Before you read this article answer this question: Does your business show up on page one of Google searches? Not Sure?
Do a search for your name. Your company name. Your product or service names.
What you find on page one in the Google search engine results page (SERP) reveals your business ecosystem. It is how your business is seen in the wild today and how a prospect will see your business too.
Your family and friends could tell everyone they meet your business is the most awesome thing since sliced bread. But Google will tell them where you rank in your industry, marketing, and community. And what they find as a result of their search is all part of the buying process.
Controlling what people find when they search is a branch of marketing that is commonly referred to today as reputation management.
Reputation management used to be thought of as merely reviews, but today it’s much larger than that.
Consider this Wikipedia description: reputation management is the influencing and controlling of an individual’s or group’s reputation. Originally a public relations term, the growth of the internet and social media, along with reputation management companies, have made search results a core part of an individual’s or group’s reputation.
Reputation management used to fall almost exclusively under the heading of PR. If the local newspaper decided to run an expose on your lousy customer service, then your PR firm would do what they could to make it go away. And frankly, it often did blow over.
But today, everyone is the local newspaper and what they publish lives on a permanent record of how you’ve done something wrong or offended them – accurate or not.
And unfortunately, an unhappy and motivated customer can publish a lot. Google your favorite brand and add the word “sucks” in your search. So Apple + sucks. What you’ll find no matter the brand is at least a handful of sites dedicated to letting you know what this means.
This rampant communication is simply a reality in the digital world. But, it’s not just that people have the ability to rate, review and otherwise expose companies that don’t live up to their promises; looking for, finding and using these reviews has become a part of the buying behavior.
BrightLocal recently found that 88% of consumers say that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. That’s right the review from a total stranger carries as much sway as a personal recommendation.
The New Rules
There have always been several unspoken rules for business success. In a world where everyone is a publisher, brands must adhere to a handful of rules when it comes to customer interaction. By the way, the “new” rules may simply be updated versions.
Work to build trust
Trust is the toughest phase of the top half of the Duct Tape Marketing Hourglass. It comes from a deliberate effort. If you ship late, don’t honor your guarantee, or simply don’t respond to customer requests, you can bet it will decay trust and make headlines somewhere.
This term is overused, but when people can and do publish what they experience, it makes the need to be open and honest even more valuable. Try to be transparent about what happened, what’s next, and what you’ve learned as a result.
The website of retailer LL Bean is full of product reviews. It’s something they encourage and is part of the culture of the company. The comments and reviews have become a bit of a publicity area and several articles have been written that highlight the amount of reviews posted and the sometimes quirky and funny content. This New York Magazine article is a great example.
Turn to Twitter, and you’ll see plenty of organizations using this online tool as their customer service platform. You may save one customer with a direct and brilliant reply, but you will likely positively impact many others paying attention as well.
Note: The best way to get help with your Google My Business profile (previous post here) is via GoogleMyBusiness on Twitter.
It’s said “there is one in every crowd” and online review sites are no exception, there is always someone that is not happy. Their comment and reactions are negative. But there are also some people that make useful and valid points when they leave criticism about a business. Pay attention to what people are saying, invites feedback at every turn, join the conversation, and address any criticism directly.
Learn from your mistakes
Jay Baer’s Hug Your Haters book includes some serious tips on playing by these new rules to win. One of the most valuable is that making mistakes or hearing critical reviews provides us with the opportunity to improve and do better.
The best defense
When it comes to reputation and review management, the best defense is a good offense. Sooner or later, most businesses let a customer or two down and then suffer the blows of a negative review. Or worse – the business is subjected to the unwarranted attacks of a former employee or competitor’s scheme.
If you wait to take action after the fact, your job will be much tougher. If you proactively claim real estate, nurture relationships and recruit positive coverage, you’ll be shielded from the impact of the negative, if, or when, it arises.
A word about negative reviews
Negative reviews hurt, and they can feel kind of personal. When and if you get some negative coverage, particularly in the form of a scathing review from a past customer, relax and work to limit the damage.
First and foremost take the time to make an honest assessment. Is there anything you could have done better, is this a one-time mistake, or do you have a side of the story to share?
