Building and protecting online reputation in an increasingly interconnected world is no easy task.
Social media, review sites, blogs and forums play a growing role in influencing customers. While once a single unhappy customer might complain to a few friends, they can now share their experience with thousands online. And many businesses have found that a misjudged tweet or comment can seriously dent their brand image.
When Hasan Syed’s luggage went missing, his tweet about British Airway’s “horrendous” customer service was seen by thousands of users, retweeted and even picked up by news websites. And the website Epicurious suffered a social media backlash after “insensitive” tweets that appeared to use the Boston Marathon bombings as a marketing opportunity. They quickly issued an apology.
Online review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp are a powerful tool for attracting customers – or driving them away. A study by SAS and the Pennsylvania State University found that online reviews were the most powerful quality and value indicator for consumers. The majority of respondents checked review sites before booking hotels or restaurants, and were more likely to be swayed by user comments than by star ratings or price.
It’s not surprising that Weber Shandwick has concluded that we’re living in a “nowhere-to-hide” world. In their report, The Company Behind the Brand: In Reputation We Trust, they look at recent “game-changes” in the way businesses communicate. Customers now have unprecedented access to information about companies and brands online, and as a result, expect them to live up to high standards.
“A game-change in branding and corporate reputation is well underway. In this fast-moving information age, consumers can now readily connect the dots between the brand they buy and the company behind the brand. Whereas it has long been known that a strong brand shines a light on a company’s reputation, it is now clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that a strong company reputation adds an undeniable brilliance to the brand”
This might be good news for the consumer, but for small businesses, monitoring your reputation online can seem like a never-ending task. Here are a few tips to help you make the right impression.
Use the right tools
Monitoring your brand online doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive. There are a number of free tools that can help. Both Google Alerts and Buzzsumo are simple ways to track mentions of your brand name or keywords on a daily (or more frequent) basis.
Agorapulse covers a huge range of online sources, and creates a list of mentions of your brand name, ranking them as positive, negative, or neutral.
Agorapulse lets you track all kinds of searches, categorize results by priority, delegate any of the mentions to other team members to act upon and mark any as done. In fact, this is a great tool that drives action out of your brand’s mentions.
Be active on social media
A common misconception around social media marketing for businesses is that brands encourage negative feedback if they are active on social media.
This is far from true. In fact, your customers will discuss your business on social media, regardless of you being there to hear.
Most social media users expect an (almost) instant response, but even large companies rarely meet their expectations. British Airways took around 10 hours to respond to Mr Syed’s tweet, by which time it had been seen by thousands of other users all over the world. If you don’t have the resources to check Twitter round-the-clock, then try using TweetBeep, a free service that provides hourly updates of any mentions.
In fact, the recent studies show that 40% of consumers expect brands to respond within an hour, while almost 80% expect a response at least within a day.
Yet, not many businesses are there to respond. In fact, in all industries, the response rate is never higher than 30%:
Responding quickly demonstrates your commitment to customers. If you can’t resolve a problem straight away, then ask for contact details so you can speak to them directly.
Monitor review sites
A survey by Choice Hotels found that the hoteliers are spending an increasing amount of time responding to online reviews, with 63 percent devoting one to three hours a week on the task. Whatever your business, this can be time well-spent – more people are checking these sites, whether they’re looking for a restaurant or roofing company.
Firstly, make sure your profile is up to date on the most popular sites, with accurate contact details and a link to your website. When you do come across criticism, respond politely and correct any factual mistakes. While angry retorts might be entertaining for readers – such as the very public meltdown by the owners of Amy’s Baking Company in response to Facebook criticism – – they’re unlikely to do your business any good!
Your happy customers can be your best advocates – so make sure you harness the power of word-of-mouth marketing. While fake reviews are a definite no-no, encourage customers to post their comments online and interact on social media. You might want to have exclusive offers for Facebook fans, or a prize draw for customers who give their feedback.
Turn negative publicity around
Everyone slips up sometimes – from huge multinational companies to home-based businesses. If something does go wrong, it’s often best to apologise and reassure customers you’re improving things. JetBlue’s social strategy is a good example of an airline getting it right. After a disastrous Valentine’s Day, when thousands of passengers were affected by delayed flights, they managed to turn things around with a heartfelt YouTube apology and publicising their new “Customer Bill of Rights”.
Whatever the size of your business, your brand’s reputation is one of its greatest assets. It does take time and effort to monitor it online, but it can definitely pay off in terms of customer loyalty.