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Wednesday, 12 August 2015 15:39

Reputation Management and Negative Reviews

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Whether your business has done a customer wrong or not, review sites make it easy for negative commentary to get published. In many cases, the issue will either be mitigated or become a much bigger deal, depending on the next step you take.

Positive Steps

  •           Take it offline – If you have registered your business on Yelp, you can either send a private message or respond directly to the post. Communicating your commitment to fix the issue as quickly as possible will end the drama in most cases. If you reply to the post, give your company phone number and the specifics of getting in touch with you. If the person insists on keeping the issue online, put your best foot forward with every post to show that you are diligently working to fix the issue.
  •      Be sure to close the thread – If your contact was made via a private message or taken offline, get an agreement from the person to either delete the review or do a follow up post to report that the issue was resolved. Forgetting to close the thread makes it look like you ignored the original complaint and waste the effort spent fixing the problem.
  •            If responding isn’t an option, see if you can contest a bogus review – Whether this step leads to success or not depends on where the review was posted. Some sites simply don’t have the resources to investigate the veracity of specific complaints. For example, Ripoff Report allows for rebuttals to be posted, but that can add energy to the original post and push it higher on search engine rankings. To remove a bogus post, Ripoff Report requires an arbitration hearing at a cost of $2,000. Check the policy of any site where a negative review is posted to learn your options.

 Making the Problem Bigger

  •         Killing the messenger – Attacking the person who posts a negative review is going to make you look bad, even if you’re right. Step back, take a breath and remember that people who see a single negative post are likely to form their own opinions anyway, especially if you already have a bunch of positive reviews. Then take one of the steps listed above.  
  •             Ignoring or fighting a legitimate complaint – As a business owner, getting the occasional complaint is going to be part of the territory and fixing legitimate issues will make your company stronger. On the other hand, ignoring or defending weaknesses will only hurt your business’ operations and its reputation.     
  •             Astroturfing the review – Calling in the cavalry to drown a negative review with positive ones may work, but it probably won’t. The biggest potential problem is getting caught by the review site for orchestrating a campaign, which results a statement being plastered across your listing saying that you have solicited fake reviews. That’s a much bigger deal than the bad review.

The steps taken in the time following the posting of a negative review will either extinguish or escalate the issue. Keep in mind that your actions may have a wide audience and even the smallest wrong move can change a lot of opinions quickly.     

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Reputation management campaigns are typically labor intensive operations, largely due to the development, distribution and optimization of content. Additional work on a business’ website and other online assets can add to a campaign’s price tag. So, should a business that is contemplating a reputation management campaign categorize the initiative as an expense or an investment?

Generally speaking, expenses are purposed toward maintaining the status quo in terms of operations and revenue generation. An example of this type of expense would be the cost of energy to run daily operations. When online reputation management was first introduced with a sole purpose of submerging negative content, this too was generally categorized as an expense that was necessary to protect the status quo. In this context, preserving the status quo was perceived as not losing customers, with little consideration given to the idea that campaigns could actually increase revenues.

This perception began to change as an increasing number of campaigns were initiated before any type of negative content became problematic. Referred to as proactive reputation management, the campaigns were executed along the lines of defensive campaigns with an objective of occupying as many of the top listings on search engines as possible. The difference was that, without the focus on burying negative content, the campaigns started to look more like intensive versions of investments in SEO, marketing and branding initiatives designed to increase revenues.

For example, in a successful campaign, a search using a particular key phrase could turn up a search engine results page with the 8 out of the top 10 listings being occupied by the sponsoring company. This result provides several advantages, including:

  •            Giving the appearance that the sponsoring company is the dominant player for specific inquiries – High rankings tend to convey a business’ standing within an industry. Multiple high rankings tend to magnify that perception.
  •            Top rankings provide the opportunity to place a variety of content forms – Rather than a single highly ranked listing, a business with multiple spots on the first page can present written and video content to address the preferences of a wider number of searchers. For example, articles could introduce new products while videos provide “how to” instructions on how to them.
  •            Squeezing the competition from the top listings – The secondary effect of occupying multiple front page listings is that the visibility of competing companies decreases. Not only do multiple high listings enhance the perception of the sponsoring business, being relegated to lower listings tends to diminish the brands of competitors.

