to themselves and tar your brand.
Whatever are the intentions, be careful in handling them, whatever is said will remain there till the end of times. It will be re-used, re-quoted, shared again and again ruining reputations. People are individuals, representing themselves. Company representatives are individuals representing the whole company. While talking to them, you should know that they are not talking to you, maybe they don't even know you, they are talking to your company. It is not you who is responding to their queries, for them it is the company that is responding. It is always recommended to handle these cases in private chat.
This also applies to individual accounts, it is all too easy in a world without barriers and full of personal relationships for a company representative to forget they are talking to a consumer first and a follower second. Even when they are ‘out of office’ on their own feeds. Despite the oft seen Twitter clause in many bio descriptions: ‘View on this account are my own and don’t reflect any company’. This may give a veneer of individual protection; the brand will still be damaged if a dispute arises from an employees feed.
Assume Nothing You Say or Do Online is Really Private
It is not only important for a company’s image, but it also has legal values. Any online interaction can, potentially, be used as evidence against company. As long as you are in your company forums, be careful. As online, nothing is really private or exclusive. Instead of being over smart, request for some extra time to resolve query, let a senior get handle the situation before things get worse.
That's way emotionally stable and psychologically strong with impulse control representatives are required to deal with these kinds of situations.
While it is not necessarily a bad idea to encourage your staff and colleagues to interact with the brand from their personal accounts it does blur the line of privacy for them. Their personal account will then be customer facing and need to reflect that. You can’t have a high-profile representative of ‘Coca-Cola’ be seen drinking ‘Pepsi’ on their Twitter feed.
Action before Re-action - Anticipate Customer Behaviour
Businesses spend huge amounts of time and money to understand customer behaviours towards their company, brand, services and products. Part of this is understanding why many PR disasters occurred. In hindsight, it can often be that a simple procedure change may have ended a potential disaster early on. Many PR issues resolved if we take in to consideration the information beforehand.
A very precise, accurate and collaborative approach is required dealing with customers. Each person is unique, different and has its own like and dislikes. These are the following questions that should be answered before implementation phase:
How will people respond to this product in general?
A full review processes is the first step here, surveys, consumer testing all contribute to understanding how the customer will use the product.
Does this product increase company's overall image?
Because sales are not the only important thing to consider. Does it align with the brand, is it fulfilling a consumer need? Or creating one?
What would be actual user experience?
It is only possible to know through crowd sourced testing. – Many products have gone to market with the manufacturer having no idea about the actual end users experience.
Is the audience ready to take major change to the product?
Online surveys are very useful here, following clues from the past interaction of consumers.
Can this new product potentially offend any particular gender, race or culture?
Gender experts, cultural experts, and professionals specialized in this sort of behavior are definitely required to give expert reviews on this particular product. Many car manufacturers have fallen at this hurdle, releasing a vehicle in multiple language regions, only to find the name of the car has a different meaning region to region.
Try to consider things from the users point of view, you might have spent ages thinking of a name for a product line and unveil it proudly. Only to have some internet ‘wag’ give it some nickname which undermines all your efforts. The ‘XBox one’ very quickly became ‘XBone’ when certain fans weren’t happy about the product. If there is no malice behind the name or service, then embracing this internet teasing can help win detractors over.
When in doubt, hire an expert. While you might save money, short term, letting your intern run the Twitter and Facebook pages, if all they do is share cat videos then they aren’t maximizing brand traffic and directing through the purchase funnel to ultimately convert.
If you think it's expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur!
The advantage here is that a professional will integrate social media through all channels, sharing ownership with customer services, marketing, PR and any other department as needed. They will understand the process to handle complaints, trolls, know how to nip potential disasters in the bud, and gather important data for future campaigns and product improvement. For a smaller business, then you’re going to need to learn and learn fast or hire an agency. If this expense is too much then find resources online which will guide you. A major part of my day job is guiding salon and spa owners through online reputation management, so much so we released an online reputation webinar on our blog. We integrate much of this into our salon software, finding a similar service in your business niche may be a way to help with your individual workload.
Sometimes, legal guidance is also very important. If a reputation issue is not taken carefully, it may cause legal distress. To have legal review on company issues can also help to understand how worse this situation can be? or how beneficial this improvement can be for the company legally?
Sharing product success awards, success stories, recognitions and certifications also add positive image to company reputation.
We are living in the age of information. News spreads like a fire in the forest. Any little good action can boast ratings and any simple mistake can bring reputation to ground. If analysis provided as above is used, it can be of great help in reputation management.
Finally, Embrace the Chaos
Yes, the internet is a wild place and can be a little intimidating for the uninitiated. Yet it is a hugely valuable resource. Never before has the relationship between brand and consumer been so close and accessible. Within a few short clicks I can connect not just to my favourite brands, but to the CEO, the founder, the management all through their social accounts (Social CEO-Fortune 500 CEOS on Twitter).
By not being part of that conversation you may be trailing behind. So, don’t lag, arm yourself with the knowledge and skills to avoid the major pitfalls, treat your customers like real people like they, and the people at your company, are and engage with them that way.