Following the aftermath of the 2009-2010 recalls that affected more than 7.5 million vehicles in the US, and 1.8 million in Europe and Asia, Toyota Motor Corp had taken the rap as one of the most unsafe vehicles in the US. This not only affected their sales for the past three years, but their reputation. Toyota, once the number 17 most trusted company in the world, according to Prophet’s annual corporate reputation studies, dropped to 139th in 2010, and currently rests as the 74th.
Odds are you don’t operate on the same scale as Toyota, complete with the ability to send a barrage of television, print radio and internet apologies; however, that doesn’t mean you should ignore your business’ reputation. Your reputation is what makes you stand apart from competitors, and can also mean the difference between recruiting top level employees, or settling for second best.
The Why’s of Online Reputation Management
Reputation isn’t stagnant; it is complex and active, which means you can’t publish a single PR piece on a newswire and expect it to hold up for the next five years or weeks for that matter. And you definitely can’t post once a month on social media and expect that to hold. What I’m trying to say is, if you don’t handle your brand in search results or on social media, someone else will.
This piece of advice isn’t restricted to enterprise level companies, but holds just as true for small business and local companies as well. Think of how many opportunities are available to you through the current version of the Internet, which allows user generated content that can lead to a positive or negative perception of your product, service or brand. Then consider how many times you, or your children, have interacted with a brand via the Internet.
Platforms you shouldn’t ignore:
- Search Engines
- Social Media
- Business Reviews (i.e. AngiesList)
Who Really Cares?
Your online reputation is seen in a number of facets. Like I mentioned above, it could mean the difference in hiring a top notch employee or settling for second or third best. Remember, it’s not just customers that are seeing your reviews, but potential employees, possible business partners, other marketers, press and news media, co-workers and family members of the aforementioned.
Where to Start
If you haven’t already, start out by protecting your name. This means go to the major social media platforms and lock down your brand name. I would recommend Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and possibly Pinterest (if you have the time, right demographic or marketing budget for it).
The majority of the time, you will just be wasting resources if you sign up for the less popular social networks, with the intent to use them; however, it is still a good idea to sign up and just lock in the name and prevent any misuse.
Choose the social networks that will provide the highest ROI for your business. Meaning, find the social networks that your customers frequent the most and that will give you a chance to connect with them.
Make News and Get Published
If there are negative results covering up the search engine results pages (SERPs) for your name or your name plus reviews or complaints, then you need to work toward hiding them. A few years ago, I would have told you to shoot a link or two to the pages below it and push the negative result down; however, with Google’s primary focus on serving fresh, high-quality content to anyone who performs a search, I recommend making news, getting published or starting a blog.
Yes, links and anchor text still matter, but if a complaint or scandal from 10 years ago is that is holding you back, you need to start writing and creating some new press. Part of this new content should definitely focus on customer reviews.
Customer spotlights and reviews are great to publish and offer new visitors a look at who your customers are and what they think of your business. When you publish these, make sure you have the author’s consent and also make sure they are positive. You have control over this, so only publish items that will further your reputation.
Another positive of customer spotlights, reviews pages and testimonials pages is the fact that you can optimize your pages for your ORM terms, making sure searchers have greater odds of coming across a testimonial you published, rather than one from a third-party site that you have no control over.
Respond to Criticism
Negative comments, reviews and press will happen, so be prepared in advance. In addition, you should have a plan on how you will respond and, just as importantly, when. Just think of how Netflix handled their price hike back in July of 2011. The day Netflix announced this, their social media accounts and company blog received over 71,000 comments; however, it took Netflix THREE whole days before a single response on any platform.
Taking too much time to respond runs the chance of angering your customer base, as well as decreases the chances that the angered customer responds. I recommend responding within 12 hours, which increase the chances that a customer will respond back to your comment, leading to a resolved solution or apology.
No matter what strategies you take on, remember that being proactive is your best choice. Have an idea of how to respond to customers in almost every situation, and don’t wait to start producing content once a PR disaster strikes, but start writing the content now. Don’t just write the content and publish it, but push it on your social platforms. Let your content build up authority and social signals, so that if a PR crisis happens, you are prepared with all the right responses and have a solid foothold in the search engines for your reputation terms.