When you receive a bad review, don’t make it worse by throwing gas on the fire with an aggressive and impulse-driven response.
Here are some things to consider about purely negative reviews and what you can do about them. Both Google and Yelp give you the ability to flag any review and ask that it be deleted if it meets any of the following.
Opinion vs. Facts
In the US the 1st Amendment gives people the right to free speech. Anyone can express their opinion about something. What they cannot do is state facts that are not true. So, if they say the food was terrible, that’s fair game. But if they say they doubt you even have a health inspection clearance, well that they cannot do!
There is a big difference between opinion and facts. In the United States people have the right to free speech. Anyone can express his or her opinion about something. What they cannot do is present facts that are not true. Leaving a review that states that you didn’t like the food is acceptable. Stating that the food may you ill is something entirely different.
If someone provides false information, say they are claiming that you were not open when you said or that you did not offer what you advertised and this information is false; you can ask the site (Google, Yelp, etc.) to have it removed.
Conflict of interest
If the spouse, family member, or employee of a competitor posts a review to hurt your business, you have the right to demonstrate that there is a clear conflict involved and the review may be considered for removal.
Inappropriate comments, including sexual or hate speech related, are never something you should allow. Positive or negative, the review sites want this removed as soon possible and reporting these incidents immediately is your best bet.
Addressing negative reviews directly will help you from letting them ruin your reputation. Sometimes things happen and responding to a negative review can be your chance to demonstrate what your business and brand is really about.
Your Action Plan
The following five steps should be part of your reputation management action play. Establish and monitor some goals around reviews and results and work these into your marketing system.
Use a tool like Google Alerts (free) or BuzzSumo (paid) to set up a series of alerts.
You can create alerts for your business or personal name, industry, community, or other topics that connect you to your market. You can then receive a daily or “real time” alert whenever your alert terms are mentioned online. This will give you the opportunity to engage in conversations sooner.
Actively monitor your blog, Facebook page, Twitter profile, and other social media for opportunities to engage and respond. Sometimes simply acknowledging a bad review or comment can help put out the fire. Sites like RipOffReport and Complaints Board should also be in your monitoring system.
Claim your real estate
Claim and monitor all of the profiles that are available. Why not create as many pages as possible where you control the content? You may think that LinkedIn isn’t the right social media site for your business, but there’s a very high probability that your LinkedIn profile will rank on page one of Google for your name. The idea is straightforward: If you can fill page one of Google’s SERP with positive links there are less likely to be negative ones on the first pages. You can effectively displace them and make them harder to find.
Make feedback part of your customer experience and ensure it’s hosted on your site. You will know first hand what is being reported and written and improve your chances to snip bad situations in the bud. That doesn’t mean you should remove or delete negative feedback. You shouldn’t. It is too great of an opportunity to move it to positive.
It’s hard it is to get reviews in the places you need them – Google, Yelp, and industry specific review sites, even if you have lots of raving fans.
People love to express their opinion, and maybe you are lucky enough to get lots of compliments and unsolicited emails from raving fans.
If that is the case, you should be working to get those reviews online with a proactive review funnel.
What is a Review Funnel?
A review funnel is simply a tool to make it much easier for your happy customers to place reviews. When it is done effectively, it’s also a tool to help head off potential negative reviews before they happen.
Here Is a simple way to implement a review funnel in your business:
• Invite your customers to a place on your site or a landing page where you invite reviews
• Offer them an initial gauge where they can give a 1-5 star rating
• Anyone that rates 3 or below stars is offered the option to tell you what you would have done better so you can address the issue immediately
• Anyone that rates 4 or above is taken to a page featuring all of the various places they can leave a review with a link to the right page and directions for how to leave a review on that particular site
With a review funnel in place, your team can invite customers via email, business card, printed material, or other means to leave reviews, and make it easy for them.
Free review and reputation report
If you would like to take a quick look at how your reviews stack up, we’ve created a nice free tool that allows us to create a report on the status of your reviews – simply click here and add your business name, zip code and phone number and we’ll create a scan of your reviews on the major review sites.