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.
For many business owners, the only time it seems that they hear about social media networks is when a company has made a major public relations gaffe that lights up Twitter and Facebook. With that perception as a point of reference, it’s understandable when the topic of social networks’ role in reputation management is met with wariness and skepticism by these same owners. Even when this trepidation is cast aside and the first steps are taken toward developing a presence on social networks, many businesses take a position of playing “not to lose” and end up with social media pages that are either neglected or barely used.
If this situation sounds like your current state of affairs on social media platforms, there are several steps you can take now to start building a positive presence that also benefits your reputation management and SEO efforts. These steps include:
The ubiquitous nature of social media necessitates that businesses direct their reputation management efforts to these platforms as well. Take these steps now and start building your business’ reputation and its brand on these thriving networks.
The continued expansion of social media sites as the default choice for the way that people communicate with each other now necessitates that businesses direct a significant portion of their marketing, SEO, and reputation management initiatives toward these networks. For businesses that are just beginning their foray into this new world, there are both opportunities and risks that should be understood in order to maximize benefits and avoid the common pitfalls.
The opportunities include:
The key to successful engagement on social networks is to develop a deep understanding of the ethos of each network to maximize benefits and avoid problematic issues. This understanding can then be implemented to reach company objectives in marketing, SEO, and reputation management initiatives.
While social media sites continue to provide an increasing number of opportunities for businesses, they also present the opportunity for businesses to ignite their own reputation management issues. One the ways in which these issues arise is by posting things that should never be posted, whether they go public in the heat of the moment or as an off-handed comment.
With the amount of trouble that can be generated by a single post, taking a step back to think about how it may be received is the best way to avoid getting into a self-made reputation management debacle. Here are 3 of the most dangerous types of posts that should definitely be contemplated before making them public on social media sites:
1) The heated counter-attack – These posts are usually written in response to critical comments posted on social media sites relating to the subject company, its products, services, employees, etc. The problem with a counter-attacking post to these types of comments is that it automatically reflects poorly on the business and positions the person who made the complaint as a victim, no matter how abusive the original comment may have been. Sharing of the business’ post can then ensue, making the business look like a bully to its customers and providing evidence that the person making the complaint was right all along.
2) Posts on divisive topics – This type of discourse may be posted in response to events in the news or just because someone feels like expressing an opinion. Either way, commenting on divisive issues on the company’s social media pages is probably a 50/50 proposition where one half of those who see the post agree with it and move on while the other half becomes offended, put off, or angered to the point where they initiate plans to boycott your business.
3) Flippant and/or condescending replies – These types of comments may not start the kind of reputation management firestorm that the first two types of replies are capable of but they still reflect poorly on the business that posts them. That being said, posting these types of replies on a consistent basis can paint a picture of a company that really does not care about its customers, a reputation management problem in and of itself.
Many reputation management issues in social media are of a self-inflicted nature. Taking a minute to think about how these types of comments will reflect back on the company can help to avoid making the kind of mistakes that can go viral in a bad way.
Because the search engines now see social media sites as a relatively pristine source of search engine optimization (SEO) signals, their ranking algorithms are being shifted to give an increasing amount of respect to these networks. This shift in ranking algorithms favoring social media sites has come at the expense of some of the standard SEO practices, thus convincing (or coercing) many businesses to change their strategies so as to incorporate these networks in their SEO campaigns.
The challenge, and to some degree the surprise, that businesses migrating to social networks have experienced is that mistakes tend to gain attention rather quickly while their campaigns slowly gain traction. The types of mistakes that can find an audience quickly can vary in type and include snippy replies directed at critical comments, the airing of personal opinions, and poorly conceived strategies that reflect poorly on the company.
In many cases, these issues can be averted by executing your social media SEO strategy in the context of reputation management. Generally speaking, this entails taking a big picture view on how your actions on social media networks can affect both your company’s SEO campaigns and its online reputation. By asking these questions before publishing, you can go a long way toward avoiding the kinds of mistakes that put your business in the wrong kind of spotlight while also delivering content that positively impacts SEO and builds your brand and reputation:
* Will this help my business? While this question may seem elementary, asking it before publishing can save the kind of trouble that comes from emotional replies to negative comments, for example. Any time the honest answer to this question is, “No”, change what is about to be published to something that does help your business or don’t publish it at all.
* Can this content be perceived as offensive to even a small group within my community? – In most cases, the things that have the potential to offend people aren’t business-related unless you’re marketing something that might be considered controversial. If that’s not the case and the answer to the question is, “Yes”, you’re probably about to print your personal opinions, beliefs, etc. Stop in your tracks now and put these thoughts in your memoir to be published years from now.
* How can this be positioned to build my business’ brand and/or reputation – Asking this question can open your mind to the opportunities that present themselves in even the most basic communications. In other words, you’ll find a lot more brand and reputation building opportunities when you’re looking for them.
Executing your social media SEO strategies in the context of reputation management can help your business avoid many of the common mistakes made by others. Not only that, it can ensure that your published materials always put your business in the best light possible.
With some of the busiest platforms on the web, social media networks offer a huge and growing list of opportunities for businesses to build their brands, engage directly with consumers that buy their products/services, execute reputation management strategies, and improve their rankings on the search engines. Unfortunately, these networks can also provide numerous opportunities for businesses to sabotage their online reputations as well.
