Managing your Online Reputation

In a world seemingly dominated by faceless online businesses with low prices, how much does your online reputation matter?

If you’re a small business owner, chances are that you’re intimately familiar with the concept of reputation. Most notably, people running brick-and-mortar businesses know exactly how much each customer’s opinion of their business matters.

But, reputation is always important, and your online reputation could make or break your business.

So, how do you develop your online reputation in the digital marketing world? Let’s take a look at the three building blocks of any successful online reputation and learn about how your small business can become an online authority.

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Content creation

Right off the bat, recognize that Not all content is created equal, and the most effective first step to becoming an online authority is creating great content.

Gone are the days when a catchy jingle alone could draw in customers. Now, consumers expect a certain level of effort to be put into any content they consume, especially if it’s designed to turn them into paying customers.

The paradoxical nature of content creation as it relates to digital marketing is that while you’re creating content with the hope that it will eventually help convert, the best content is rarely created with that in mind.

Many small businesses create this content through blog posts — that’s right, having a blog is back in style again. Believe it or not, some of the most trusted brands in the digital marketing landscape religiously publish content on their own blogs.

What’s so great about a blog? Search engines love them, for starters. Plus, having a blog gives you a dedicated hub that your audience can visit at any time to consume your content.

Something important to keep in mind is that producing blog posts means that you’ll have the opportunity to provide your audience with solutions to some of their problems. Resist the urge to create shallow content that exists solely to promote your own business; providing readers with tangible, actionable solutions to relevant issues can boost your reputation.

Related: 8 Reasons a Powerful Personal Brand Will Make You Successful

Social media

There are a few factors to consider when it comes to social media marketing. First, your reputation relies on your activity on any given social media platform: It’s hard for your audience to care about your social media accounts if you’re not using them.

But that’s just the beginning. If you want to turn your business into an online authority, you’ll need to be ahead of the competition when it comes to social. That means having a consistent posting schedule, using a variety of different social media platforms and, most importantly, actually engaging with your audience.

Engagement is one of the biggest hurdles for small business owners, for the simple reason that they’ve been taught to approach social media from a very corporate perspective. While your overarching ideology should certainly be professional, you shouldn’t be afraid to inject a bit of humanity into your social media accounts. Truth be told, certain platforms like Twitter and Snapchat revolve around figuratively taking off your tie and just chatting with people.

Social media, as a concept, works best when it’s simply two people having a conversation. That being said, we can’t deny the simple fact that you’re looking to do business with your audience. But just because you’re hoping to eventually convert them doesn’t mean you should ditch your humanity. Remain professional, but don’t suck the social out of social media. If you’re going to do that, you may as well pay for a TV commercial.

Related: 11 Ways to Make Money While You Sleep

Reviews and public perception

This is easily the most abstract and complex aspect of managing your online reputation. That being said, it’s also one of the most important. If you’re not familiar with the world of digital marketing, there’s a chance you don’t think that online reviews are all that important.

But, ever since Google decided that online reviews mattered, they’ve been a major factor in determining the online reputation of a business.

Digital word of mouth is one of the most persuasive forms of marketing to the modern consumer, and it tends to be a massive aspect of the decision-making process for the average person. Even if you’re the cheapest vendor by far, a few negative reviews can have a frightening effect on your sales. Why? Because people trust other people. And, if an unbiased third party tells someone your business is not to be trusted, then you’d better believe people are going to have some reservations.

How do you ensure people say good things about your business? Right off the bat, have a solid product/service. If every single negative review mentions one specific aspect of your business, it might be time to self-audit a bit.

Beyond that, be proactive about pursuing reviews. For better or worse, most people will only leave a review of their own accord if they have something negative to say. But, if you can convince 10 people who had fantastic experiences to leave reviews, your overall online reputation won’t take such a massive hit after a negative review.

Speaking of negative reviews/negative comments, whatever you do, don’t ignore them. While some might just be unintelligible anger (which does seem to happen from time to time), most negative comments originate from a miscommunication. Addressing the concern and attempting to remedy the situation can mean the difference between losing a customer forever and gaining a customer for life.

If you’re not used to the world of online reputation management and digital media marketing seems intimidating to you, you’re not alone. Plenty of small business owners are reading articles like these, trying to wrap their heads around these concepts and wondering how their own experience with a brick-and-mortar location will translate into a digital media marketing strategy.