The net effect of proactive reputation management campaigns is that they can be executed in much the same way and with the same objectives as SEO, marketing and branding initiatives. These campaigns can be set up to both protect business’ reputations and to drive revenues. Under these circumstances, reputation management campaigns should be categorized as an investment instead of an expense.             

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When it comes to online reputation management, surfacing web pages at the top of relevant search results is essential, whether the objective is dealing with an existing negative post or taking proactive steps to control published content. If your reputation management initiatives are not delivering the results you expect, there are 5 changes that should be integrated now.  

 

     Produce Content that Adds Value – Google and other search engines are much better at defining quality content than they were a couple of years ago, which helps them achieve their primary search objective of surfacing quality content. In this new paradigm, content created for a strategy based on pumping out articles, blogs and posts that don't add value and may not even be spell checked won't be recognized by the search engines and will also look bad with the target market. While a steady flow of new content can keep your online assets populated with fresh material, make sure that it is seen as being written with quality and provides value to your target market.

 

      Write to Satisfy Longer Keyphrases – Searches by voice command are usually posed as a question while also being longer and more specific. The search engines have adjusted to the changes in the way people search by decreasing the importance of 2 and 3 word keywords while rewarding content that addresses the context of longer keyphrases. While making this kind of change may sound somewhat complicated, it really comes down to producing on and off-site content that answers the questions your target market typically asks when searching for products and services like yours.  

 

        Use Video – Producing videos and other visual materials can vary your presentation of content to your audience and achieve high rankings on the search engines at the same time. Video, images and infographics tend to draw more engagement, and content that mixes in visual elements tends to perform better than text-only materials. Due to the higher engagement and better user experience, the search engines increasingly reward visual content formats with high rankings.  

 

           Be Mobile-friendly – If you haven't heard, mobile is the "thing" with search engines and it looks like it is going to stay that way. To ensure positive mobile experiences with their users, search engines now favor websites that have integrated responsive design, which adjusts the delivery of web content to the size of each device's viewport. While these sites are favored regardless of size of the screen, responsive design sites do even better in the rankings when searches originate from mobile devices. 

 

      Secure e-commerce sites – Another aspect of delivering a positive user experience is displaying results that can deliver them to secure ecommerce sites. To maximize the safety of data on your site, bringing your security certificates up to date and migrating to "https" from "http" can improve the rankings of the web pages on your site. 

 

Controlling the information your target market sees is a matter of getting your content to the front of search engine results. Take these steps now to revitalize your reputation management initiatives and get the results you expect.   

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As the line between managing a company’s reputation and building its brand continues to blur, initiatives in one type of campaign can benefit the other. As the characteristics of these practices have moved closer together, steps that a company takes as part of enhancing its online reputation can also help to build a positive perception with its customers, also known as branding. Here are three examples.   

       Avoiding complacency – A business that has built a leading position in its industry must keep improving its products, adding operational efficiencies and enhancing communications with its target market. A business that allows for complacency to set in can lose its leading edge in terms of its product offerings and may allow competitors to gain a foothold with existing customers, even if they have been loyal for years. Companies that embrace change and strive to offer a high quality experience at every touch point for customers are able to build their brand and their reputation simultaneously.

     Clearly defining the value your company delivers – Companies can provide value to customers by delivering high quality products and/or services as well as the through the building of trust that those customers have in each of their interactions with the business. For example, building a brand with restaurant customers would first entail delivering a great product on every visit. In turn, the consistency of great food would build the customers’ trust that they will have a positive experience with every meal. Providing a clear definition of the value that a business provides and then delivering it consistently can build trust, loyalty and the bottom line.

      Being honest – The web can turn a little bit of deception into a big reputation management problem in a hurry. Whether it’s employees dishing on low quality products, ingredients or materials or a business trying to cover up a problem, the ease of getting information swirling around the web can backfire against dishonest representations quickly. Today, if a company operates in a manner that doesn’t square with what it represents, there is a good chance that truth will eventually come out. If the company is shown as being deceptive, the damage to the brand can be substantial and long lasting. Instead, maintaining a policy of transparency, including the admission of mistakes or errors, can maintain and build trust over the long term.

