Online Reputation Management: A Guide

According to Jupiter Research, 90% of B2C companies believe that monitoring their online reputation is important. But how many of those actually have a concrete strategy or procedure for monitoring? My guess would be very few. Beyond that, how many have a strategy for not only monitoring but also moderating and engaging the channels that they’re monitoring? Even fewer.

Having a strong online presence is a crucial piece of a company’s overall brand. Your consumers are online, and they’re talking about you. With the widespread use of social media, engaging your customers through these channels is not only a necessity, it’s an opportunity—an opportunity to connect with brand loyalists, to do damage control, to give your company a voice, to grow your business, to increase traffic, to preserve your reputation online and off. It’s about being transparent and authentic, but it also gives you the chance to get to know your audience and what they’re thinking. It provides the chance for businesses to highlight problem points or opportunities–it’s a direct line into the thoughts of your audience. It’s also important to note that review sites like Yelp rank highly in organic search results for many businesses, so these sites may be the first impression of your business that a potential customer gets. How could you ignore that?

People are going to find your brand online in places you can and cannot control. While conversations on your own blog may be easier to manage, most of the talking is happening on social media and ratings sites that you don’t have full control over. What does this mean for your brand? What are the dos and don’ts?

Online reputation management at its core is the practice of monitoring and moderating your brand’s online reputation online. It’s more than just knowing where your audience is talking and what they’re saying– it’s about engagement. Brands often seem to be hesitant to reach out through these (somewhat) new channels, but I think that many are missing a huge opportunity by staying quiet. Not every review merits a response, but monitoring your reputation daily and responding to important reviews within a few days is a good start.

Contacting reviewers should be approached with care. Online methods of contacting your customers are blunt by nature, so sometimes good intentions come across badly. The way you speak on behalf of the company while responding to real-life customers is of utmost importance.

Keep these three things in mind as you’re crafting a message to reviewers:

  1. They are paying customers
    1. They are human beings– with feelings!
    2. They are vocal and opinionated (otherwise they would not be writing reviews!)

Public vs. Private Responses

Regardless of whether a comment is positive or negative, the first step is to decide whether your response to the comment should be public or private. Some sites may not give you the ability to privately message reviewers, so be extra careful handling reviews when your only option is to go public. Remember these guidelines apply to Facebook and Twitter too: the message on Facebook and the direct message on Twitter are your private options, while wall posts and @ replies are your public response tools. Here are some guidelines to use when deciding how to respond.

Use public responses to:

  • Tell your audience and the public what you’ve done to address a specific concern raised by a reviewer.
  • Provide correct information when a review contains something inaccurate or out-of-date.
  • Provide your version of a difficult situation when you’re unable to resolve a dispute through private messaging.

Remember to be polite and stick to facts since your comments are public and can be seen by potential and current customers.

Don’t use public comments to:

  • Make personal attacks. Avoid name calling or belittling. Even if the original review was offensive, customers expect you to take the high road. You want to represent your business maturely and in a positive manner.
  • Advertise. This is not the place for promoting unrelated offerings or promotions.
  • Offer incentives. Don’t offer gifts or other incentives in exchange for a more favorable review. Even if it’s well-intentioned, it can be perceived as dishonest.

Use private responses to:

  • Address a specific, one-time issue or bad experience. Apologize and say what you will do to prevent it from happening again.
  • Reach out to a rogue reviewer for the first time. If a review is particularly off-the-wall, inappropriate or vulgar, this is the place to start to try to get them to remove the review.
  • Thank positive reviewers for their input. In most cases, just a simple “thank you” does not need to be broadcast to the entire web. It’s fine, however, to publicly post a thank you to show that you are responsive to both positive and negative reviews.

Responding to Positive Reviews

Responding to positive reviews should be easy, right? It seems that way, but it’s also surprisingly easy to get this wrong.

When contacting a positive reviewer, your purpose should be simply to deliver a human thank you and let them know you care. That’s it. No gift certificates. No event invites. No reactions to the minor complaint in their review. No requests for them to tell more friends about your business. Letting them know you’re here for any further service or questions is fine, though— you can even leave them your personal email address or the link to subscribe to your newsletter or email program, but do not push extra things on them directly.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but just try to put yourself in the reviewer’s shoes and think about whether you would really want anything other than a simple thank you. While a gift or invitation sounds like a nice idea, it can also be misinterpreted as a bribe or payment for the review. Remember, this customer already likes your business — just use this opportunity to thank them and introduce yourself.

Responding to Negative Reviews

The first step to dealing with negative feedback is determining what type of feedback you’ve received. Figure out which category the negative review falls into, and then decide how to react with these tips.

Customer Issue – Someone has an issue with your product or service and has simply described the problem in their review. While these reviews may be hard to stomach since they point out problems with your business, but keep in mind that reviews like this are fair for the customer to post.

How to respond: a response is almost always merited. Use the scope and seriousness of the problem to help you decide if you should respond publicly or privately. The important thing is to acknowledge the problem exists and to apologize if the fault does lie with your business. Use these reviews as a way to identify problems and improve your customer experience.

Constructive Criticism – These reviews are similar to customer issues, but they include suggestions of how your business could improve. They seem less negative than straight issues, so think of them as an opportunity to really listen to your customers and their problems. This is a direct view into the perception of your business from an outsider looking in– take advantage of it.

How to respond: Although the customer’s suggestion may not always be something you want to implement, you’ll build loyalty and trust by responding to criticism with a positive message. Thank them for the time they took to leave the review, and say that your business is always concerned with customer satisfaction and you appreciate the suggestion(s).

Warranted Attack – While the attack itself may not be merited, the issue that catalyzed it does merit this negative feedback. Essentially, you or your company did something wrong, and they’re letting you know about it.

How to respond: These are a bit tougher to deal with because they’re more likely to feel personal. It is best to respond in a timely manner and to take responsibility for the mistake or issue. This is the only time I would consider offering a partial refund or future discount. Do not in any way give such an offer in conjunction with a plea to remove the review– that is the opposite of being transparent. An offer in this case says to me as a consumer that the business values my satisfaction and will accept responsibility when it warranted.

Unwarranted Attack – Unwarranted attacks  include spam, trolls and real reviewers without a real reason for writing a negative review. These could include irate ex-employees, competitors or simply unruly customers.

How to respond: Don’t. It’s as simple as that. Take the appropriate measures offered by the review site to try to remove the reviews (if any are available). For example, Yelp has a contact form for businesses to report reviews that violate Yelp’s content guidelines, and Google Places also has a (considerably less helpful in my experience) Help Center for their business listings to address these issues.

What Now?

There is no one-size-fits all solution to managing your online reputation, so have key players decide on what makes sense for your company. Important things to consider include:

  1. The volume of conversations going on about your brand online
  2. The number of outlets where the conversations are happening, and which are most important to monitor
  3. The resources you have to dedicate to online reputation management (time, personnel, etc.)
  4. What department or employees can respond on behalf of the brand
  5. Any approval process necessary before responding and internal best practices
  6. Legal considerations

All of these will help you shape an online reputation management strategy that makes sense for your brand.  Most importantly, be consistent, transparent and timely.

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