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How to Better Manage Your Brand's Reputation in the Digital Age In the review economy, a proactive approach to addressing complaints can help brands rise above negativity.

By Kevin King Edited by Chelsea Brown

Key Takeaways

  • In the age of online reviews, authenticity is paramount. Maintaining authenticity is essential for building and preserving consumer trust.
  • Social media influencers wield significant power in shaping public perception. Negative publicity can have substantial financial repercussions for businesses. Therefore, proactive reputation management is vital to mitigate potential harm.
  • Implementing service recovery, increasing review volume, targeted team responses and adopting data-breach response strategies can help maintain a positive online reputation.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It was a salutary tale of how not to do reputation management. The skincare brand Sunday Riley was forced to settle with the Federal Trade Commission after its leadership had directed employees to post fake reviews to the influential Sephora website and dislike negative reviews to have them taken down. Review manipulation is a growing phenomenon. In 2023, Amazon took 44 bad actors to court in Europe, and this year won a civil case in Milan against a review broker that had tried to facilitate five-star ratings on Amazon's Italian store. At a time when trust among consumers is precariously low, manipulating online ratings can destroy public confidence in a brand.

For the past 30-plus years in the hospitality industry, perhaps the pioneer in online reviews, I have seen many scenarios of both good and bad reputation control. As social influence and social proof amplify traditional word of mouth and media influence, negative news and negative feedback can spiral out of control — and fast. However, with so many booking platforms and social channels today, it's nearly impossible to manually flag individual reviews. Companies need a more positive, ethical and proactive approach to lifting standards and addressing public concerns.

Related: Don't Fall Victim to a Digital Hitman — Here Are 6 Ways to Protect Your Online Reputation From Fake Reviews

Strive for authenticity

For better or worse, the "wisdom of the crowd" is holding sway over where people are spending their money. After the Edelman Trust Barometer declared 2022 "the cycle of distrust" among consumers, things hardly improved last year as economic optimism at large collapsed. Online reviews have increasingly occupied this trust void, with Tripadvisor finding they are the biggest factor influencing buying decisions for 66% of U.S. consumers.

The flip side for businesses like hotels is one negative review can set off a chain of complaints that drive down new bookings, customer loyalty and revenue; and drive up operational costs. Nor is consumer trust blind. Tripadvisor found that 49% of consumers worldwide believed brands manipulated reviews, while Boston University research concluded that people were more likely to trust four-star reviews because they were perceived as more thoughtful and accurate. A separate study found that purchases peak in the 4.0-4.7 ratings band and then declined the closer they got to 5.0.

All these findings constellate around the perception of brand authenticity, and in the sometimes fickle world of online reviews, this may be the most valuable currency of all.

Become your own influencer

Over the last few years, we have witnessed influencers reaching a massive audience when they review just about anything — hotels included. Cleanliness issues lead to live-streamed disputes with staff, making any real or imagined wrongdoing painfully public. Virality on apps like Instagram, X (formerly Twitter) or TikTok amplifies their disproportionate power.

During Paris Fashion Week, influencers let the world know that local businesses, especially hotels, were infested with bedbugs. While the pest problem may have been growing well before the event, it was only when influencers posted about the issue that it gained traction. For retailers and brands, high-volume events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday or Amazon Prime Day represent both risk and opportunity. If their websites, supply chains and customer service are not prepared, even a few hours of downtime can do major damage to their reputation.

The cost of negative publicity is staggering. Peloton saw almost $1.5bn wiped off its value after a backlash against its ill-advised Christmas advertisement went viral. There is a thin margin between success and failure, and according to internal research that I was shown by a leading reputation-management company in Europe, hotels can expect a 20% revenue drop if their online rating dips from 7.0 to 6.9 on Booking.com. The answer is to actively monitor customer feedback and take immediate steps to remedy negative sentiment.

Related: Being Attacked Online? Online Reputation Expert Shares How You Can Defend Yourself

How to better manage online reputations

While businesses are extremely sensitive to negative online reviews, the opposite is also true with positive online reviews leading to improved reputations. That is borne out by the "Very Good 8+" criteria being one of the most used search filters on Booking.com. To increase the likelihood of positive reviews, practice these four strategies:

  1. Implement service recovery: Asking for feedback at multiple touchpoints can help companies identify recurrent issues. In one internal study by a luxury hotel brand, a customer's satisfaction score went up by 13.8% when they were asked to complete both in-stay and post-stay surveys.

  2. Increase review volume: Invest in review generation programs that make it easy for customers to leave ratings and feedback immediately after an interaction or purchase.

  3. Create targeted team responses: Segment feedback data and ensure the right teams get actionable insights matching their roles and responsibilities.

  4. Stay away from review manipulations: The short-term increase in revenue and visibility might seem great, but the risk is too high. Even if competitors are involved in review manipulation, it is never worth the risk.

  5. Adopt data-breach response strategies: With retail and hospitality so dependent on tech, a response plan for data breaches is essential. It should provide transparent communication with consumers about a breach and the planned steps to fix it.

Related: Why You Must Monitor Your Online Reputation Before it Hurts You

From investment to impact

The UK hospitality management company, RBH, uses a third-party solution that collates and analyzes thousands of reviews and post-stay surveys to identify weak spots and trends in feedback. With rich data at its disposal, the group found that just a one-point increase in Global Review Index (GRI) score could lead to a revenue increase of £3 million ($US3.8 million) across its 45-plus hotels.

Reputation-management software helps brands understand what issues to address based on sentiment analysis in order to reduce negative ratings over time as this space continues to evolve. The review market share of Google, Yelp, Booking.com and Tripadvisor has shifted a lot over the past five years — and if Instagram added reviews to its functionality, it would change again overnight. Businesses dependent on public ratings cannot afford to stand still. A proactive approach that leverages the latest data tools can safeguard reputations as consumers continue to vote with their ratings.

Kevin King

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Chief Executive Officer at Shiji International

Kevin King is the Chief Executive Officer of Shiji International, where he focuses on domestic management and growth and oversees the international branch of the company. Kevin is passionate about helping other businesses grow by providing insights into technology that supports consumer experience.

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