Back in the day of brick and mortar, enterprising businesspersons would always say “Location, location, location.” Fast forward to our currently emerging heyday of global communications and cherishment of placement still applies, except the first page of Google has replaced 5th Avenue as the placement of choice.
Modern reputation management
Modern reputation management is everything to a business; the information your former and future customers have access to when they type your name into Google (or speak it) spells the difference between your illustrious business success, or obscurity, infamy, and failure.
This article is about presenting the five best practices to improving the online reputation of your website, whether you’re just starting out, or looking to fix a soured reputation:
Know yourself / Know your competitors
Pulling off a successful online reputation is impossible if you can’t get across what you do and how you do it better. The first step to that is to know yourself, and to know your competitors search results - a little marketing mixology goes a long way in ORM. Having a full-fledged marketing mix, complete with all 7 Ps is strongly recommended, but not strictly necessary. If you’re pressed for time, it’s enough to focus on the product and people aspects of your business and let the rest fall in place as you go along.
Know your market
Flying in blind is a recipe for discontented users at best and an absolute online reputation fiasco at worst. Some of the biggest blunders in the brief but intense history of online reputation management thus far have occurred when companies exhibited spectacular obliviousness to the temperament of the online communities they were engaging. What are you famous for, if anything? What are you infamous for? Which demographic sections are you currently engaging? What information is available on the likes, dislikes and behaviors of these people? The sooner you know this all, the sooner you can get to building and fixing.
Set a tone and strategy
The secret to successful online reputation management is less about the actual tools and techniques and more-so the consistency of the overall method you apply and the tonality you invoke across all your media channels. Studies have shown that individuals perceive and engage with corporations as other people online, so any dissonance in the message you’re delivering between say, Twitter and Facebook can confuse or even inflame your customers. Find a consistent tone that fits your brand image. How do you want to come across? Professional and aloof? Plucky and spontaneous? Funny and affable? Pick a tone, and stick with it across all media channels. Strategy is just the broader aspect of this, such as how frequently you curate new content, or engage your clients in the comment sections and Twitter feeds.
Reviews are just part of a whole
Good reviews are just the tip of the online reputation iceberg rather than the end-all goal of ORM that many people seem to think it is. Sourcing (or forcing) good reviews to bolster a non-existent or improve a negative online reputation can oftentimes do more harm than good if these reviews seem incentivized or unauthentic. Nothing turns people off more than an obviously brought-and-paid for reputation, which is why it’s so important to grow your online presence and engagement as “organically” as possible. Some of the key factors to strive for in your online reviews are listed below:
- Different strokes for different folks
Avoid putting all your reviews in one basket. Just as your website has an online reputation, so too do the sites where your website’s reviews are listed on. Angling for only Yelp reviews does nothing for your online reputation if the majority of your user base treats the website with skepticism. Rather, try to aim for as diverse a review spectrum as possible from day one- even if the majority of your negative reviews are on a single platform, chances are people are going to rely on multiple sources before they pass judgement.
- Realism matters most
The more realistic your reviews are, the more likely they are to leave a positive impression. Undying proclamations of how your product is the best thing since sliced bread won’t get you very far in this business; people are savvy enough to realize when reviews are real and when they aren’t. Make sure to only ask users who’ve actually used your product or service to write your reviews, and specifically mentioned what they liked and sometimes, even what they disliked (then make them feel valuable by having these issues addressed). Tip: Reviews with exclamation points and ALL CAPS tend to get filtered.
- You’ll Lose what you Don’t Use: The more recent the review, the more likely it is to come up in your search engine results. Posting frequently is thus the only means of ensuring your online reputation continues to build rapport. Some clients wage an online reputation enhancement campaign then completely stave off any further maintenance of their online reputations once they’ve “made it.” Thing is, with ORM, there is no making it- just like you don’t stop conversing with someone after you’ve become friends, so too does the online relationship between client and user or customer require constant upkeep to continue to bloom.
- “More is better” (but only once you’ve set yourself up for it)
A counter-point to “realism,” once you’ve established an online reputation, you should then move on to building more positive rapport than your competition. If your competitor has 10 positive reviews, you should be aiming for 11 or more- simple as that. Just make sure to have those reviews realistically spaced out as opposed to suspiciously clumped together (realism matters most, remember?).
People underestimate the value of invoking some good, clean fun in online reputation management. All of the best practices stipulated above can be seamlessly pulled off by a brand that sincerely enjoys doing it. Cultivate a culture of genuine appreciation and engagement of your client base in the office, and it can show in the authenticity of your responses.
One of the most cringingly hilarious takes on ORM was when the Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York decided to “fine” guests that gave them negative reviews. Imagine if they’d instead decided to offer just a few additional amenities in exchange for positive reviews- they could have altogether avoided this distasteful fiasco.