Like most business owners, you feel protective of your company. That includes when people call it names. With so many sites for customers to post up a review, it's easy to go from anonymity to infamy in a matter of days. So where do you start to defend yourself?
1 – Be proactive. Reputation management is not the practice of waiting until
someone slams you before you do something. Your company should be setting
the environment on search engines and social media first, before anyone else
has a chance to say something about you, said Michael Fertik, CEO of
ReputationDefender. Fixing a problem after the fact takes longer and costs
more money, he said.
2 – Spread the word. On one level, reputation management is a sub-species of
search engine optimization and marketing. You want neutral or favorable
material to appear before unfavorable material. That’s easier to do when
your company is active across multiple platforms. LinkedIn, Facebook,
YouTube, industry Web sites, online directories and your own site – these
are all ways to manage your reputation online early, said Don Sorensen,
owner of online reputation management firm Big Blue Robot. Having even one
YouTube video with links back to your own site will help search engines find
your material, Sorensen said.
3 – Keep your eyes open. The sooner you become aware of a problem with your
reputation online, the greater the probability that you’ll be able to fix it
before the comments are indexed by Google or other search engines. At
minimum, you should search Google about your company once every few days,
and you should know and check the places where conversations about your
business could start – local Craigslist sites, Facebook, review sites, local
newspapers and other areas – with regularity. Many online reputation
management companies, like ReputationDefender, offer services to help
automate this process.
4 – Bad is stronger than good. We’re hard-wired to overreact to negative
information. An oft cited 2001 study of negativity bias by Roy Baumeister,
et al, “Bad Is Stronger Than Good” argued that bad impressions and bad
stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than
good ones, as a general principle across a broad range of psychological
phenomena. The authors postulate that it’s an inherited survival trait. “We
believe that throughout our evolutionary history, organisms that were better
attuned to bad things would have been more likely to survive threats and,
consequently, would have increased probability of passing along their
genes.” Expect to have to counter even a single bad reference with many,
many more good references to compensate.
5 – Don’t lie. It’s one thing to present positive truthful information about
your company. It’s quite another to falsely describe a competitor or deny an
accurate account of a customer’s experience. Not only is that kind of act
libelous, but it’s far more likely to spark a heated reaction, Fertik said.
Preliminary research by Dr. Han Zhang of Georgia Tech, indicates that online
customers react more negatively to companies when their integrity is
questioned than when their competence is questioned. Zhang found that
customer reviews describing bad service or a bad product experience are less
damaging than reviews describing a dishonest interaction.
6 – Don’t feed the trolls. Anonymity and an audience together breed a
special form of anti-social insanity. There’s a natural – even noble –
inclination to directly respond to slams about your business on review
sites. Resist that impulse. Too often, what starts out as an honest attempt
to immediately and forcefully refute an obtuse accusation becomes a
high-profile flame war that climbs the search engine rankings. Rather than
tame the assault, the reply draws even more attention to it. If you feel
that you must respond, do so succinctly and redirect the conversation thread
to a forum on your own Web site, Sorensen said. That way, when the
conversation is over, you have more control over how the chat thread is
indexed by search engines.
7 – Empathize with your customers. The moment you begin to treat your
customers as opponents, you’ve lost the game. While a hit to your reputation
online can be damaging, ignoring legitimate feedback can be devastating. Not
only does that show a willingness to ignore your customer’s needs -- a
recipe for destroying customer loyalty – but it robs you of a way to measure
and adapt to changes in the marketplace. Underneath the snarling,
grammatically-incorrect accusation may be a client who at least cared enough
about their interaction with your business to discuss their experience in
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