Generally speaking, the companies that have long lasting success commit to ongoing growth, deliver value to their customers and are honest in their operations. Including these facets in your reputation management campaigns will translate over to your brand building efforts and drive two objectives with a single initiative.     

         

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Reputation management problems can arrive suddenly and without warning. Here are three strategies that can make them worse.

      Faking reviews – Faking reviews, also known as astroturfing, is a common reaction to seeing a bad review on Yelp or other social media sites as the company or hired third party starts posting a raft of fawning reviews to dilute the genuine post. This strategy, first of all, is easy for people who use review sites to detect, especially if the rate of submitted reviews accelerates substantially after a negative post surfaces. The same mis-spellings of words that are present in multiple reviews are also a dead giveaway. In addition to not fooling the users, the administrators of review sites are becoming more sophisticated in detecting astroturfing campaigns and will call out businesses by posting a notice that fake reviews are being used to artificially boost the ratings of offending companies. If astroturfing a bad review or two sounds tempting, remember that being called out as a fake will likely be far more damaging than a couple of random reviews.

      Hiding – Hiding from and ignoring reputation management problems tend to deliver the same results, which can include the perception that the company has no idea how to handle the situation at hand, is completely out of touch, or simply does not care. While these perceptions can be damaging to the company’s reputation, allowing an issue to spin completely out of control can be devastating. Without guidance from a business that is the focus of a reputation management crisis, the scope of a problematic issue can grow far beyond the facts as the public takes increasingly drastic efforts to elicit a response. While dealing with a crisis may be uncomfortable and difficult, always remember that major problems rarely go away by being neglected.

      Obfuscating – Trying to diffuse a reputation management issue with vague or confusing language rarely works, and often infuriates people enough that they decide to get to the bottom of the issue on their own. If you’ve ever seen an interview with a company spokesperson whose answers have nothing to do with the questions being posed, you have an idea of how insulting this practice can be. Instead, when addressing any type of reputation management problem, speaking clearly, directly and honestly will provide a much better outcome than being seen as condescending to a public that hopefully doesn’t get it.

Problems that challenge your business’ reputation can come from any direction. When an issue surfaces, authenticity, honesty, and accountability will provide a much better defense than hoping things get better or trying to take deceptive shortcuts.              

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Social media sites offer businesses the allure of visibility to enormous numbers of people, combined with the opportunity to create a presence, page, profile, etc. for free. While both of these points are true on their surface, companies commonly make a variety of reputation-killing mistakes once they get past the parts about lots of people and free entry.

$    Stepping on the gas pedal with spam – Starting a company’s social media initiatives with a perception that the greatest opportunity with these sites is the potential to release advertisements at will is going to immediately identify the company as “spam-first”. This misses the point that the ethos of these platforms is social and that the true value of developing a presence on these sites will only be realized through being a good social citizen first.

       Mis-handling the negatives – One of the biggest surprises for businesses that are new to social media is the number of “haters” that exist online. Whether it’s general trolling or a specific complaint, negative posts are there for all to see with a percentage of them waiting to see the response. The companies that handle these situations in the best manner possible often have a planned response protocol and a person who has been appointed to oversee it. This can avoid an “Amy’s Bakery” situation where negative posts turn inflammatory responses into cautionary tales.

      Going with the wrong hashtags – Hashtags can trend for any number of reasons, which may or may not be conducive to advertising something. Plenty of businesses have failed to define the reason a hashtag is trending, and have paid for it in the form of swift and intense backlash. One of the most egregious of these fails occurred when the word “Aurora” was trending after the massacre in the town’s theater. Noticing this without seeing what it was about, Celeb Boutique put out a tweet that gushed about the arrival of an apparel line inspired by Kim Kardashian as being the reason behind the trending hashtag. Needless to say, it didn’t go over very well.

Social media offers businesses a range of opportunities to either succeed or fail in a big way. If your business is just getting started in social media, look before you leap or hire an experienced team to help get you started. 