Here are three ways in which businesses create reputation management issues with self-sabotage:
* Forgetting the nature of scheduled Tweets – There are several services that enable businesses to create Tweets and then schedule their release at a later time. While there is some debate about whether these scheduling services push the envelope in terms of live and authentic discourse on social media networks, the biggest problem with pre-scheduling is when businesses forget what is to be posted and when. For example, scheduling a post that screams, “Let’s make it a great weekend and go shopping!!!” and having it go public the day after a tragedy (like the Newtown shootings) looks wrong in too many ways to number. If you’re using a scheduling service, keep track of what is being published and when it will be released.
* Astroturfing reviews – Businesses will often try to counter negative reviews and commentary by initiating an astroturfing campaign where employees, friends, etc. post fake reviews on social media sites in an attempt to swamp critical posts with positive ones. Unfortunately, as Honda and Chick-fil-A found out to their chagrin, the transparency of and interconnection between social media sites makes it easy for people to find out who is posting and whether they have a connection to the business they are effusively praising. Being discovered and convicted by an online community for astroturfing can create a reputation management issue for sponsoring businesses that is bigger than the one that spawned the fake reviews in the first place.
* Using the business’ social media pages as an outlet for personal views – While posting discourse on hot button issues may activate an otherwise dormant community, the sudden activity and engagement that ensues can range from disagreement to reputation management debacle, neither of which is conducive to building a positive social media presence. Save the personal stuff for private conversations, preferably not in hard copy format.
In terms of reputation management and social media networks, it’s not a bad idea to ask, “What’s the worst that can happen with this post?” before making it public. The answer may prevent the kind of self-sabotage that gets used as a cautionary tale at a later date.
Social media is in the process of changing internet communications in seemingly every way possible, including the development of reputation management strategies. In order for these new strategies to be successful it is imperative that businesses first develop an understanding of how social media works and what it takes to maximize the benefits from this powerful medium.
If you are just getting started with incorporating social media into your reputation management initiatives, here are three tips that can help to get your campaign out of the gates quickly and optimize your results:
1) Work only on the social media platforms that complement your business model – Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are extremely powerful in terms of how social signals from them influence search engine rankings. That being said, this power shouldn’t be the main determining factor in deciding the sites that will be included in your reputation management campaign. If your business can benefit by messaging via video, setting up a YouTube channel to provide a central location for your suite of videos makes sense. If video falls short in terms of introducing your business, products, etc., then YouTube will not deliver results commensurate with the resources that your business would use to develop a presence there. In short, incorporate only the social media sites that provide the best platform for conveying your message to your market.
2) Be consistent in your creation of content – The search engines love the consistent creation of high value content that gets shared out to a widening social media audience, whether it’s in a text, video, or image format. One caveat, be consistent but don’t go crazy with tons of content that goes out every day.
3) Research the keywords that will give you the most bang for the buck – Your business will have specific keywords that a high number of consumers use to search for your business, products, and/or services. Be sure to incorporate these keywords in your page names as well as the titles and descriptions of your text and visual content.
In many ways, businesses are just scratching the surface in terms of harnessing the power of and the opportunities available in social media networks. This means that, while employing these tactics to execute a successful reputation management campaign, businesses can also experience benefits in SEO, client acquisition, and their bottom line.
As ascension of social media continues, the strategies used to surface positive content and the web pages of sponsoring companies in reputation management campaigns are undergoing massive changes in terms of how they incorporate these networks. These changes are necessary due to the fact that sticking with a “business as usual” mindset will ultimately lead to failure in achieving even the most elemental objectives of any reputation management initiative.
The reasons a reputation management campaign will not reach its objectives without a social media presence include:
* The search engines see the search engine optimization (SEO) signals originating from social media networks as genuine and trustworthy – The community-like nature of social media networks makes it difficult for manipulative practices to have an influence on the algorithms used by the search engines to rank web pages. Conversely, the authenticity of shared content, “likes”, re-Tweets, and other actions that take place within the communities that exist on these networks gives these signals an increasing amount of influence in the ranking formulas used by Google, Bing, et al.
* The influence of traditional SEO practices on ranking algorithms is waning – Distributing low value and spun articles to a variety of “content farms” was targeted by Google’s Panda update and abusive link practices were hit by the Penguin update a little over a year later. While article marketing to 2.0 sites and the like still matters, it is playing a decreasing role in the determination of web page rankings. Similarly, the search engines have changed their evaluation of links to a much higher standard that requires authority and/or relevance between the site of origination and the destination page for the link. Without these characteristics, a high number of links have become basically irrelevant.
* In addition to the messaging that originates from businesses, reputations are being determined by conversations between community members – While the consumer-centric aspect of social media can at times seem like a moving target, the conversations that occur between network members can play a role in shaping company reputations. Being a party to these conversations help to keep them on a positive track and address potentially problematic issues before they morph into larger problems.
For reputation management campaigns to reach their objectives, participation in social media networks is mandatory. Additionally, this participation brings with it a long list of opportunities that can change the accounting status of reputation management from that of an expense to a series of online assets.
If you’re shopping for a firm to execute a reputation management campaign there is an excellent chance that you’ll come across a firm or two that are going to use black hat SEO techniques to occupy the top rankings in the search engine results pages.
These techniques may include the creation of link farms that post thousands of links originating from duplicate content that is spammed across the internet. Other techniques include:
Traditional public relations was the way companies managed their reputations and their public image. Whether the campaign was proactive or trying to fix an issue that was hampering a client, the typical PR response was made up of positive press releases and images of an organization helping endangered animals, orphans, or impoverished communities.