The important thing to remember is that while the techniques might be different, the ideology is the same. Take care of your reputation by putting an emphasis on providing a fantastic customer experience. Once you’ve got that down, the rest is just a matter using the right tools and tactics.

Oops, Bad Reviews

All businesses, including online stores, brick and mortar shops or service providers, benefit when customers provide feedback online—provided that feedback is positive, of course.

Research has proven the power of online reviews, with 88 percent of surveyed customers reporting that they are influenced by an online customer service review.

Our connected world allows any satisfied (or dissatisfied) customer to broadcast his or her experience with friends, family and strangers across the Web. There are endless avenues on which customers can review products or services: Yelp, Amazon, Angie’s List, BBB.org, Google+ and almost all social media networks. Some sites, like Ripoff Report, exist solely for customers to post negative reviews.

It’s a tricky area to navigate, as a negative online reputation based on a handful of bad reviews can wreak havoc on a business. A study of online trends showed that 80 percent of consumers changed their minds about purchasing a product or service because they had read negative information online—that’s four out of five of your potential customers.

Related Article: From Zero to Five Stars: Online Reputation Management 101

The General Guidelines

Businesses often do not have a choice in whether or not they have reviews, as many sites accept reviews for companies without the owners’ approval. Regardless of your willingness to participate in online reviews, they will appear—and you will have to manage them.

Identify the Genuine Bad Reviews

It is advisable to respond to all authentic negative reviews, as they actually serve a purpose; the reviews that are best left unanswered are those that are clearly “trolling,” i.e. leaving reviews or comments that are intentional attempts to incite anger or frustration.

These reviews are often inflammatory, profanity-laden or unintelligible. A study from Stanford University and Cornell University advised against responding to or excessively deleting troll activity.

Never Reply With a Hot Head

Instead, take the time to cool down, assess the negative review and do some research. If possible, view the customer’s purchase history, so you are familiar with the situation. Don’t get defensive.

Develop a Game Plan

Writing a reply without outlining the purpose of the response will cause your message to lose focus. It’s important to keep your answer short and simple, explaining to the customer in understandable terms your plan of action to set things right.

The Four Parts of a Reply

1. Apologize

Start off by apologizing that the customer experienced bad service or a faulty product. Acknowledge that his or her feelings are valid and show that you care about the relationship.

2. Make It Right

It is not always expected that a negative reviewer receive something from the company to assuage their disappointment. A response is sometimes enough, especially if there is truly nothing to be done to “fix” the situation—but that doesn’t mean you should not try.

An offer could come in the form of free return shipping and a new product, discounted service or a personalized alternative.

3. Promise a Better Future

Once you have the core reason for their negative review, you can make plans to address the issues for the future. Was the service too slow? Did they experience a shipping delay?

Tell the customer how you will implement a strategy to ensure that they do not have the same experience again.

4. Give Thanks

Thank the customer for leaving feedback even though it’s negative. To ensure that they don’t come back to write yet another bad review, follow through on your promises.

Related Article: When Bad Reviews Hit: Should You Call Legal or PR?

The Specifics

Main Players

Amazon is a huge marketplace and leading resource for shoppers, as 30 percent of U.S. consumers begin their information search at Amazon to read product information and reviews. There are two ways customers can leave feedback: on the seller itself and the product. Amazon can remove vendor or product reviews only if they violate its guidelines, e.g. a product review left on a seller’s profile.

Google+ reviews, though not as widely used as some of the other platforms, are important as they appear directly on the search result page for your business. This set of reviews is often the first that a potential reviewer will see. Google+, like Yelp and Amazon, allows businesses to respond to reviews.

Yelp stands as one of the most popular sites for service providers, and it is home to some of the most scathing reviews. Businesses have no control over Yelp unless they claim the business page—and even then will they have only a modicum of control. Customers can edit, delete and update their reviews and reply to your comments.

Social Media

Surprisingly, only a small number of consumers (35 percent) say that social media had any influence purchasing decisions. Regardless of social media’s impact on buying behavior, the response should be the same short and sweet message that offers to correct the situation. Facebook allows you to delete posts from your business page, but this is inadvisable. Once an angry commenter notices his or her complaint has gone missing, it opens the floodgates for more.