Friday, 22 May 2015 17:44

Reputation Management for a Start-Up

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One of the biggest challenges for a start-up is building an online reputation. This is due in large part to the fact that a reputation is essentially a collection of historical data, information, comments and reviews, all of which will likely be in short supply for a new company. The one place to start building a reputation is by highlighting the accomplishments of the founders of the company and the way in which the founders’ experience will benefit the new business. Be careful in this step, however, as any problems that may turn up when people do their own searches can quickly work against any and all of the good things these people have done.

Whether you start your campaign with the history of the founders or not, these steps can help to start the reputation management process for the business:

       Start with a search of the name of your business – If you didn’t start the campaign with the founders’ information, include their names in your search. Take note anything that may be an issue as you may need to direct a portion of the campaign toward dealing with that. Issues or not, set up news alerts for the company name, products and the names of the principles.

           Buy a URL that matches the name of your business – This step serves two functions; it makes the URL easy to remember and it carries some weight in search algorithms. If the URL that matches the name of the business isn’t available, consider some small tweaks to find one that does.

           Start creating content about the business – An easy start here would be doing press releases related to product development, a physical location for the business, or a grand opening. Consider starting a blog about the industry you’re in with specific product information.

      Target a couple of social media platforms – The right platforms will depend on the nature of your business. The number of social media sites that cater to specific industries is growing, so if there is one that is applicable to your business, start there and consider Twitter or Facebook to develop a presence as well.

        If you are beta testing products, ask for reviews on your social sites – This may seem like a scary test, but the purpose of beta testing is to discover problems before full production begins. Engage with reviewers, be ready to accept their critiques, and craft responses that discuss potential fixes.

       Do interviews with local media – New companies are often favored by local companies that are always looking for new material. These interviews can also be a great way to introduce your business to the local area.

Your start-up may not have a reputation, but it can be built from scratch. The additional benefit here is that your reputation management campaign can serve a second purpose as a marketing initiative, which can double its value.        

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Reputation management is often seen only as a method of keeping negative content out of the top rankings on the search engines. While this is true in certain situations, true reputation management goes well beyond what is happening at Google and instead focuses on nature of the business, as well as its strengths and weaknesses. Here are three measures that can deepen and fortify your reputation management work.   

     Build initiatives that are based on the true nature of the company – Reputation as well as brand building initiatives need to be based on the true nature of the business rather than a perceived ideal that will hopefully please the business’ target market. An example of a complete disconnect between the nature of a business and reputation management initiatives was the oil companies’ efforts to position themselves as conservators of the environment, particularly in the months after the BP oil spill in the Gulf. These types of campaigns typically insult the intelligence of the audience and usually work in direct opposition to the objectives of the initiative, as it did with the oil companies.    

     Define the potential drivers of your business’ reputation – It’s not uncommon for businesses to be hit by a reputation management crisis that has been brewing behind the scenes for some time. These issues can range from sexual harassment in the workplace to sourcing inferior products (like Lumber Liquidators). While these types of crises often surprise the public, the people close to the situation may have been aware of problematic issues for months or years. If there is an issue that is posing concerns, keep in mind that dealing with a problem that has surfaced in the public eye via “60 Minutes” will be far more difficult than taking the necessary steps to rectify the problem in private.    

     Listen to the conversations about your business – Businesses often fall into the trap of assuming that reputation management is defined by a constant outbound messaging stream. The problem with this assumption is that it minimizes engagement and presents a situation that is much like people who are only interested in talking about themselves. In both situations, the “listeners” will often move on to another conversation in which there is two-way communication. Instead, one of the best ways to learn how your customers feel about your business is to listen to the online conversations that are taking place. By listening only, you can get a true sense of what your business is doing right, as well as the areas that can be improved.

Holistic reputation management can begin long before negative commentary surfaces on one of the search engines. By connecting the messaging to the nature of your business, proactively correcting potential problems, and listening to your customers, you can build a reputation that reflects company values and resonates with your customers.       

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In an internet-connected world where almost anyone can voice a positive or negative opinion or commentary about your company, the most comprehensive reputation management programs strike a balance between protecting against the negatives and building on the positives. Here are 6 steps toward building a comprehensive program for your business.

