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Why Big Businesses Must Proactively Manage Their Online Reputations

Here's a hint: The reasons are the same for small companies, but the stakes are much higher.
Why Big Businesses Must Proactively Manage Their Online Reputations
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Online reputation management seeks to improve or restore the good standing of a company's name or brand. This is achieved by creating and promoting positive material that counters, weakens or eliminates negative sentiment around the internet. In the process, a business hopes to improve its credibility and overall reputation. 

Unfortunately, most businesses don’t consider online reputation management until it’s too late. At that point, they’re typically in an unpleasant and likely costly situation. It’s certainly easy for businesses to take their reputations for granted when the internet isn't awash in a tide of negative posts and information about their brands. But when the tide swells, online reputation becomes crucially important and businesses shift into crisis-management mode.

Related: Universities Need to Start Teaching Online Reputation Management

In recent years, online reputation management has become one of business' most critical marketing focal points. In our modern age, negative and positive conversations alike are taking place about your brand. Whether you like it or not, you’d be well-advised to take part in those discussions and help steer them to a more welcoming shore.

Ideally, you'll avoid an online reputation altogether. But if you do find yourself in a storm, there are ways to recover. 

Be a part of the conversation. 

Brand conversations happen everywhere, and online now is a significant platform for consumers to share their perspectives on your company. If you're in big business, odds are you've had highs and lows -- very positive client feedback and very negative customer experiences -- and you're much more likely to feature in these discussions. 

My advice? Join the conversation. Don’t hide. Help frame the discussion by sharing positive reviews, updates or changes that impact the way your product or service is delivered. Whenever possible, outline the thinking or triggers for the change so your audience understands why it's coming and how it benefits them. This humanizes your company. Members of your target market will feel as if they, too, are players in that discussion. They'll believe it when you say you're listening, and they even might see themselves as an advisor to help you become an all-around better business.

Related: Mark Zuckerberg Reacts to Elon Musk's SpaceX Falcon 9 Explosion

Always be proactive as you share positive news stories, press releases and testimonials. Do the same when you reply to mentions on any platform. This strategy relies on having plenty of positive stories available to help minimize negative ones and prevent them from creeping into prominent public view. Being vigilant and responding quickly to negative mentions enables you to contain sentiment and help establish an identity that promotes a sense of inclusion. It also positions your company as a transparent one that invites discussion with customers and responds to their grievances in a sensible, consistent manner. 

Listen.

Even big businesses with large online marketing teams don’t have the time or full skill sets to monitor 100 percent of online discussions about their brands. Automated tools can help. Make use of these tools to gather data on brand mentions, collate the data into useable formats on a regular basis and then formulate a response strategy that aligns consistently with your brand voice. Your company's size and the current state of your online reputation will help determine whether you should analyze automated data streams daily, weekly or monthly. 

Read This: No B.S. Guide to Brand-Building by Direct Response by Dan S. Kennedy | Amazon | eBooks.com | Barnes & Noble

Be smart about engagement.

Don't leave it to an individual to reply in his or her own voice at the moment negative comments hit the internet. Develop a well-thought-out plan and brand format to educate employees how to address positive and negative mentions.

To the greatest realistic degree, reply to every mention. Don’t fight negative comments with negative replies. Be humble, address any issues in genuine comments and suggest ways the issue could have been handled better. If this is an area of strategic focus, describe any changes made to avoid future repeats. If applicable, offer compensation -- discounts, samples, a refund -- to the commenter.

Whatever you do, don’t get into an online war of words. Take the discussion offline as quickly as possible so you can continue potentially risky conversations on more private channels. 

Be everywhere.

Is your website up to date and optimized for search engines? Do you blog? If so, do you blog only on your own site, or do you blog offsite also? (You should.) Are your social-media accounts current? Do they contain all relevant information, and are they managed on a regular basis with engaging content?

Have you claimed all your accounts on review sites and feedback forums? Consider not just your business name, but also brand names. If your company has multiple brands, consider dedicating a site and distinct social-media profile to each major line. Segmenting your products or services can help you more effectively manage online reputation and confine negative comments to the most relevant forums. You always can promote positive feedback across multiple sites or social-media accounts to spread the good news.

A well-crafted search-engine optimization campaign will ensure you're constantly creating and promoting unique content that links back to relevant pages on your website. You must spread the message far and wide. This increases the odds that Google and other search engines will pick up the content you want them to see and show your pages in their results.

Encourage positive reviews.

Seek input, offer surveys and publish feedback that shares customer insight on experiences with your company and brand. Create offers to boost activity on this front. Receive any negative feedback with a constructive mindset. Make changes, where suitable, to avoid repeats. Then, tactfully describe this process online to position your business as transparent, responsive and honest.  

Related: 6 Better Responses to a Bad Review Than Yelling or Sulking

Use damage-control tactics to defuse a crisis.

Positive mentions are the name of the high-stakes game. Follow an orderly strategy: 

  1. Identify keywords that appear in negative posts. Perform an exhaustive audit to make certain you've captured the full list. 
  2. Identify which websites you'll push down in search-engine results. Start tracking ranked keywords and their current positions on the charts.
  3. Create and/or optimize your social profiles. Include target keywords.
  4. Ramp up content contributions as soon as possible and push them out across platforms. Guest contributions are vital. Be sure the title of each piece includes keywords and your company name. This helps drive rankings in the preferred direction.
  5. Embed links to your social profiles in the articles. Mix it up and link to each of them across various posts and articles.

It's equally critical to track the results of your efforts. Analyze the findings and consider your campaign's effectiveness. Have you successfully downgraded the rankings of negative mentions? Which new mentions are you driving or observing from others? What tweaks still are needed to continue the positive trend or boost performance?

Understand there are no miracles in online reputation management.

In a perfect world, we'd be out front, ahead of emerging issues. In actuality, companies tend to seek out online reputation management specialists only when a crisis looms -- or already has erupted. These leaders need help to control online sentiment or resolve a poor digital image. Typically, businesses are well behind the moment that negative reviews "break" online. Because most companies don't have the proper responses in place, the situation often escalates. Search engines index and rank the bad publicity, creating first-page results that companies don't want to see. 

It takes time to tackle these crises and turn the ship around, but such issues can be fixed with an appropriate online reputation management strategy. Clear, achievable goals will help you restore your good name and keep your reputation clean. 

If you've made it to this point without a crisis, don't leave yourself exposed to vulnerabilities. Get ahead of the curve and prepare by putting a sound strategy in place before you need it. No business is perfect, and some customers will take their complaints online. Sharing an equal or greater number of positive reviews is the best way to combat the negative ones.