If you are still shying away from using social media in your business, out of fear of making your company vulnerable to public comment, you should be afraid … but not afraid to use it, afraid to not use it. Of course, managing your online reputation isn’t limited to only social media sites, there are lots and lots of online sites to take into consideration.
For members who were unable to attend the July Home Builders Association of Alabama’s (HBAA) Summer Meeting in Destin, I discussed online reputation management, the crux of which is about being proactive about your company’s reputation online. Instead of waiting for unhappy customers to voice their opinions online, businesses should proactively take steps practically every day to keep their reputations intact.
Just Google “social media mistakes” and you will find all kinds of examples of social media fails. So why should you even bother with social media? Social media boosts search engine optimization, drives traffic to your website, helps your business engage with customers, builds brand and helps manage your reputation. Social media helps to create a sales funnel; you can use social media to interact with customers and clients in order to convert them from leads to prospects and ultimately, to buyers.
Start by researching what’s out there on your company. Google your company name. Search the hard terms, like your company name plus “sucks” and “reviews” and other terms that you can think of that might be out there. Stay on top of what is being said by making use of listening and monitoring tools, like Google Alerts, Twitter lists and Twitter searches, Sprout Social and Hoot Suite, to track the online conversation about your business.
When you Google your company name, the first page of search results is the most important. In our reputation management programs, we work to fill up the first page with authentic, helpful and useful information about a business including a business’ website(s), corporate blog, related blogs, Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter and news about your company from trustworthy news sites. Proactively publishing positive news and using social media fills up your page one results with what you want prospective customers to see. A corporate blog acts as a syndication hub; you can publish all of your business news there, and integrate your marketing, improve search results and SEO and increase traffic. Posting news to public relations sites is another way to help reach those goals; some of these sites are free, some are paid, and posting can easily be done by your public relations or marketing team or agency.
Testimonials and Reviews
Kill two birds with one stone with online testimonials and reviews. Consumer reviews have a favorable impact on local search rankings, which means more traffic, which means prospects that you can turn into happy customers, which means more traffic, and on and on. Customer reviews help establish believability, transparency, credibility, and a sense of security for new customers. According to statistics compiled by Invesp, 90 percent of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business, and 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Positive reviews are powerful tools for converting clicks into customers.
So how do you get reviews? Put very simply, you ask for them! Print a small counter-top sign asking for reviews in your lobby, or on a sales center or model home desk. Print business cards asking for reviews and give them to satisfied customers. Ask for reviews on your website, or link to review sites in your email signature.
Testimonials can be a great sales tool. Turn testimonials into attractive handouts/sales flyers, then post this content on your website, or shared in emails or mailers. Video testimonials are great for posting online and/or linking to in social media posts, e-newsletters and more. Get testimonials from happy customers, as soon as possible, at the point of sale, or within a few days following the sale. Help customers put into words the nice things that they have said about the buying process, reminding them of unique selling propositions, like customer service, personalization options, value, etc. Offer to help save them time by drafting the testimonial and emailing it to them to review it. Be sure to get permission to use the customer’s testimonial, their name and the community in which they live. And keep in mind that some customers are sensitive to having reviews posted due to privacy concerns.
Review sites, like Google+ Local, the YellowPages, SuperPages, Yelp, Angie’s List and Facebook’s Nearby, all can help build customers through positive online reviews. BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey found that 40 percent of consumers form an opinion by reading just 1-3 reviews and 68 percent say positive reviews make them trust a local business more.
Google+ is the biggest “fish” in the pond of review sites. Your company Google+ listing displays the business name, address, phone number, images and location on a map. You must have a valid business address for a precise listing. Sign up for a Google account, enter your complete company information, and then focus on making the page as informative and appealing as possible, by adding further information about the business, including photos and videos, and encouraging reviews from customers.
How exactly does Google determine local ranking? Local results are based primarily on relevance, distance and prominence. According to Google, these factors are combined to help find the best match for a search. For example, Google algorithms might decide that a business that’s farther away from your location is more likely to have what you’re looking for than a business that’s closer, and therefore will rank it higher in local results.
The Dark Side of Online Reviews
Nielsen Media Research found that, other than actual “recommendations from people I know,” consumer opinions posted online have the most influence on purchasing decisions. This means that online customer reviews are now more important than TV ads, print ads, corporate websites, radio, etc. Because of the influence that online reviews have over purchasing decisions, businesses are under greater pressure to present positive reviews to boost sales, unfortunately this leads some companies to engage in untrustworthy acts. It has been estimated that as many as one in seven online reviews may be fraudulent.
Posting fake, edited and cherry-picked reviews to enhance sales can trick consumers, and state regulators have begun cracking down on these deceptive practices. Review sites will usually take down reviews that seem phony or were obviously posted by business owners, SEO companies or reputation management companies. It should go without saying that one way to protect your reputation is by maintaining authentic reviews. An occasional negative review is inevitable, and being deceitful or counterfeit will only damage your brand.
Dealing with Negative Feedback
There are several different types of negative feedback; and most of them, though they may be painful to hear, can expose real problems that need to be addressed. Some negative reviews reveal straight-up problems that shed light on real issues that need to be dealt with; others offer constructive criticism, with suggestions on how to improve. Often, negative reviewers are angry, because they felt that they have been wronged. Sometimes their anger is legitimate, and sometimes, it is not. Here is where trolls/spammers also come in. These “attackers” have no valid reason for being angry with your business, and may be using negative reviews (whether true or not) to promote a competitor’s business.
Responding to Negative Reviews
When (not if, but when) you receive a negative review, do not panic. Do not freak out. Do not hit the delete button or retaliate. Instead, take some time to process the complaint and determine the best way to respond (do not take too long; depending on the site, a response may be expected within a few hours). Since the feedback was public, it’s important to respond publicly, in a transparent, positive and sincere manner. Stay professional, thank the customer for their feedback, express concern and let them know that you are looking into the problem. Do not appear desperate to please, but instead be anxious to help find a solution. Do as much research on the issue as possible and follow up with the customer, providing them with options for a solution. Let others see that you are taking responsibility and control of the situation.
There are times when negative reviews can truly damage a business, and in those cases, businesses can seek legal action. Statements of opinion are generally legally protected, so the legal avenues for addressing defamatory comments can be tricky. Most review sites are protected from liability for the content posted by their users. Because of this, these publishers have little incentive to take down content without a court order. Court orders can be difficult to obtain because reviews are often posted anonymously. If a defamatory comment has been posted, and you are unable to reach a resolution with the poster, your first course of action is to determine if the comment violates the site’s terms of service. If it does, you may be able to get the site to remove the statement without any legal action. If it does not, you will need to acquire legal counsel to obtain a court order for the site to remove the statements.
The Bottom Line
The main takeaway from the presentation was for members to be proactive in their online reputation management. A proactive strategy monitors the online conversation about your company, pre-emptively solicits positive feedback and keeps in mind that online reviews will not be perfect (but has a plan for effectively dealing with negative reviews). An online reputation management program requires an investment in your brand’s online presence, but proactively generating good content, posting often, listening and being active and engaged, all help build a good reputation defense.