Prepare an online reputation management strategy to protect your brand
As businesses continue the recovery process following the global pandemic, it is an ideal time to look at lessons learned and consider future practices.
In 2020, airlines, hotels and tour companies faced unprecedented levels of cancellations, rescheduling and many other logistical challenges. Restaurants and shopping centers revamped protocols overnight, while some service providers went dark altogether. It was a moment in time when companies across all industries were able to rise to the occasion or sink beneath the weight of it, taking their reputation down as well.
Some companies, however, managed to do much more than survive the chaos. Some preserved or even improved their brand image. How did they do it? They doubled down on the Online Reputation Management (ORM) plan they set in place long before “coronavirus” became a household word. They dug deep to provide the best customer service possible, diligently continued to monitor their online brand activity and addressed online customer inquiries, comments and reviews across a myriad of sites.
The good news is that every business can take proactive steps today to help protect their brand image in times of calm and chaos.
What is an online brand image?
Your online brand image is the composite impression of your business that comes into focus when someone searches online for your company or brand by name. What exactly appears on that all-important first page of Google’s search engine? Having 10 favorable entries about your brand, alongside a complete and current Google Business Profile with a substantial accumulation of primarily positive customer reviews, is the holy grail of online reputation. While there are other elements to consider, this page-one Google snapshot is an important starting point when assessing the health of your online brand image.
What is ORM?
Carrying around mini supercomputers in our pockets allows us to research a business anytime, anywhere. According to a survey by Pew Research Center, 93% of Americans say they consult customer reviews and ratings at least sometimes when buying a product or service for the first time, and 88% think reviews have a positive effect on consumer confidence.
If an online search reveals a slew of negative stories about your brand on the first page, your prospective customer may simply move on. Reviews submitted by happy or discontent consumers have the power to persuade readers on the spot.
The state of your online reputation can no longer be ignored. It must be managed. Here are a few important steps you can take to begin.
1. Monitor, monitor, monitor.
Monitoring your online reputation on the vast expanse of the World Wide Web sounds daunting, but there are simple ways to keep your eye on things:
• Google your company’s name regularly to see what turns up.
• Use Google Alerts (a free service) to get email notifications when new online results are detected that match your company or brand name.
• Dedicate an in-house staffperson to handle daily monitoring.
• Use a third-party application or hire a marketing firm to keep a close eye on your online brand.
If resources are limited, you can prioritize those sites that matter most to your brand. Beyond your Google Business Profile, there is a host of other industry-specific review sites to consider in areas like travel and hospitality (Booking.com, Tripadvisor), restaurants (Yelp, OpenTable), medical (WebMD, Healthgrades) and home services (HomeAdvisor, Angi) — to name just a few of many.
Put your time, energy and resources into the sites that customers gravitate to when making decisions about your company.
2. Engage with customer feedback.
Today, businesses must be willing to have two-way conversations with customers online. Actively engage with customers whenever they leave an online review or comment on social media. Respond to both positive and negative reviews to convey a responsive posture.
Responses to negative feedback should always be written in a respectful and professional tone. A polite, thoughtful response will go far in easing tension and showing a desire to make things right. However, the goal is to avoid a drawn-out battle of words online. In fact, some especially nasty or complex reviews may be best handled offline. When possible, call or message the customer to talk it out. They may even amend their review/rating after receiving an explanation or apology.
3. Push down negative search results with a robust, positive online presence.
Aim to overrun your company’s negative online results with positive stories and reviews. When your company has made an important accomplishment or built goodwill in the community, be sure to pitch the story to local and trade media. Many will post those stories online, creating a fantastic asset for your brand image.
Social media accounts can help populate your brand’s online search results, so it may be worth your time to create more and increase positive activity there. And be sure to claim your company page on the many business directories and review sites that live on the internet. Having consistent information populated into business directories will help Google associate them with you, placing them into your brand search results and possibly helping push down negative results.
4. Ask customers to submit reviews.
You’ll want to accumulate as many positive reviews and ratings as possible up front to offset negative ones that inevitably crop up over time. When you provide good customer service and a reliable product, the good reviews should far outweigh the bad. While you cannot pay to generate Google reviews or ask specifically for only “good” ones, you can be proactive and ask customers to consider providing a review (just don’t solicit reviews in bulk). A great time to ask for a review is when you send thank you emails — include a direct link to make it as easy as possible.
Make ORM a priority
These are just a few steps you can take to shape your online brand image. Each year, continue to accrue valuable online assets to help protect your online reputation.