No matter how large or small your company is, it’s clear that managing your company’s online reputation is more important than it’s ever been. Almost every company, from the local plumber, to the pizza shop that’s there when you don’t particularly feel up to cooking, to the mega-corporation that produces most of the electronics in your house, they all have a web presence, and that web presence for most companies is one of the largest and most important means of reaching out to prospective new customers. That presence, however, extends far beyond the scope of websites under company control. Many consumers turn to sites like [Yelp,] [Bing,] or more niched sites like Urbanspoon and TripAdvisor in search of reviews for the products they’re considering, and many still turn to forums and social networks they participate in looking for opinions before they make any purchase or commitment. These reviews are often considered to be more powerful than the conventional word-of-mouth spread of information, and staying aware of what is said about your business and knowing how to reach out to the online community are vital skills.
Before you can begin attempting to change the way your company is perceived, it’s important to know how exactly that is. The most effective way to start this process is to get your hands dirty and actually dig around, search as if you were considering using your own service or buying your own product. Type the name of your company into the major search engines (Google, Yahoo!, Bing,) both correctly and with common misspellings, running image searches as well, and scroll through a couple pages. Keep a particular eye out for reviews and discussions. If you’re lucky, the first page will be dominated by your company’s content and positive feedback, but if that’s not the case you’ll still need to know where you stand.
After reading your results on the big three, go ahead and search through those specific review aggregation sites, starting with Yelp and moving outward into more specified sites, if that’s applicable to you. If you serve food you’ll want to search Urbanspoon and Chow Hound, if you run a hotel you’ll want to search Tripadvisor and hotels.com There are similar sites for most niches if they’re large enough, and if paid attention to and utilized well these sites can be incredible resources. I also highly recommend setting up a few Google Alerts, these allow for convenient real-time tracking of any content generated about your business, or about the keywords of your choice. In addition, you’ll want to search the major social media sites, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Often when a customer has an exceptional experience, whether positive or negative, they’ll post that experience to these platforms. Being able to keep track of and interact with these vocal customers, whether trying to make it right with someone who didn’t get exactly what they expected, or just thanking someone for giving you a positive shout-out, can help build substantial customer relationships and brand loyalty.
Once you have a general idea of how you’re perceived, go ahead and search for your competitors the same way. Pay close attention to what they do that’s particularly well received, and what isn’t at all. Not only is it nice to know what you’re up against, but it offers a nice insight to the tastes of your demographic with absolutely zero risk. If you’ve done your due diligence in regards to knowing how you’re perceived, and where you stand in regards to your competitors, it becomes much easier to start reaching out and putting your online reputation into your own hands.