Reputation protection:

     Develop protocols for dealing with negative content – Defining who will respond to negative content as well as how these issues will be addressed can help to ensure that the right skill sets as well as the best courses of action are put into play.  

      Initiate online monitoring for mentions of your company, products, and services – Monitoring the web for company-related content can speed reaction times to being mentioned in a negative manner. Oftentimes, a well-thought out and prompt first response from the company can serve to minimize the scope of the potential problem.

     Keep track of the nature of negative content – If the same complaints keeping cropping up, there may be issues within the company that need to be addressed. For example, a series of complaints about one product component that regularly breaks down will likely be an indication that there are manufacturing or sourcing issues that need to be fixed before the complaints are going to stop. Being transparent about how the company is going to deal with issues such as these can go a long way toward restoring its relationship with the aggrieved customers.

Reputation building:

    Commit to taking a proactive stance toward managing your company’s reputation – Taking proactive steps can put your company well-ahead of any negative issues that may arise down the road. The results of the best proactive campaigns are twofold; a saturation of the top search results with content that reflects positively on the sponsor.  

     Consistent development of content – Generating content that answers the most commonly posed questions about your company, its products and its services will serve the dual purposes of protecting and building the company’s online reputation. This type of content can also be purposed toward brand building and marketing initiatives.

    Regular assessments of the company’s interfaces with existing and potential customers – Monitoring these communications can provide the opportunity for your company to address potential issues while they are at their earliest stages. Providing early upgrades, patches, and other fixes can enhance the perception of your company through the recognition and mitigation of problems that might otherwise have put you in a position of protecting versus building its online reputation.

The ease of posting information to the web creates a situation where even great companies with impeccable products/services can be targeted with negative content. By following these steps you can contain existing issues and minimize the effects of problematic content in the future, while simultaneously marketing your company and building its brand with its target market. 

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Online reviews of a business can prove to be a double-edged sword; positive commentaries tend to confirm that the business is on track and may help to attract new customers while negative critiques may create anguish inside the company and steer potential buyers and/or visitors toward the competition. With these dynamics in play, the temptation to “manage” reviews can be strong, but in the vast majority of cases should be resisted due to potential outcomes that may up causing more harm than the original problem. Here are 3 examples of how review management can go wrong:

 Astroturfing – This term refers to the generation of fake reviews, a practice which is usually initiated as a response to negative reviews. In most states, astroturfing falls under the statutes that govern false and deceitful advertisements, meaning that states can impose fines based on standards set by the Federal Trade Commission. If your business is found to be astroturfing reviews, consequences can be expensive and damaging to your brand. In 2013, 19 New York-based companies were found to be posting fake reviews and were fined a cumulative total exceeding $350,000. The companies that were fined as a result of the year-long investigation also ended up with major reputation management problems from being highlighted in news stories about the investigation.

     Paying for reviews – While some businesses pay outside companies for astroturfing services, others solicit reviews and/or endorsements from existing customers and reward them with discounts, gifts, freebies, etc. While these solicitations are less flagrant than astroturfing, the FTC still sees these rewards as compensation and therefore requires the disclosure of the relationship between the company and the people being paid for their endorsements. The state of Florida investigated “Lifestyle Lift” for paid but undisclosed endorsements, among other things, and forced the company to disclose paid endorsements, reveal typical results, and pay refunds to customers who paid for procedures in the four years preceding the case.  

     Posting a high percentage of over-enthusiastic reviews – A sudden rush of highly positive reviews will draw the attention of the review site and is easily detectable by potential customers who are reading them. Even if the review site lets them pass, web users are becoming increasingly sophisticated at discerning authentic versus manipulative content, including unnaturally glowing endorsements. As the saying goes, “Once you’ve lost the customer’s trust, you’ve lost the customer.

In the risk/reward ratio for managing reviews, the risks far outweigh any transitory gains. One solution, which may work in specific situations, is to engage with the person who has posted the complaint, but the attempt to respond must be executed within a relatively short timeframe after the post has been published. For more comprehensive reputation management, the best solution is to consistently create and optimize informational and valuable content that will sit at the top of search results, which can substantially dilute the impact of the occasional negative review.     

     

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