Ripoff Report

Ripoff Report is often the scourge of businesses—once you’re on it, you stay on it. You can go through their “Corporate Advocacy” or “VIP Arbitration” programs, but the comments still stand and appear in searches even with positive and resolved messages above them.

The damage with Ripoff Report lies in its name and its reputation. If a business is listed there, it’s negative. Posting a rebuttal will show others that you have seen and responded to the message; others have come up with alternative ways to remove the Ripoff Report listing from Google with the help of a court order, but these methods can be costly and unpredictable.

Removing a result of Ripoff Report is difficult but reputation management services can help push down its visibility.

Related Article: What Every Entrepreneur Should Know About Ripoff Report

When the Negativity Persists

Sometimes, no matter how sincerely you respond to reviews, negativity will continue to drag down your online reputation. Luckily, there are also reputation management services and tools that help examine and repair your online reputation.

You can use Online Reputation Management Tool to rearrange your Google results to your liking and send them to a reputation management team for analysis. With Google Alert or IFTTT, you can create notifications to alert you when someone mentions your business anywhere on the Web, and Social Mention allows you to keep track of who’s saying what about you on social media.

Coupled with a detailed plan to respond to online reviews, working with reputation management service providers or tools can help manage your reputation on review sites. Online reviews, while helpful, can also be a breeding ground for negativity—if a business responds with courtesy, understanding, and patience, it can reap rewards instead.

How Damaging is a Bad Boss?

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What’s the one factor that most affects how satisfied, engaged, and committed you are at work? All of our research over the years points to one answer — and that’s the answer to the question: “Who is your immediate supervisor?”

Quite simply, the better the leader, the more engaged the staff. Take, for example, results from a recent study we did on the effectiveness of 2,865 leaders in a large financial services company. You can see a straight-line correlation here between levels of employee engagement and our measure of the overall effectiveness of their supervisors (as judged not just by the employees themselves but by their bosses, colleagues, and other associates on 360 assessments). So, as you can see at the low end, the satisfaction, engagement, and commitment levels of employees toiling under the worst leaders (those at or below the 10th percentile) reached only the 4th percentile. (That means 96% of the company’s employees were more committed than those mumbling, grumbling, unhappy souls.) At the other end, the best leaders (those in the 90th percentile) were supervising the happiest, most engaged, most committed employees — those happier than more than 92% of their colleagues.

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This study is by no means unusual. We’ve seen the same pattern in the U.S., the U.K., the Netherlands, Spain, United Arab Emirates, and India. We’ve seen it in financial services, manufacturing, high-tech, government, universities, hospitals, food service, oil, and every other industry we’ve studied. We’ve seen it in organizations employing 225,000 people and 250.

And we’re not the only ones who’ve seen it: In a recent article, Jim Clifton, the CEO of the Gallup organization, found that 60% of employees working for the U.S. federal government are miserable — not because of low pay, poor workplace benefits, or insufficient vacation days — but because they have bad bosses. He goes so far as to report a silver-bullet fix to this situation: “Just name the right manager. No amount of pay and benefits will solve the problems created by a manager who has no talent for the task at hand.”

This matters so much for two very basic reasons.

Bad Bosses Negate Other Investments: As Clifton points out, none of the other expensive programs a company institutes to increase employee engagement — excellent rewards, well-thought-out career paths, stimulating work environments, EAP programs, health insurance, and other perks — will make much difference to the people stuck with bad bosses.

Good Bosses Lead Employees to Increase Revenue: And, as many other studies have shown, there’s a strong correlation between employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and revenue.

To take just one example, in the first of many such studies, published more than 15 years ago in HBR, Anthony Rucci, Steven Kirn, and Richard Quinn identified “the employee-customer-profit chain” at Sears. This was a straightforward dynamic in which employee behavior affected customer behavior, which in turn affected company financial performance. Specifically, in Sears’ case, when employee satisfaction improved by 5%, customer satisfaction improved by 1.3%, which led to a .05% improvement in revenue. That might not sound significant, but for $50 billion Sears, that that came to an extra $250 million in sales revenue.

This study has since been replicated by J.C. Penny, Best Buy, and Marriott. And for all of them the results held true — effective leaders led to satisfied employees, which led to satisfied customers, which led to a direct and measurable increase in sales revenue.

Put all of these studies together, and to us the implications are clear. Investing in leadership development not only pays off, it’s a prerequisite to getting the most out of your other investments in workplace effectiveness and the most from your top line.